Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: A Garden in My Hands by Meera Sriram, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

What’s Worth Fighting For by M.T. Anderson from Nerdy Book Club. Peek: “I want kids reading this book to feel real companionship. I want them to look at…the routes they walk on and…see stories hidden all around them, surprising histories in alleys and in old houses…I want them to see that world is full of surprises and things that can delight us and comfort us and thrill us….”

Mindy’s Book Studio

Write What You Know. Read What You Don’t, a Guest Post by Lauren Thoman by Amanda MacGregor from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “[I]f we are going to write the world as it is, then it’s important to first figure out how and where we fit into that world, accept just how limited our own perspective is—and then do the work to expand it, as much as such a thing is possible.”

Literary Agent Interview: Roma Panganiban Interview…. by Natalie Aguirre from Literary Rambles. Peek: “Always be learning—or, alternatively, think of everything you do as a way to learn. Read books, but also magazines at your doctor’s office and board game instructions manuals and tweets and group texts…; attend panels and conferences and workshops as well as poetry readings…; walk away from your…computer and discover something worth writing about.”

Discovering Revealing Stories in Animation and Film With Author and Illustrator Victoria Ying by Goldie Chan from Forbes. Peek: “A great story has to speak some kind of emotional truth. The power of fiction is to reveal something about our humanity and it requires a level of introspection to be able to deliver on that promise….[Y]ou can tell when something is written…with sincerity and when that happens, a spell is cast and magic happens.”

Equity & Inclusion

Scholastic Press

Good Different: Writing To Discover My Diagnosis, a Guest Post by Meg Eden Kuyatt by Amanda MacGregor from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “I hope that kids reading [the book] can…see themselves and see that their difficulties are valid. Sensory pain is not something anyone should have to just ‘get over.’…I hope they can see real ways they can ask for accommodations and communicate their needs….Even if being autistic can be difficult, there are…many beautiful parts of the experience….”

Interview With Tracy Badua from Utopia State of Mind. Peek: “It was important for me then to write [the main character] and her family as complex and multi-dimensional, to portray their lives beyond the stereotypes that are often pinned on Asians as model minorities…I wanted to emphasize that we are not the other—we are you in so many ways.”

Exclusive Interview: “Waking Fire” Author Jean Louise from Paul Semel. Peek: “The story is…populated with mostly brown and black characters, which you don’t see often in fantasy. I’m a big fan of…everyone being able to find positive examples of themselves and their community in all forms of media, so filling the village with characters who look like me and the people I grew up with was very important.”

Levine Querido

Lorraine Avila on Her Thought-Provoking YA Novel “The Making of Yolanda la Bruja” by Andreina Rodriguez from Dominican Writers. Peek: “I don’t see a lot of Black or Brown girls in fiction or YA being shown as having a physical sensory disability….[I]t’s important for us to see each other more. I’ve honestly never read a story about a girl who has a speech impediment…I grew up feeling like I had to learn how to speak.”

Interview: Robbie Couch Author of If I See You Again Tomorrow…. by Jared Fessler from Broadway World. Peek: “Being a queer storyteller telling queer stories is so important to me, especially with this wave of book bans happening across the country. I think stories can change hearts and minds, and LGBTQ+ books need to be accessible in all places—especially ones centering BIPOC and transgender characters.”

Q&A With Becky Albertalli by Martha Schulman from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[T]he idea of myself as an ally was so fundamental to my own process that it made my exploration harder….A lot of people start out as allies and that gives them access to more perspectives on queerness….[S]ince I was in the public eye, I felt like I owed…my positionality to my public, and…had to ‘fess up.’”

Writing Craft

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Interview With Children’s Book Illustrator Jeska Verstegen from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. Peek: “Everything starts with a line, just a sketch or an original drawing. You name it. Everything begins with that dancing pencil on paper. I always start with creating the main character. Then I pick out the most essential moments of the story and create little scenes. Slowly the illustrations evolve in a book.”

