Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: The Song That Called Them Home by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Maya McKibbin (Tundra Books, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Process Talk: Cynthia Leitich Smith on Harvest House from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: “It’s important to remind [readers] that we’re by no means defined by harm done to us, and that we deserve to embrace and enjoy life, to find strength and resilience but also laughter and celebration from our familial, community, and cultural ties.”

Quill Tree Books

Author Jerry Craft Interview with Alissa Henry from Fox 28. Peek: “[T]o show boys interacting in real life, having real conversations, having actual emotions, empathy, arguments…it’s not always perfect….I wanted to show that at the end of the day, [with]…empathy,…compassion, loving family, support of teachers,…if we work together to really get to know each other, it can be much, much better.”

An Indies Introduce Q&A With Ruchira Gupta with Emily Autenrieth from the American Booksellers Association. Peek: “[I]t is important to write books about issues that matter to young people but in a hopeful, interesting, and truthful way. It warns them of danger and equips them with tools so they can save themselves and their peers….I want young people to know what children their age go through and that they are not alone.”

Equity & Inclusion

Four Questions for Alyson Derrick by Iyana Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I just want a young, queer, closeted person to see that as a gay person in a…[small town], life can feel completely impossible. Especially when you’re stuck in that bubble and you’ve never known anything else. But things can really get so much better. Everybody deserves a life to live authentically.”

Clarion Books

An Indies Introduce Q&A With Justine Pucella Winans with Rebekah Shoaf from the American Booksellers Association. Peek: “While [the main character’s] gender identity discovery is a big part of the book, it isn’t really a coming out story; it’s a story of finding a label that feels like coming home (well, the gender identity part at least)….I wanted [the book] to be a fun and entertaining escape….”

Myth and Middle Grade: Exploring the Books by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [B.B. Alston:] “[W]hat most excites me…is that I get to write about a character who looks and thinks like 13-year-old me. Fantasy books about African American kids just didn’t exist when I was growing up….I’m so grateful to folks in publishing…[who] opened the door for every kind of kid to be the hero of their own story.”

Illustrator Helps Children of Color See Themselves in Stories with Michelle Miller from CBS News. Peek: [Vashti Harrison:] “I wanted to create a…book that could be the comforting words that I definitely needed to hear….When I…go out to schools and chat with young people, it feels really special…when they pick up one of my books—they’ve never seen it before—and they say that one’s me, that one looks like me.”

Scholastic Press

An Indies Introduce Q&A With Ronnie Riley with Gabriella Crivilare from the American Booksellers Association. Peek: “I hope that other generations have the ability to be educated more about queer history than I was, because I knew nothing about it for a long time. Queer Events is a great [Canadian] resource that lays out important events and dates. And LGBTQ Reads has a list of…books for all ages.”

Four Questions for F.T. Lukens by Dai Newman from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I was a voracious reader when I was young of anything about magic, or spaceships, or dragons. But those books didn’t have any queer characters. One of my goals…is to make worlds that are accessible and relatable. Not having queer characters or BIPOC individuals is not inclusive, it’s not real life, and it’s not relatable.”

Writing Craft

Interview With Debut Author Ratha Tep by Lindsay Ward from Critter Lit. Peek: “[F]or every great story, there are probably a dozen if not more stories that have led up to it….What I do…is have several different stories going on at once. And whenever I have a kernel of an idea…I’ll email it to myself as a note. Sometimes a spark is all it takes!”

Kar-Ben Publishing

Author Ellen Leventhal on Enjoying the Process with Lydia Lukidis from Blissfully Bookish. Peek: “I work on a few things at a time….[U]sually, I tweak a little of this, write a little more of that…[T]he process does depend on the project….But one part of the process that is the same with everything is looking at and digesting feedback from critique buddies and doing loads of revision.”

