Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Night Market Rescue by Charlotte Cheng, illustrated by Amber Ren (Rocky Pond Books, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Q&A With Zion Clark and James Hirsch by Georgie Fehringer from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Zion Clark:] “There are a lot of things in life…that can either break us down or build us up….I want people to be inspired to look at themselves and be like, there’s more to me than what I see and I have more to offer to myself and to the world around me.”

Penguin Workshop

Q&A Profile: Malia Maunakea by BWA Newsletter from Boulders Writers Alliance. Peek: “Find your people! They don’t have to be near you, though resources like [Boulder Writers Alliance] are fantastic and meeting in person brings an energy unlike any virtual call….Writers who speak the language of querying, being on sub, critique partners,…etc. can help keep you motivated,…offer advice, and listen to you drone on about craft….”

An Interview With Dan Clay, Author of Becoming a Queen from Fierce Reads. Peek: “Connecting one on one with readers is a gift beyond description. Much of what I write is quite personal, and…revolves around lessons that took me a rather long time to learn. When someone gets it, when it helps them in some way…it’s the reward of a lifetime. What a privilege to be a writer!”

Interview With Michelle Theodore, Illustrator of Mira and Baku from Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Peek: “When you’re young it is really easy to overlook your family and the ways they have poured themselves into creating a sense of normality and comfort in uncertain times. I would hope any young reader would take a moment to appreciate their home and family and especially the days that don’t seem particularly special.”

Equity & Inclusion

Margaret Ferguson Books

Introducing “Buffalo Flats” by Martine Leavitt: The Dilemma of Portraying Faith in Historical Fiction by Martine Leavitt from the Association for Mormon Letters. Peek: “[R]eligious belief, or at least religious inquiry, is undoubtedly a part of many young people’s lives….And if it were true that many or some young people respectfully consider religion and religious questions, then the picture of American religious life that emerges from YA literature is not representative. And perhaps it should be.”

The Need for “Window-Mirrors” by Jennifer De Leon from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Diverse books can do even more than offer windows and mirrors (and sliding glass doors, which allow the reader to enter the story and become immersed in that world). They can create mirror-windows, spaces where young people can dis-cover more about themselves, and learn more about our history, struggles, and triumphs.”

Amplification or Suppression? Author Maggie Tokuda-Hall Calls Out Edits Proposed by Scholastic by Nathalie op de Beeck from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Concerns about censorship at Scholastic’s Rising Voices Library…[arose] after writer Maggie Tokuda-Hall was asked to…cut the words ‘virulent racism’ from a sentence about the trauma caused by anti-Japanese American policies and…eliminate a paragraph about racism’s broader legacy in America. Scholastic’s actions sparked an immediate backlash on social media and an apology from the company.” See also, An Open Letter from Scholastic Education Solutions’ President, Pretty Okay Maggie, and Scholastic Wanted To License Her Children’s Book—[I]f She Cut a Part About “Racism.”

Knopf Books for Young Readers

Everyone Loves Lunchtime But Zia, Interview With Author Jenny Liao by Sara Holly Ackerman from Picture Book Builders. Peek: “Growing up, as one of the few Asians in my school, I often rejected my Chinese culture because I thought it would help me be accepted by other students. Eating Cantonese food, the…foods found in this story, helped me find my way back to my heritage. It reminded me just how rich my own culture is….”

Becoming My Own Hero by Rod Pulido from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve been fascinated with superheroes….I was a Marvel fanboy…, obsessing over the adventures of the Fantastic Four…Still, in the back of my mind, I’d wonder why no heroes ever looked like me….[My character’s] story and my journey in embracing my bisexuality are intertwined.”

Give Me a Sign: Six YA Authors on the Power of Astrology and Tarot by Iyana Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Ananya Devarajan:] “When I was first writing…a novel that openly discusses Indian American representation in Western spaces, I knew that I wanted to highlight the version of astrology that I, as well as my community, grew up with….I hope to have presented a nuanced perspective on the significance of astrology, and its intersection with the Indian American lived experience.”

Writing Craft

Scholastic Press

An Indies Introduce Q&A With Claire Forrest with Tory Hall from the American Booksellers Association. Peek: “Many details of this book changed throughout the writing and editing process, but I had a solid vision of the ending when I was about halfway through writing my first draft…[T]hat did not waver. So while some of the individual ending scene details were fuzzy early on, I always knew the general direction I was headed….”

A Vaccine Is Like a Memory: Interview…With None Other Than Rajani LaRocca by Betsy Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “I became curious about the history of vaccines and decided to do some research and present this history and the science of vaccines in a way that was accessible to children. I wanted to explain in an approachable way the history of vaccines, how they work, and why they’re important.”

Author Interview: Spell Bound by F.T. Lukens by Christy Jane from BookCrushin’. Peek: “I brainstormed with my brother an idea about magical wifi. And…how that would work in a contemporary fantasy setting. Then taking that idea, I developed the conflict that could come from a reality with that set up. After that, I did a lot of research into tropes around sorcerers and witches…and incorporated those into the worldbuilding.”

