Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith, Gayleen Rabakukk, Suma Subramaniam, A.J. Eversole and Gail Vannelli for Cynsations

Spotlight Image: Jovita Wore Pants: The Story of a Mexican Freedom Fighter by Aida Salazar, illustrated by Molly Mendoza (Scholastic Press, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Playing to Our Strengths (And Other Insights on Co-Authoring a Novel): A Conversation With Nicole Melleby and A. J. Sass by Amanda MacGregor from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: [A. J. Sass:] “It can be scary to open yourself up to others because there is always a chance they won’t be accepting. But my experience…has shown me that the benefits of being true to who I am far outweigh any of my…doubts. There are people out there…just waiting to embrace and celebrate you for who you are.”


Q&A With Author Akim Aliu by Isabel Franco from Scholastic Inc., On Our Minds. Peek: “[My] hope is that kids understand anything is achievable if you put your heart and mind to it. You may face many trials and tribulations, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Never set a ceiling on your dreams and allow someone to tell you that you can’t do it.”

Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes, & Dawud Anyabwile Raising a Fist for Justice by Lisa Bullard from Macklin Community. Peek: [Dawud Anyabwile:] “Words are extremely powerful; however, images tell a story immediately even if the viewer glances for a split second. So, the combination of images and words create a powerful imprint on the minds of those who encounter graphic memoirs. It can create curiosity, much like watching a film where you want to know what happens next.”

Interview With Author & Illustrator Mike Curato by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: “There are so many ways to approach making a picture book…but my…advice is that you have to be moved by your own book if you want it to resonate with a reader….If your book doesn’t make you feel something, then it’s not ready to be shared with others. Don’t waste the time and trees otherwise.”

Inkyard Press

Interview With an Author: James Ramos by Daryl M. from Los Angeles Public Library. Peek: “[S]tories are one of the only ways I feel connected with other people. I think that stories in any medium breed empathy and allow us to tap into the universal truths of the human experience and emotions that we all experience, and ultimately that can bring us together. I want to be a part of that.”

Equity & Inclusion

Love, Family, and Mental Health, a Guest Post by Rajani LaRocca by Amanda MacGregor from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “I hope this story helps young readers recognize that anxiety and depression are not weaknesses,…but a part of life—and something that can be treated….[T]hey should share their struggles with those they trust and love, because it’s only through revealing how we feel and admitting we need help that we can start to get it.”

“Like a Living Scrapbook”: “My Powerful Hair” Is a Celebration of Native Culture” by Elizabeth Blair from NPR. Peek: [Carole Lindstrom] “I just want [children who look like me] to see themselves in a positive way when they pick up a book. I didn’t have that. It was always blonde hair, real light colored skin, not who I was when I was younger…I just didn’t know where my people were.”

Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Interview With Jamar J. Perry from Bloomsbury. Peek: “I want people to understand that it is okay to be a voracious reader, that you can become a hero through the written word, just like how [my main character] does. I also want my Black boy readers to see themselves in [him], and to be inspired to be a reader just like him.”

Q&A With Tami Charles, Author of We Are Here by Isabel Franco from Scholastic Inc., On Our Minds. Peek: “I wrote [the book] to celebrate the achievements of Black and Brown communities across the globe, so that children will have a source of pride to point to in times of doubt….I love showing the fullness of us on the page. We are multidialectal. Our influences can be found in every corner of the globe.”

Interview With Author Laura Nsafou by Johanna McCalmont from WorldKidLit. Peek: “[T]he reader I have in mind is my younger self, to be honest. There’s always an urge to share a story I wish I’d been able to read when I was a child, an urge to find a poetic fantasy world that highlights the beauty of my diaspora.”

Writing Craft

Quill Tree Books

Interview With Alisha Rai (While You Were Dreaming) by Cherokee Crum from from YA Books Central. Peek: “I love to travel to research books. This one was a little easy, because I grew up in Western New York, where the book is set (in a fictional city), so I knew exactly how to model the place, but I still paid a hometown visit…and retraced my childhood steps to see how things had changed.”

Author Interview: Sarah Lyu from Reads Rainbow. Peek: “Reading widely and voraciously is crucial but I actually love books on craft and think they’re essential reading for writers….[I]t’s like learning how to play music by ear and then going back to study music theory. Some favorites: K.M. Weiland’s Character Arcs, James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure, and John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story.”

Michaela Goade Talks With Roger by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: “I love big picture thinking and loose black-and-white sketches, so the actual painting stage is a time-consuming part of the process for me as I work to bring vision to paper. I never know what the final art is going to look like until the book is almost done!”