The House That Whispers | Author Interview by Felicia from Stuck in Fiction. Peek: [Lin Thompson:] “I usually have a sense of how I want a character to have changed by the end of the book, even if I don’t know how they’re going to get there. And I tend to have a final image or feeling in mind that I’m working toward. I don’t typically write my books chronologically, though….”

Charlie Jane Anders: Know What You Want from Locus Magazine. Peek: “Practice makes perfect, kind of. The more YA I wrote, the better I was at channeling the YA voice, but also the style of a lot of YA that I loved. I always have a steep learning curve for stuff like that. I was also finding what people were responding to, what people were excited by….”


The Many Fortunes of Maya | Author Interview by Felicia from Stuck in Fiction. Peek: [Nicole D. Collier:] “I always know how the story ends, but I don’t always know the last moment of the book….I plot out key events in the story, like the beginning and the end and a few momentous scenes, but…my characters decide their journey because the character is always the driver of the story, even during the outlining process.”

Author Interview: Darshana Khiani by Ryan G. Van Cleave from Only Picture Books. Peek: “I hate writing first drafts. I have a really strong left-brain editor…so those first drafts feel near impossible. However, I do love revising…One of my favorite parts of revising is collecting peer feedback and then copying down the notes with different colored pens into various categories and then methodically making the revisions that resonate.”

Interview With Kaz Windness, Bitsy Bat School Star from Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Peek: “[A]ll my art starts as a pencil sketch. Once I like the sketch, I take a photo with my phone, email it to myself, and edit and paint the illustrations in Adobe Photoshop. Picture books go through a lot of steps and changes, so using digital media has made the editing process easy.”


Independent Bookstore Day is Apr. 29. This is a “national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country…Every store is unique and independent, and every party is different….[I]in addition to authors, live music, cupcakes, scavenger hunts, kids events, art tables, readings, barbecues, contests, and other fun stuff, there are exclusive books and literary items…you can only get on that day.” View the map of participating bookstores here.


Book Publishing’s Bilingual Boom by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The U.S. market for Spanish-language titles is largely being driven by bilingual families, schools that offer dual-language classes, and libraries that service communities with large numbers of Spanish speakers….Bilingual books have proven popular with children, parents, and students alike. In 2022,…Enlingos and Curio launched,…offering subscription boxes for bilingual and Spanish-language children’s books.”


Eight Ways To Make Your Book’s Press Release Work Harder for You by Sandra Beckwith from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “A book announcement press release is a must-have in part because it’s so versatile….Distribute it to the press with advance review copies of your book….Post it in the news rooms of free press release distribution services….Give it to bloggers when scheduling your virtual book tour….House [it] in the press room on your website.”


Library Journal’s virtual Day of Dialog 2023 Spring takes place May 4 from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. pacific, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. central, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. eastern. At this most anticipated librarian-only gathering of the year, “you’ll hear from top authors in genre fiction, literary fiction, and nonfiction. And you still get to dialog by visiting virtual booths, talking with authors, and networking with colleagues.” The entire event will be available on-demand until Aug. 4. Register here.

School Library Journal’s Day of Dialog 2023 Spring takes place May 18 from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. pacific, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. central, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. eastern. At this free virtual program of author panels, in-depth conversations, and keynote talks, you’ll hear about “the hottest forthcoming titles for children, tweens, and teens, from nonfiction and romance to picture books and graphic novels.” You can visit the virtual exhibit hall to chat with publishers and authors, and download galleys and resources. Register here.

Join the Texas Library Association for its 2023 Annual Conference that takes place Apr. 19 to Apr. 22 at the Austin Convention Center. 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 Cynthia Leitich Smith, Gretchen Rubin, Angeline Boulley, and Deborah Roberts. Register here.

Education/Other Resources/Events

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Books of Wonder presents Great Chapter Book Reads with Tae Keller (Mihi Ever After, illustrated by Geraldine Rodríguez (Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), 2022)), Matt Phelan (A Snow Day for Plum! (Greenwillow Books, 2023)), Dwayne Reed (Simon B. Rhymin’ Gets in the Game (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2023)), and Kiki Thorpe (Horsetale Hollow: Stupendously Sampson, illustrated by Laura Catrinella (Disney Hyperion, 2023)). The virtual event takes place Apr. 15 at 12 p.m. pacific, 2 p.m. central, 3 p.m. eastern. Register here.

