Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Real to Me by Minh Lê, illustrated by Raissa Figueroa (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Interview With Holding On Creators Sophia N. Lee & Isabel Roxas by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: [Sophia N. Lee:] “I wanted to write the kind of stories that made me fall in love with reading and that helped shape my identity….[A]s readers, [children are] still on the cusp of becoming who they are, and if you’re lucky, as a kidlit author you get to have a hand in helping shape that young mind.”

Balzer + Bray

Four Questions for Ariel Aberg-Riger by Sarah J. Robbins from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “In my conversation with [my publisher], it became very clear that writing the book for young people was the most liberatory possibility. We talk about children and young people as being less than adults, but their brains are so expansive—there’s so much possibility and potential and enthusiasm and excitement….[T]hat is very inspiring.”

In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Ty Chapman from Waterstone Review. Peek: “Children are birthed with so much love in their bodies. It feels perhaps cliche to say, but children must be taught to hate. So, to a certain extent, I write for children to offer an alternative to hate at a time where humans are still open to new ideas.”

An Interview With Alexandra Christo, Author of Princess of Souls from Fierce Reads. Peek: “It’s the most fulfilling thing to know a story that only lived inside my mind for so long was able to break out into the world and make young readers smile! I’ve gone to…signings where readers have handed me their annotated copies of my books, with all the moments they loved and their live commentary.”

Equity & Inclusion

Quill Tree Books

Celebrating AANHPI Heritage Month by Tracy Badua, Nichole Chen, and Karen S. Chow from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Peek: [Nichole Chen:] “I’m super proud to be Taiwanese American…[S]o my stories feature characters who love being Taiwanese and love being American. To show that integration, I try to weave in not only the more intuitive elements of my heritage, like our language…or our delicious food, but also more nuanced elements, like expectations of how we behave toward family….”

Author Jason Reynolds on Book Bans, Racism and Spiderman by Julie Depenbrock from NPR. Peek: “[T]he only thing that I could think about was what’s happening when it comes to…challenging of the books that so many of us write for young people….[I]t doesn’t always feel like you’re banning the book itself. Sometimes it feels like you’re banning the people that those books are about, that…[they] should only exist in the shadows.”

Author Judy Blume…Promotes “Freedom to Read” by Mara Siegler from Page Six. Peek: “People need different kinds of books. Kids need different kinds of books. Sometimes they need to find themselves in books. That’s not necessarily a book for everyone, but it’s a book for that person. Books can save lives…Every book about racism, that’s history… Are we going to stop history because it’s not pretty?”

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Author Angeline Boulley Talks “Warrior Girl Unearthed” with KOIN 6 from YouTube. Peek: “I love writing stories I wish I could have read when I was a teen. They’re stories I want my daughter and my nieces and my former students to [read, to] see themselves in the pages of a book. I drew upon lived experience and things that I have learned about repatriation of ancestors….”

Soman Chainani Teases a Potential Sequel to The School of Good and Evil by Ricky Cornish from Pride. Peek: “As younger generations absorb media that includes more LGBTQ+ storylines, Chainani hopes the representation will bring more acceptance into society. ‘My job is to keep pushing boundaries…I hope that kids are open to it…At the end of the day, it’s me trying to create stuff that I didn’t have when I needed it.’”

Mark Oshiro Talks the Evolution of “Into the Light,” Writing Stories for Transracial Adoptees…. by Karen Rought from Subjectify Media. Peek: “I am primarily writing for me and for kids like me who had to go through the confusing experience of being a transracial adoptee….[O]ne thing that is…common among transracial adoptees—and it is very tragic—is that a lot of us…experience parental rejection….[I] am hoping to reach kids who are dealing with the worst nightmare imaginable.”

Writing/Illustrating Craft

Orchard Books

Let’s Talk Illustrators #247: Jack Wong by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “[O]ne of the best skills a figurative illustrator can learn is to make a drawing based solely on feeling (or even just imagining) the embodied sensations of taking a pose—for example, feeling one shoulder higher than the other, one elbow out and the other tucked in—and trying to translate that information onto the page….”

Interview With Rina Singh by Maria Marshall from The Picture Book Buzz. Peek: “I try to write every day or do some research related to my writing. I would love to write in cafes surrounded by people and the smell of coffee, but I need total silence…So, my study is where I do most of the writing. I love to walk and take pictures. That’s when I get…ideas for writing.”

Where Do You Get Your Ideas? by Tracey Baptiste from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I’m often busy working on several projects at a time, so coming up with the next thing, or fixing a current thing that isn’t working, isn’t always front of mind. I’ve gotten in the habit of asking my subconscious to take on the task of filling in the many creative black holes that pop up.”