Wednesday Books

Author Interview: Wildblood by Lauren Blackwood by Kelly from BookCrushin’. Peek: “[The protagonist] came pretty fully formed as far as personality early on…I refined her narrative voice over a few drafts, and her relationship with a couple of the boys changed from the first draft….She only changed if the plot events around her did, and only in that her reactions were different depending on the situation.”

An Interview With Melissa de la Cruz, Author of The Headmaster’s List from Fierce Reads. Peek: “[It’s challenging] that [authors] now have to be social media savvy. I think it’s always been a bonus for authors who are willing to put themselves out there, but now it feels oppressive to be constantly selling. I try to balance it so that social media is fun for me.”

Writers@Work: Writing Novels in Verse, An Interview With Padma Venkatraman by Rochelle Melander from Right Now! Coach. Peek: “Reading and writing poetry helps me intensify emotion in my novel….Poetry is, among other things, about the movement or tension between what’s within versus what’s outside us. A simple exercise is to just gaze out a window, make notes on what you perceive, and then consider how your mental state might change your view.”


Lerner Publishing Group’s New Partnership Centers Accessibility by Iyana Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Lerner Publishing Group…announced a partnership with educational nonprofit Benetech that will provide access to all Lerner ebook titles to children in the U.S. with reading disabilities. More than 7,000 titles across Lerner’s catalog will be available through Bookshare, an online library of ebooks created for people with dyslexia, blindness, cerebral palsy, and other reading challenges.”

When Do I Earn Out? from When Do I Earn Out Web App. Peek: “[This is a] simple tool designed to calculate how many copies you must sell to earn out your advance. ‘Earning out’ means that the amount you’ve ‘earned’ in royalties from copies sold (across all formats) equals or exceeds your advance payment….If your publisher has sold subrights…on your behalf, a portion of that amount (e.g. 80%) counts against your advance.”

Starting Salaries at Big Publishers Grow by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “As of April 1, the average entry-level salary for publishing employees located in New York City at the Big Five trade publishers and Scholastic was $47,583, up from $38,583 before the Covid-19 pandemic…That marks an increase of 23.3%, during a period when prices rose 12.4%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

S&S to Distribute Collective Book Studio from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Simon & Schuster has entered into a distribution agreement with the Collective Book Studio. Under the agreement, S&S will handle sales and distribution for all formats worldwide effective July 1. Founded by Angela Engel in 2019, the Collective Book Studio is a partnership publisher of lifestyle, food, gift, and children’s books.”


Ten Black-Owned Bookstores Across America To Visit and Support from Ebony. Peek: “[B]ooks continue to serve as important tools to educate and entertain ourselves. And…there’s nothing better than curling up with a good book!…[A] variety of Black-owned bookstores across the country have stepped up to give voracious readers a safe haven to discover Black authors of the past and give new writers a platform to sell their works.”

LBF2023: The Audio Boom Continues from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “Current audio sales are estimated at $5 billion worldwide, and predictions are that they will grow about 14% a year and reach $9 billion by 2026, according to Videl Bar-Kar of Bookwire…Michele Cobb of the Audio Publishers Association…[noted] that in the U.S., audio has had 10 years of double-digit growth.…”

Groundwood Books

The in-person California Independent Booksellers Alliance Spring Forum 2023 El Segundo takes place May 7 at Centrl Office, 840 Apollo St., El Segundo, CA from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. pacific time. ​It will be a full day of education, authors, and rep picks, with opportunities to meet children’s/YA authors such as Carlyn Greenwald and Sandra V. Feder. Online registration is available here until May 1. Registration at the door is welcome.


ALA Releases Top 13 Most Challenged Books of 2022 by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The American Library Association kicked off National Library Week with the release of its State of America’s Libraries 2023 Report, which includes its annual list of the top 10 most challenged books….In 2022, there were multiple books that received the same number of challenges, ALA officials said, resulting in the expansion of the list to 13 titles.”

Libraries Defying the Odds from Library Journal. Peek: “Library Journal and Gale…announce[d] the inaugural Libraries Defying the Odds award, created to help address the needs of public libraries in a continuously changing landscape….[The] award will provide $10,000 to a U.S. public library that is stepping up for its community and staff in the face of adversity—and to celebrate library workers….” The nomination deadline is May 13. Submit nominations here.

National Library Week, with the theme “There’s More to the Story,” concludes Apr. 29. Check out the special events that several libraries have planned. The event’s posterbookmarks, and mini-poster file are available at the ALA Store.

Education/Other Resources/Events

Stop What You Are Doing and Watch Jerry Craft on The Daily Show by Travis Jonker from School Library Journal. Peek: “Newbery Medalist Jerry Craft appeared on The Daily Show and knocked it out of the park. He addresses the fools who think ‘graphic novels’ are novels with graphic content (facepalm), discusses the recent explosion of book banning, and shares his story of going from a non-reader to an award-winning author.”