Interview With Margaret Chiu Greanias, Amah Faraway with Ratha Tep from Max’s Boat. Peek: “[W]riting in mirror structure is like writing in rhyme in one particular way—the story must drive the structure vs. the other way around. So…I first defined what I wanted my story to be about, a loose plot, and the crucial midpoint moment….Then, I wrote one sentence at a time by hand starting at the beginning.”

Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Sheila Keegan from KidLit411. Peek: [Preferred medium and illustration process:] “Working with my hands using traditional materials is the heart of my process. I love creating with gouache, watercolor, acrylic, and colored pencil, in combination with cut paper collage. I work traditionally as much as possible before scanning, assembling, and adding finishing touches in Photoshop.”

Holiday House

SCBWI Eastern NY Member Spotlight: Lesa Cline-Ransome from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Peek: “Build a writing community. Start with SCBWI. Attend meetings and regional events and get to know other writers. Visit your local bookstore or library to listen to writers discuss their process. Take notes and ask questions. Make writing a practice, a routine. Sit down each day and write something, even if it’s just a paragraph.”

Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Melissa Mwai from KidLit411. Peek: “[Preferred illustration medium and process:] “I mostly work digitally using Procreate on my tablet, but I add in a lot of traditional elements. I use photos I’ve taken from nature walks or scanned papers I’ve made. I also recruit my kids…to pose for reference photos. When using traditional mediums, I like crayons, watercolor pencils, and acrylics.”


QuickWrite Review: Why I Recommend This AI Tool Created Just for Authors by Sandra Beckwith from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “I first used QuickWrite to help me write a blog post on how to use YouTube for book marketing….I asked it to generate book marketing blog post topics….After making a selection, I asked it to outline the article….I then asked it to write…one section at a time…QuickWrite produced it in about 15 minutes.”


Bushel & Peck Adds Three New Imprints by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Bushel & Peck Books…registered a 424% growth in net sales over 2021 and has announced the creation of three new imprints. Beginning this spring, in addition to the Bushel & Peck list,…the house will publish titles under imprints devoted to middle-grade fiction and nonfiction (Milk + Cookies), poetry (Moonshower), and faith-based books (Sunbeam).”


ABA and Bookshop Partner on E-Book Purchase Link from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “In the latest development involving bookstore partnerships for e-books and downloadable audiobooks, the American Booksellers Association is investing $200,000 in a feature that will allow indie bookstore customers ‘to click a link on an indie bookstore’s e-commerce site to connect with Bookshop and make an e-book purchase,’ according to Bookselling This Week.”

UAE Company to Relaunch Borders Bookstores in Five U.S. Cities, Including Ann Arbor from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “More than a decade after the parent company of Borders filed for bankruptcy in the U.S., Al Maya Group, the bookstore chain that operates several Borders locations in the UAE and other Gulf markets, has announced plans to bring the iconic brand back to its country of origin, in a limited way initially.”


Little Free Library Aims to Eliminate Book Deserts by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Little Free Library plans to work with local organizations to install and maintain book-sharing boxes in all communities in the U.S. that lack easy access to books, the nonprofit literacy organization announced this week. The organization estimates that 2,500 book-sharing boxes will be set up and maintained in order to fulfill this goal.”

April Is School Library Month from the American Association of School Librarians. Peek: “School Library Month is the American Association of School Librarians‘ celebration of school librarians and school libraries. Every April school librarians are encouraged to host activities to help their school and local community celebrate the essential role that strong school libraries play in transforming learning….Learn more about the history of School Library Month.”

