Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Love Makes a Garden Grow by Taeeun Yoo (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Cover Reveal for When a Brown Girl Flees by Aamna Qureshi from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Aamna Qureshi:]  “Be kind. And forgive. Life and people are messy, things can be awful and terrible, but it isn’t the end. There is always room for change, for growth, for things and people to get better, to do better. As long as you are alive, there is hope. Choose life. Choose love.”

Candlewick Press

Cover Reveal for Calling the Moon, Edited by Aida Salazar & Yamile Saied Méndez from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Aida Salazar and Yamile Saied Méndez:] “[I]f we have the knowledge to understand what is happening, not only in our bodies but also [in] our minds and emotions, we may have the opportunity to connect with others going through the same experiences. There is no greater gift than our connection to others in understanding and compassion.”

Debut You 2023: Alisha Emrich: Nerd Crush from Black Children’s Books and Authors. Peek: [Regarding understanding your audience:] “[T]he audience I’m writing for consists of people who are just figuring out who they are and who they want to be. They’re experiencing some of the most intense and memorable times in their lives. I really hope they…can relate to and find comfort in the situations my characters face and overcome.”

Interview With Illustrator BlueBean by Lindsay Ward from Critter Lit. Peek: “‘Love what you do! Do what you love!’…I know that sometimes we are asked to choose between two options. But I hope that in the adult world, we wouldn’t have to select a single answer to a multiple-choice question—we can always do our best to balance many aspects at the same time.”

Equity & Inclusion

Page Street Kids

Interview: Last Sunrise in Eterna by Amparo Ortiz by Louisa Smith from Epic Book Society. Peek: “[F]or most BIPOC creatives, we’re constantly pulled toward this need to write our truths accurately and respectfully. However, just because an author is BIPOC doesn’t mean they can only write about their specific identity or experiences in order for publishing to take them seriously or give them the chance to see their work on shelves….”

Q&A With Nikki Shannon Smith by Patricia J. Murphy from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I want…Black and brown children to see themselves in a positive light….I want to show readers the different aspects of Blackness and the many allies who care about human beings of all colors, who want the world to be a better place to live in, and who have the difficult…conversations with their children to do this.”

The Jewish Board Book Experience: Five Children’s Book Creators Answer Questions About This Dynamic by Betsy Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: [Nancy Churnin:] “[O]ne of the most important things a Jewish author/illustrator can do is to provide mirrors so Jewish children can see themselves represented in a way that fills them with pride and windows so…their friends can feel a connection and understanding with them….Books offer the opportunity to see and appreciate the beauty of each other’s traditions.”

Rick Riordan Presents

Ridiculous Magic: PW Talks With Stacey Lee from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “When I was in middle school, the idea that a Chinese kid could be front and center of a fantasy was itself a fantasy. To be part of [Rick Riordan Presents’] mission to publish great books by underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, inspired by mythology and folklore, is such a privilege….”

Hannah on “Homeland” by Kenny Brechner from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Hannah Moushabeck:] “Since early childhood, stories told from memory were the only connection we had to our homeland….[Y]et these stories…instill[ed] in us a deep love for a place to which we had never been. In my book, I hoped to offer readers a glimpse into the power of transferred memories and the tradition of oral storytelling.”

Author Interview & Book Spotlight: Aya Khalil—The Night Before Eid by Hadeal Salamah and Ariana Hussain from Hijabi Librarians. Peek: “In high school we read some work by Muslim authors, but not American Muslims….I don’t remember…seeing or reading a children’s book with characters who looked like me out and about. My parents would get us some books from Egypt in the summer, but they were either too difficult to read (in Arabic) or not interesting enough.”

Writing Craft

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Let’s Talk Illustrators #239: Vivienne Chang & Eugenia Yoh by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “[Eugenia Yoh:] “I used a tablet and laptop to make the illustrations in this book. I’ve been drawing with Photoshop for a while…and find it very useful to make illustrations with a fast turnaround. I…love watercolor and colored pencils as well. I hope in the next project, I…get a chance to work with some analog mediums.”

The Many Talents of Graci Kim: Diplomat, Toy Maker, Children’s Author with Janet McAllister from University of Auckland News. Peek: “‘My first writing effort failed—everyone told me the book was crap.’ But inviting criticism was the whole point: learning her [Graci’s] craft meant learning to apply relevant feedback. Cue training  montage—redrafting, mentoring, emailing agents, pitching—before one particular editor…gave her 16 pages of daunting feedback. Graci worked through it….”

Let’s Talk Illustrators #241: Steph Littlebird by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “I mainly worked with the iPad and Procreate. I have experience in Adobe but have found that Procreate is far more accessible and easy-to-use when it comes to illustrating book content. I went to art school for painting, so that’s my most favorite medium. Right now though,…most of my jobs are in the digital realm.”