Knopf Books for Young Readers

Michelle Lam Talks Instagram Comics, “Meesh the Bad Demon” and Boba by Elias Rosner from Multiversity Comics. Peek: “[I] go on full digital….I’ll go on Photoshop; I use layer comps to kind of organize the pages and reorder them and see what works and what doesn’t. And afterwards,…once I get my notes approved…, then I will do the line art. I pretty much directly go from chicken scratch doodles to just clean line art.”

Q&A: Kwame Alexander…Gives Insight Into His Motivation of Writing Poetry by Debkonya Banerjee from The Roar Online. Peek: “I used to read all my book reviews, until I started getting some bad ones. And then I stopped reading them all. And then I started reading just the good ones….And then the New York Times wrote a book review about [my latest book] and it was the worst. So I’ve stopped reading reviews now.”

Interview With Lila Riesen (Free Radicals) by Cherokee Crum from YA Books Central. Peek: [Regarding keeping her “voice” true to the age category:] “I follow lots of Gen-Z’ers on TikTok. When I go to cafes, I drop some eaves around teenagers and listen to how they speak….Any neologisms I don’t know, I look up…I’ve also kept a diary from my teen years and thank goodness!”


Transit Books Grows a Picture Book Imprint by Nathalie op de Beeck from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Transit Books, the Bay Area nonprofit publisher focused on international titles and work in translation, has launched Transit Children’s Editions. The new imprint spotlights noteworthy picture books from around the world and anticipates publishing four titles annually….[Adam Levy, Transit publisher:] ‘We’re looking for books that have an enduring appeal and a high level of artistry and quality.’”

The Independent Book Publishers Association’s 2023 Publishing University, “Navigate, Innovate, Elevate: Charting the Next 40 Years,” takes place May 4 to May 6 at the Coronado Island Marriott Resort & Spa in San Diego. With 20 break-out sessions and more, this event is for “[i]ndependent publishers, hybrid publishers, author publishers (aka self-published authors), university presses, and association presses interested in advancing their book publishing know-how.” Register here.


Bookstore Sales Jump 15.9% in January from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “In January, bookstore sales rose 15.9%, to $997 million, compared to January 2022, according to preliminary Census Bureau estimates. By comparison to pre-pandemic times, bookstore sales in January were 4.2% higher than in January 2020. Total retail sales in January rose 8.1%, to $635.5 billion, compared to January 2022.”


Reminder! Library Journal‘s and School Library Journal‘s Public Library Youth Services Leadership Summit takes place Mar. 30 to Mar. 31 at the Broward County Main Library, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This event, for youth services librarians and staff, administrators, and educators, covers topics such as innovative programming for preschoolers and LGBTQIA+ programs and services. Register here.

Closer to Home: Libraries Providing Home Broadband by Matt Enis from Library Journal. Peek: “[A]ccess to a fast, reliable internet connection has become a necessity for most people…Libraries redoubled their efforts to bridge the digital divide during the past three years, with many extending Wi-Fi signals…in strategic locations around their communities…[T]he New York Public Library…became one of the first libraries to…provide 5G and LTE broadband signals free to local households.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Reminder! Penguin Random House, Library Journal, and School Library Journal present 2023 Spring Book & Author Festival, a day-long event celebrating reading, authors, and librarians. “As we lead up to National Library Week, enjoy a day packed with author panels and interviews, book buzzes, virtual shelf browsing, and adding to your TBR pile.” This free virtual event takes place Apr. 4.

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and IllustratorsDigital Workshops 8.0 Spring Series, for SCBWI members, take place every Thursday at 1 p.m. pacific, 3 p.m. central, 4 p.m. eastern through Apr. 20. Video recordings of the workshops post 24 hours after each workshop and remain viewable for one month. Advance registration is not required. The next workshop takes place Mar. 30.

The London Book Fair takes place Apr. 18 to Apr. 20 at Olympia London. This fair will “unite the publishing community for three days of business, networking, and learning.” The Children’s and Young Adult section welcomes leading names in the field. Register here.

The in-person Los Angeles Times Festival of Books will take place Apr. 22 to Apr. 23 on the University of Southern California campus. The large lineup of participants includes authors, poets, artists, and more. Some of the children’s authors/illustrators include Nic Stone, Kwame Alexander, Gene Luen Yang, Aida Salazar, and Raissa Figueroa. General admission is free; some events, panels and individual author conversations require tickets.


Beaming Books

Congratulations to Forward Review’s 2022 Indies Book of the Year Awards Finalists, especially those in the Children’s category that includes Juvenile Fiction, Juvenile Nonfiction, Picture Books, Picture Books—Early Reader, and Young Adult Fiction. The awards recognize the best books from university and independent publishers.