We Need Diverse Books New Resource Alert: Addressing Book Challenges. Peek: “Someone is challenging books, and you want to fight back but you don’t know how. Here are some basic steps and resources to help you make a strong case—and help keep books available to everyone in libraries and classrooms: Master List of Resources.”

Dr. Debbie Reese, founder of American Indians in Children’s Literature, will present “Evaluating Native Content in Your Library,” a workshop that will “take a critical look at popular classic, and award-winning children’s books with Native content and share details of new books by Native writers and why they are exceptional.” The event takes place Apr. 18 from 9 12 p.m. pacific at the Redwood City Public Library (Downtown Library), 1044 Middlefield Rd., Redwood City, CA. Contact the library for more details.

Reminder! Austin SCBWI’s in-person 2023 Writers & Illustrators Working Conference takes place Apr. 29 to Apr. 30 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Austin. Some sessions will be streamed and recorded. There will be opportunities to “learn your craft, boost your career, get feedback on your work, and meet…with fellow children’s book writers and illustrators.” The schedule includes keynotes, a publishing panel, breakout sessions, intensives and more. Registration is open.

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.” Some of the children’s authors/illustrators who will be present include Cynthia Leitich Smith, Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey, Saadia Faruqi, and Christina Soontornvat.

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 whom include Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek Nation), Angeline Boulley (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians), 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.

Arizona State University’s Department of English presents Día De Los Niños, Día De Los Libros 2023 (Virtual Celebration of Youth, Languages, Literacies and Culture) on Apr. 28 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. pacific, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. mountain, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. central, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. eastern. Attend workshops with famous authors, illustrators, and storytellers and hear from featured speakers, some of whom include Cynthia Leitich Smith, Matt de la Peña, Brian Young, and Meg Medina.

The free Gaithersburg Book Festival takes place May 20 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. eastern at the Gaithersburg Bohrer Park in Gaitherburg, MD. The festival will provide fun activities for children of all ages, including workshops, story times, crafts, and games. Some of the featured children’s/YA authors/illustrators include Cynthia Leitich Smith, Mika Song, Jerdine Nolen, and Nick Brooks.


LBF Lifetime Achievement Award to Klaus Flugge from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “Klaus Flugge, founder of Andersen Press, will receive the London Book Fair’s Lifetime Achievement Award for being ‘a leading light in the world of children’s publishing and illustration.’ He will be honored on Apr. 19…during LBF. The award recognizes ‘an individual who has made a truly significant mark in the sphere of global publishing.’”

CBC Relaunches Children’s Favorites Awards Lists by Pamela Brill from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The former Children’s, Young Adults’, and Teachers’ Choices award programs, originally spearheaded by the International Literacy Association, are now in the hands of the Children’s Book Council, which has since renamed these lists ‘Favorites.’ The accolades have also expanded…with the addition of Librarian Favorites Award Lists, providing greater recognition for these annual literary achievements.”

The Abrams Amplify Award is now accepting middle grade fiction and nonfiction manuscripts through Jun. 1 from U.S. unagented writers 18+ who have not previously published any children’s fiction or nonfiction work. Abrams encourages submission by creators who self-identify as Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Latinx, Middle Eastern, or Native American/Indigenous. The first-prize winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize, editorial notes, and a one-on-one video conference meeting with an Abrams editor. Enter here.

Voting for the second round of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators2023 Crystal Kite Awards will open Apr. 18. To cast your vote, log on to Once you are on your Member Home page, go to the left navigation bar, scroll to the bottom and click on Vote in the Crystal Kite Awards.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

What a week! Harvest House, cover art by Britt Newton, is now available in print, electronic, and audio editions, and Hearts Unbroken is now available in audio edition, too. The original publisher is Candlewick Press, and the audio-editions publisher is Listening Library. The Harvest House audio edition voice actors are Shaun Taylor-Corbett and Charley Flyte; and the Hearts Unbroken audio voice actor is Kyla Garcia. Here’s a peek at the latest buzz:

“Smith’s genre-bending companion novel [Harvest House] to the beloved Hearts Unbroken is a deliciously spooky adventure teen audiences will devour.” —BuzzFeed News

“Cynthia Leitich Smith is just a great storyteller, and this [Harvest House] is such an absorbing read.”  — Kirkus Reviews podcast, episode 315; discussion of Harvest House begins at about 33 minutes.