Q&A With Katherine Applegate by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[W]hen you create an animal character…[d]o you want to stay as close as possible to a voice that reflects our current…understanding of a species? Or are your animals human stand-ins…to help us comprehend our own behavior with a fresh eye?…[O]nce you’ve decided on an approach, creating distinct animal personalities is…exactly the same as developing human characters.”

Author Interview: Sana Rafi by Noureen Qadir Jafar and Amna Hussain from Hijabi Librarians. Peek: “I was constantly writing and revising [the book] for months before I started querying agents. I sent it directly to my publisher…and I heard back with some interest. But then a few months passed before I received a book deal…Then the book went through several edits—we worked very hard in getting the right messaging across….”

Interview With Ann Koffsky, Author/Illustrator of Under-the-Sea Seder by Barbara Bietz from Jewish Books for Kids. Peek: “The first challenge…was figuring out: what do sea monsters look like?…[That] involved lots of research of mythical creatures. I pulled out my daughter[‘s] Dungeon and Dragon books…[I] looked at a lot of natural creatures, like sea horses, chameleons, frogs, and mixed and matched pieces of them to come up what became three distinct, illustrated creatures.”


Publisher Profile: Brown Books Kids from CBC Books. Peek: [Thomas Reale, President:] “We are proud to announce our new imprint coming in 2023 in partnership with Fulbright Scholar and Professor of Literacy Michael Sampson. The collection, published under the name Michael Sampson Books, will feature titles by well-known authors…that fit within and promote the Martin Model of Reading….”

The Middle Grade Landscape: A Survey of Middle Grade Books Published in 2022 from Sam Subity. Peek: “I came up with 514 Middle Grade books published in 2022….[that] include 74 debuts…, 16 novels in verse, and 43 graphic novels….[F]irst person POV…account[ed] for 60% of overall books, followed by third person at 39% and a very small number of books using mixed tenses….Fantasy took up a much larger percentage of the pie….”

Better Than Nothing? Exploring the Limitations of AI-Narrated Audiobooks From a Disabled Person’s Perspective by Kendra Winchester from Book Riot. Peek: “AI narrators can’t understand the emotion behind the text…[T]here are few things more beautiful than when a human audiobook narrator provides me with access to a book I want to read. It’s like they’re sitting down next to me and saying, ‘Oh, you can’t read this? No worries. Here, let me read it to you.’”


Congratulations to Julie Stivers, who was named School Library Journal‘s 2023 School Librarian of the Year. “The annual award…recognizes the outstanding work of K–12 library professionals who have consistently demonstrated exceptional use of technology and print materials to not only successfully engage students in learning but also spark new ideas within their school and community.”

Teachers Share Tips for Curating Classroom Libraries by Patricia J. Murphy from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Nadya Abu-Rish:] “I make sure I have a diverse selection of books—and I mean diverse in many different ways…with characters of different cultures, ability levels, socio-economic statuses, and more….[I]t’s important to…allow [kids] to read whatever they want, as long as they as reading….[T]hese books will allow them to make connections that otherwise they might not have made.”


PW 2023 Bookstore and Sales Rep Finalists Named by Erin L. Cox from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Jim Milliot, PW Sr. VP:] “We are proud to celebrate those members of the publishing industry who are working closely with their bookseller partners to put books in the hands of readers across the country.…[T]he [Bookstore] finalists…have been nominated because of the positive roles they continue to play in their communities by bringing writers and readers together.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Walker Books

Candlewick Press presents A Preview of Fall 2023 Picture Books and Middle-Grade on Mar. 31 at 11 a.m. pacific, 1 p.m. central, 2 p.m. eastern. Guest speakers include Christine Platt (Frankie and Friends: Breaking News, illustrated by Alea Marley (Walker Books US, 2023)), Ruth Whiting (Lonely Bird (Candlewick, 2023)), and Flavia Z. Drago (Vlad, the Fabulous Vampire (Candlewick, 2023)). Register here.

Candlewick Press presents Fall 2023 YA Preview on Apr. 13 at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern. Guest speakers include Shade Lapite (Goddess Crown (Walker Books US, 2023)), Maggie Tokuda-Hall (The Siren, the Song, and the Spy (Candlewick, 2023)), and Shannon Takaoka (The Totally True Story of Gracie Byrne (Candlewick, 2023)). Register here.

The 11th Annual San Antonio Book Festival takes place Apr. 15 and will feature more than 70 authors. “The free, daylong event is a gift to visitors and the citizens of San Antonio, bringing books to life through author presentations, innovative panel discussions, and book sales and signings.” Children’s authors/illustrators who will be present include Cynthia Leitich Smith, Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey, Saadia Faruqi, and Christina Soontornvat.