On Mar. 17, the winners and honorees of the 2023 Walter Awards for Outstanding Children’s Literature were celebrated via livestream and in-person at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington D.C. The winners were Man Made Monsters by Andrea L. Rogers, illustrated by Jeff Edwards (Levine Querido, 2022)(Teen Category) and Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Joy, illustrated by Janelle Washington (Roaring Book Press, 2022)(Younger Readers category).

Abrams Announces Award Highlighting Unpublished Marginalized Children’s Authors by Iyana Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Abrams has announced the inaugural Abrams Amplify Award, a contest created to ‘honor and uplift the voices of children’s book creators from marginalized communities.’ The contest…will accept middle grade manuscript submissions from unpublished authors, with an emphasis on highlighting Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Latinx, Middle Eastern, and Native American/Indigenous creators…[The] three winners…will be announced in October.”

Margaret K. McElderry Books

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the 2023 British Book Awards Shortlists, especially in the categories of Children’s Non-Fiction, Children’s Illustrated, and Children’s Fiction. Congratulations also to those who made the Book Trade Awards Shortlists, especially in the categories Children’s Publisher of the Year and Children’s Bookseller of the Year.

LBF’s International Excellence Awards Shortlists from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “The London Book Fair has released shortlists for its International Excellence Awards, which recognize ‘publishing achievement across four categories’….[Bookstore of the Year, Audiobook Publisher of the Year, Sustainability Initiative and Inclusivity in Publishing]. Winners…will be celebrated at a public ceremony at Olympia London on Apr. 19 during the fair.”

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the Longlist for the 2023 Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize. This prize, established in 2020, “accepts books for children, teens and young adults including picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, poetry, non-fiction, and all other genres by writers of color and aimed at young readers.” The Shortlist will be announced on Apr. 18.

Scholarships & Grants

We Need Diverse Books is offering 20 slots to its Black Creatives Marketing Workshop for “writers who identify as part of the African diaspora.” The event, which takes place Apr. 15, provides “guidance and support for published writers looking to energize their careers through established and innovative marketing techniques.” Apply here.

This Week at Cynsations

Steph Littlebird and Carole Lindstrom

More Personally – Cynthia

The Bad Man has many faces, and I remember them all. So how is it that I share my own name with the heavens, my clan’s name with this winter breeze, but I can’t always recall what they are?

Tonight, I know I am Celeste, though I am not yet celestial. Wisps of memory taunt me. I can’t be sure, might never be sure, if The Bad Man seeks to kill or if he simply relishes frightening young women—frightening girls really— or if he intends something awful in between.

So far, I’ve managed to hold him at bay. But so far doesn’t equal forever.

To read the rest of this excerpt from HARVEST HOUSE, cover art by Britt Newton, visit the sidebar of the novel’s product page on the Candlewick Press website. –

ANCESTOR APPROVED: INTERTRIBAL STORIES FOR KIDS from Wonder World Book Café podcast. PEEK: “In this middle grade book, readers will relish a collection of 18 short stories and poems all from different Native authors. Each piece is written from the author’s own lived experiences and imagination.”

Rosemary Brosnan and Cynthia Leitich Smith from Heartdrum at HarperChildren’s have bought world rights to A Journey of Pokni’s Gifts, a picture book by Stacy Wells (Choctaw), co-author of Stronger Than, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (Chickasaw).

When Issi, a Choctaw girl, and her mother take the train back to visit her grandmother, Issi asks questions about land ownership as her gift for her pokni embodies playful mischief in the train car.

Publication is slated for summer 2026; Savannah Brooks at KT Literary represented the author, and Studio Goodwin-Sturges represented the illustrator.

More Personally – A.J.

A few weeks ago I got to attend the North Texas Teen Book Festival in Irving. It was my first year as a volunteer instead of just an attendee and I loved that. I was a room monitor and super thankful for the room I got because every panel was interesting and the authors were amazing.

Also! I got to introduce myself to the amazing Angeline Boulley, author of Firekeeper’s Daughter. We are both contributors to the upcoming Davy June’s anthology from Heartdrum and I had to control my fangirling.


Personal Links – Gayleen

  • Book Ban Attempts Reach “Unparalleled” 20-year High in 2022 by Jacob Knutson from Axios. Peek: “‘Overwhelmingly, we’re seeing these challenges come from organized censorship groups that target local library board meetings to demand removal of a long list of books they share on social media,’ Deborah Caldwell-Stone, an ALA director, said in a statement.”