New York Times Bestselling and Award-winning Author Kelly Yang To Serve as 2023 National Library Week Honorary Chair from the American Library Association. Peek: “The American Library Association is thrilled to announce that award-winning and bestselling author Kelly Yang will serve as honorary chair of National Library Week, Apr. 23-29…‘I am the product of amazing libraries and librarians, who saw me, supported me, and nurtured me,’ Yang said….This year’s theme…is ‘There’s More to the Story’…”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Candlewick Press

Bel Canto Books presents Sari-Sari Summers Book Launch with author/illustrator Lynnor Bontigao in conversation with Christina Newhard of Sari-Sari Storybooks. This free online event, which celebrates Lynnor’s new picture book, Sari-Sari Summers (Candlewick Press, 2023) and includes her reading from it, takes place Apr. 11 at 6 p.m. pacific, 8 p.m. central, 9 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Reminder! UW iSchool presents 2023 Native American Read-In to celebrate the work of Native American creators. Multiple Native authors, artists and storytellers will be featured, some of which include Angeline Boulley (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians), Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek Nation), and Tasha Spillet (Manitoba Metis Federation). The virtual event takes place Apr. 16, 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. pacific, 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. central, 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Children’s Book Week is May 1-7. 2023 resources are now available for you to explore, download, and use during your Book Week festivities! Check out the bookmarks, draw-along characters, Find Your Spark Challenge, Poster, and more! Celebrate Floyd Cooper Day on May 5 with video readings of his books.

Earth Day 2023 takes place Apr. 22. We Are Teachers, with literacy specialist Lindsay Barrett, recommend 45 Earth Day Books for Kids Who Care About Our Planet “because our planet deserves all the book love.” Penguin Classroom has prepared an Earth Day book list for readers in grades K-12.

Reminder! The TLA (Texas Library Association) 2023 Annual Conference takes place at the Austin Convention Center from Apr. 19 to Apr. 22. The Conference “will feature special author events, lots of social networking with peers and experts, educational programming taught by…librarians and leaders in the field, a vibrant exhibit hall, and many opportunities for you to learn, grow and enjoy time with one another.” The featured speakers are Gretchen Rubin, Angeline Boulley, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Deborah Roberts. Register here.


Submission windows are open for two Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators‘ grants: The Orr Fantasy Grant, an award for middle grade fantasy and science fiction authors (apply by May 31), and the Ann Whitford Paul—Writer’s Digest Manuscript Award, an award given to a Most Promising Picture Book manuscript (apply by Apr. 30).

Barefoot Books

Congratulations to the 2023 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award Finalists, especially in the categories of Children’s Picture Book (0-3 years), Children’s Picture Book (4-7 years), Young Reader: Fiction (8-12 years), Young Reader: Nonfiction (8-12 years), Teen: Fiction (13-18 years), and Teen: Nonfiction (13-18 years). One Gold winner will be named in each category during a live awards ceremony on May 5 at the Coronado Island Resort and Spa in San Diego.

Scholarships & Grants

Reminder! 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 Aprl 15, provides “guidance and support for published writers looking to energize their careers through established and innovative marketing techniques.” Learn from Gwen RichardsonNational Black Book Festival and Stephen Thomas, Program Coordinator of Scribes & Vibes. Apply here.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Gayleen

Millie and I got a sneak peek at Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Harvest House, out Tuesday from Candlewick. As a former journalist, I particularly loved the sleuthing student journalists who investigate the ghost mystery. And catching up with Rain Berghoff, protagonist of Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins/Heartdrum, 2001/2021). You know characters are well drawn when reading feels like you’ve run into an old friend.

Pretty sure Millie’s favorite scenes included the Wolfe family’s dachshunds, Bilbo and Frodo.

I’m also excited to share good news of a recent court action in Texas: Llano County Ordered to Return Removed Books to its Library System by Federal Court from KXAN. Peek: “…the county must also update the library system’s searchable catalog to reflect that the books were available for checkout and keep them from removing any more books.”

More Personally – A.J.

This week I’ve been taking Neil Gaiman‘s Masterclass on Storytelling and have learned so much. Neil’s prose voice has always been a favorite of mine. He is definitely on my list of authors I wish I could have even an ounce of their talent. Someday!

I’ve also finished up my first draft of the short story for the anthology I am contributing to, Davy June’s! I like where it went, but I think there’s more angles I can execute it from so I’m going to give those a go before settling down on one of them.