Simon & Schuster Audio

Congratulations to the 2023 Audie Award winners, especially those in the categories of Young Adult, Middle Grade, and Young Listeners, respectively: Demon in the Wood by Leigh Bardugo, narrated by Ben Barnes et al. (Macmillan Audio, 2022), Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds, narrated by Guy Lockard et al. (Simon & Schuster Audio, 2021), and A Door Made for Me, written and narrated by Tyler Merritt (Hachette Audio, 2022).

BCALA and SLJ Announce 2023 Children and YA Literary Award Winners from School Library Journal. Peek: “The Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Inc. and School Library Journal announced the 2023 Children & Young Adult Literary Awards winners….[T]he awards…honor outstanding children’s and YA books by African American authors….” The winners are Love Radio by Ebony Ladelle (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022)(Debut Author), Lotus Bloom & the Afro Revolution by Sherri Winston (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2022)(Fiction), Star Child by Ibi Zoboi (Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2022)(Nonfiction), and Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas (HarperAlley, 2022)(Graphic Novel).

Congratulations to the authors and illlustrators whose books made the Children’s Book Council’s 2023 Best STEM Books List, which “aims to provide recommendations to educators, librarians, parents, and guardians for the best children’s books with STEM content.” See the list here.

Greystone Kids

Congratulations to the winners of the 2023 Riverby Award for exceptional nature books for young readers: Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, adapted by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt (Zest Books, 2022), Luminous: Living Things That Light Up the Night by Julia Kuo (Greystone Kids, 2022), and A Warbler’s Journey by Scott Weidensaul, illustrated by Nancy Lane (The Gryphon Press, 2022).

Congratulations to the winners of the 74th Annual Christopher Awards, which “celebrate writers, producers, directors, authors, and illustrators whose work ‘affirms the highest values of the human spirit’ and reflects the Christopher motto, ‘It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.’” Special shoutout to the six winners in the Books for Young People category.

Round 1 voting for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and IllustratorsCrystal Kite Awards begins Apr. 1 and ends Apr. 14 at 5 p.m. pacific, 7 p.m. central, 8 p.m. eastern. “You must be a current member to nominate your book and at the time the award announcement is made. Nominated books must be a PAL [Published and Listed] book first published within the previous calendar year.”

Walker Books

Congratulations to the winners of Waterstones2023 Children’s Book Prize, which is awarded in the categories of Overall Winner, Illustrated Books, Older Readers, and Younger Readers: The Cats We Meet Along the Way by Nadia Mikail (Guppy Books, 2022)(Overall Winner and Older Readers), Gretel the Wonder Mammoth by Kim Hillyard (Ladybird, 2022)(Illustrated Books), and Nura and the Immortal Palace by M.T. Khan (Walker Books, 2022)(Younger Readers). The awards are voted on by Waterstones’ booksellers.

Congratulations to the winner, honorees, and changemakers of the Evanston Public Library’s 2022 Blueberry Awards. The awards, which commenced in 2021, “honor children’s literature that strengthens kids’ connections with nature and fosters action for the planet. The Blueberry List, which features books primarily for children ages 3 to 10, is divided into one overall winner and 25 Honor books, plus eight Changemaker books recognized for their outstanding achievement in rallying kids to climate action.” See the 2022 Blueberry Awards List here.

Scholarships & Grants

Apply here by Apr. 27 for the We Need Diverse BooksBlack Creatives Mentorship, which “will introduce aspiring Black authors to the ins-and-outs of the publishing industry through one-on-one mentorship and programming with other industry professionals designed to develop their networking skills and hone their craft.” Eight mentorships (three Picture Book, three Middle Grade, two Young Adult) will be offered to creators who identify as part of the African Diaspora.

If you are of a diverse background and desire to work in children’s or adult publishing, check out the We Need Diverse BooksInternship Grant Program, which awards supplemental grants of $3,000 each to help applicants further their publishing career goals. The internships must take place between Jun. 1 and Aug. 31. “Grantees are expected to attend various events throughout the summer including an introductory Internship Grant Bootcamp….” Apply here until Apr. 30.

This Week at Cynsations

Joy Harjo Headshot

More Personally – Cynthia

It’s been a quiet, cozy week in Austin. With a handful of late-spring author events on the horizon, I sent a first draft of my MG road-trip novel to my Heartdrum editor. Yes, author-curators get edited, too. Thank goodness!

Highlights of the week also included receiving advanced reader copies of Those Pink Mountain Nights by Jen Ferguson, cover by Bailey Macabre (Heartdrum, 2023).