Reminder! Publishers Weekly’s U.S. Book Show: Connecting the Community, Building Buzz Around Books takes place May 22 to May 25. The show will be a hybrid event—in-person at New York University’s Kimmel Center and live streaming to a virtual audience. “Meg Medina, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and Newbery Medalist whose middle-grade books dive into Cuban American and Latino culture, will keynote on Children’s Books Day, May 24.…” Explore the schedule here and register here.

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Join Book People’s Book Kids event with Cate Berry and Anne Bustard as they celebrate the release of their new books, respectively, Thank You, Teacher! (Balzer + Bray, 2023) and Far Out! (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2023). The event takes place Apr. 30 at 2 p.m. central at Book People bookstore, 603 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin, TX.  RSVP here.

Brookline Booksmith presents Racquel Marie in conversation with Jake Maia Arlow about Racquel’s new YA book You Don’t Have a Shot (Feiwel & Friends, 2023). The free virtual event takes place May 9 at 5 p.m. pacific, 7 p.m. central, 8 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Educator Guide: Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Letich Smith, written by Andrea Page (Lakota – Standing Rock), edited by AJ Eversole, designed by Bree Bender. Includes discussion questions and curriculum connections. Book published by Candlewick Press for 14-up.

Educator Guide: Harvest House by Cynthia Leitich Smith, written by Andrea Page (Lakota – Standing Rock), edited by AJ Eversole, designed by Bree Bender. Includes discussion questions and curriculum connections. Book published by Candlewick Press for 12-up.


Congratulations to the winners of the 43rd Annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, especially in the category of Young Adult Literature: Torch by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Carolrhoda Lab, 2022). “The Times’ Book Prizes recognize literary excellence and celebrate the highest quality of writing from authors at all stages of their careers.”

Grants & Mentorships

If you are of a diverse background and desire to work in children’s or adult publishing, there’s still time to apply for the We Need Diverse BooksInternship Grant Program, which awards 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 by May 7.

The Society of Children’s Writers and IllustratorsMichigan Chapter will hold two picture book text competitions for its 2023-2024 Picture Book Writing Mentorships, in the categories of Verse and Prose. Each applicant must be a SCBWI member who lives in Michigan part of the year. The mentorship includes six submissions by the mentee and six critiques by the mentor. All applicants receive constructive comments from the judges. One entry per person; choose only one mentor. Register here from May 15 to Jun. 5.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Speaking at San Antonio Book Festival with Guadalupe Garcia McCall and Mark Oshiro.

Thank you Texas librarians, Candlewick Press, HarperChildren’s, fellow author-panelists, and everyone who came to my sessions at the Texas Library Association conference in Austin and the San Antonio Book Festival. Both events were an absolute delight!

My new YA novel Harvest House, cover by Britt Newton (Candlewick, 2023) was named one of Amazon Editors’ Best Books of April in Teen and Young Adults. Also, from Amazon Editors’ Picks: Books We’re Talking About by Lindsay Powers: “Harvest House is suspenseful, insightful, and unputdownable.”

Meanwhile, Amanda MacGregor at Teen Librarian Toolbox from School Library Journal says:

“This was a great read. It definitely works as a stand-alone story, but readers who have already read Hearts Unbroken will enjoy getting to see more stories from characters they met in that book.”

Publishers Weekly also named Harvest House among new and notable books of April 2023.

Plus, AudioFile Magazine featured a thoughtful discussion of Hearts Unbroken, which is newly available in an audio edition in the Behind the Mic podcast.

Congratulations to Heartdrum’s Brian Young on a starred review for Heroes of the Water Monster, cover by Shonto Begay!

 Kirkus Reviews (starred): “The bittersweet ending is as beautiful as the prose describing the fantastical journey to get there. Thought-provoking and full of heart; a genuinely pleasurable read.”

More Personally – Gayleen

Carol Kim, Gayleen, Gloria Amescua and Duncan Tonatiuh at TLA 2023.

I had a fantastic time catching up with authors and librarians at the Texas Library Association Conference last week! In 2021, I interviewed authors Carol Kim and Gloria Amescua for Cynsations picture book biography series, and was excited to see them again and meet illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh.

One TLA author I didn’t get a picture with, but gushed like a fangirl over is April Henry. I’d just finished her newest mystery, Girl Forgotten (Christy Ottaviano Books, 2023) and am grateful she indulged my rambling about the details. April’s post on tension is the most viewed Cynsations piece of all time.

Personal Links – Cynthia

Goodreads Giveaway of Harvest House, sponsored by Candlewick Press. Peek: “We’re giving away 15 copies of this spooky tale….”

Personal Links – Gayleen

Advocacy Tools: Ramp Up Your Library Advocacy from the Texas Library Association. Peek: “Building relationships with your local, state and national elected officials is essential to advocacy.”