“This eerie cross-genre novel will entice readers in search of spooky and truthful storytelling.” —The Horn Book

“Garcia’s bright narration suits the teen who finds her voice in the school paper, navigates crushes, and thinks about the future.” —AudioFile on Hearts Unbroken

Process Talk: Cynthia Leitich Smith on HARVEST HOUSE from Uma Krishnaswami. PEEK: “My original concept was the fantastical one. What if a haunted-house attraction—the kind of place people go during October for a fun, safe scare—was really haunted? So, a ghost mystery was a given from the start. Problematic Halloween/horror tropes include the ‘Indian burial ground’ and ‘tragic Indian maiden.’ As an author who engages with the tradition of Story, Harvest House was an opportunity to unpack and address both through a Native lens.”

Thank you to the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers for including me in the conference keynote breakfast last weekend at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio. My fellow panelists were: Safiya Sinclaire, author of How to Say Babylon (Simon & Schuster); Ruchira Gupta, author of I Kick and Fly (Scholastic); Bryan Washington, author of Family Meal (Riverhead Books); LaToya Watkins, author of Holler, Child (Tiny Reparations Books); and Mona Gable, Searching for Savanna: The Murder of One Native American Woman and the Violence Against the Many (Atria Books). Moderator: Calvin Crosby of King’s English Bookstore.

I look forward to the San Antonio Book Festival this Saturday and the Native American Read-In (online) this Sunday.

In Heartdrum news, check out the cover reveal of Rock Your Mocs, written by Laurie Goodluck, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight from We Need Diverse Books. The post includes exclusive insights from the creative team.

More Personally – Gayleen

Nothing beats attending friends’ book launches and last Saturday was filled with abundance! First, I caught Adrianna Cuevas in conversation with Christina Soontornvat at Black Pearl Books for the launch of The Ghosts of Rancho Espanto (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2023). Insight from these award-winning middle grade authors fueled my revision momentum an entire week! And don’t miss Cynthia’s post with Adrianna on eerie books.

Afterwards I raced across town, making it to BookPeople in time to catch Susan Johnston Taylor signing copies of Animals in Surprising Shades (Gnome Road, 2023). I interviewed Susan for a New Voices post earlier this month and she hinted about the book’s “poetic variety,” but I had no idea how rich this collection would be! Each poetic form is thoughtfully paired with the poem’s subject – my favorite: a Pregunta for the eastern newt with the question mark tail. I can’t wait to share these poems with my favorite young reader.

More Personally – A.J.

I’m officially a member of SCBWI and I’m super excited and grateful about it. I’ve always wanted to join and thanks to a scholarship from the Austin SCBWI region I got to! I’m looking forward to diving in to all the resources they offer and learning everything I can!

Personal Links – Cynthia

Indigenous Voices in Literature by Alyse Mgrdichian from Shelf Unbound. Peek: “It’s important for Native kids and teens to find characters, biographical subjects, and culturally resonant topics reflected to them in books. It sends the message that they belong in the global community of readers, and that people like them deserve to be centered. It’s also important for non-Native kids to appreciate our three-dimensional humanity and have their mainstream misconceptions corrected. Indigenous stories for youth lift up young readers. They heal. They build bridges. They make society better.” Article starts on page 50.

Personal Links – Gayleen

Texas County Will Keep Library System Open and Comply With Judge’s Order to Put Banned Books Back in Circulation from NBC News. Peek: “‘The library will remain open while we try this in the courts, rather than through the news media,’ said [Llano County Judge Ron] Cunningham [head of the county commission], who said the county has already spent more than $100,000 on legal costs and vowed to appeal the federal judge’s decision.”