Bloomsbury YA

Four Debut Authors on Finding Inspiration, Writing, and Their Publishing Journeys by Kelly Gallucci from We Are Bookish. Peek: [Gabi Burton:] “I stopped actively querying [an earlier] book and started writing [a new one]….There were more Black books on the market and I felt confident enough to write a book with Black readers in mind….I wrote, revised, and edited it in three months…[T]wo days after I started querying, I got an offer of representation for my first book.”

Let’s Talk Illustrators #246: Sandhya Prabhat by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “I try to find the thing that speaks to me in the text first…It sometimes is a character, sometimes a situation, a culture, an experience or sometimes a line that stands out!…I read and re-read the text until it starts to play like a movie in my head and I start to see the pages….”

Every Day: David Levithan and Dion MBD Chat Adaptation, Color Palettes, and Book Bans by Tiffany Babb from Popverse. Peek: [Dion MBD:] “When choosing color, I tried to focus more on the mood of the scene. Some palettes that I chose were not very enjoyable to me, like the scene in the seafood restaurant. But, I intentionally chose that scheme because I would have disliked being in that situation. I think that emotion translates into the story.”


Campbell Books

Two Macmillan U.K. Imprints to Cross the Pond by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “U.K.-based Pan Macmillan will…expand its presence in the U.S. with the debut in this country of two imprints, Campbell Books and Macmillan Children’s Books. Focused on book series for preschoolers, Campbell will roll out on July 4; and on October 1, MCB will distribute its launch U.S. list of stand-alone books selected from the imprint’s U.K. offerings.”


Should You Pay an Influencer to Recommend Your Book? Here’s How to Decide by Sandra Beckwith from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “The FTC requires that influencers receiving anything of value to mention a product disclose that information when referencing the brand…How would you feel if you paid…to be on [an influencer’s] recommended books list, then received a message from a reader expressing disappointment when they learned you paid for, rather than earned, your way onto that list?”


Diverse-Owned Bookstores You Can Support Right Now by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “If you’re shopping for books to give as…gifts, consider shopping small and give back to an independent bookstore this season, since many are struggling….This list of US-based diverse-owned[] bookstores is meant to be a starting place and a guide. If you have a local favorite, find out if they’re…selling online or doing curbside pickup.”

The American Booksellers Association Children’s Institute (Ci2023) takes place Jun. 5 to Jun. 7 at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. Keynote and featured speakers include Nikki GrimesDaniel Nayeri and Nikkolas Smith. There will also be a one-day Virtual Children’s Institute 2023 on Jun. 28. “Ci2023 offers unique education for children’s booksellers in addition to general education sessions, roundtable discussions, networking events, and more!” Register here.


What the Numbers Say About the Drop in School Librarians by Gina Tomko and Eesha Pendharkar from Education Week. Peek: “Over the course of the pandemic, thousands of districts across the country reported losing dozens of school librarians, amounting to an overall loss of more than 1,800 full-time school librarians, which was a 5 percent drop…The losses of school librarians impact mostly non-white districts, and districts with larger percentages of economically disadvantaged students.”

Why Do Most Schools Have Libraries? from Junior Library Guild. Peek: “Libraries are crucial for communities, and school libraries are especially important for young learners; according to the American Library Association, there are over 105,000 school libraries in the United States. School libraries enrich the lives of students, so it’s very important that we continue to advocate for their services!”

Congratulations to the winners of the Texas Library Association Awards, which were presented at the Texas Library Association 2023 Annual Conference in Austin. The awards included the Lifetime Achievement Award, the Librarian of the Year Award, the Distinguished Service Award, and the Wayne Williams Project of the Year Award.


Native Ways of Knowing Book List: Decolonizing and Indigenizing Classrooms and Libraries by Dana Brown from PACEs in Education. Peek: “To help educators and parents choose high-quality Indigenous authored books, the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) and California Indian Education (CIEFA) have designed this Native Ways of Knowing Book List: Decolonizing and Indigenizing Classrooms and Libraries. These books have been vetted by Native American scholars, CIEFA, and SDCOE staff.”

Children’s Book Changemakers Conference 2023, June 8. “Join the SCBWI Impact and Legacy Fund for the Children’s Book Changemakers Conference! This program is available for free to the entire children’s book community, not just SCBWI members, and features giveaways, engaging panels, and incredible children’s book creators who have made a big difference in our field.” Register here.

Read Your World celebrates Multicultural Children’s Book Day is holding an online auction to support their mission “to raise awareness about children’s books that celebrate diversity and to get more of these books into classrooms and libraries.” Items include manuscript critiques, consults, book bundles and more. Bidding is open here through May 15.

The free Gaithersburg Book Festival takes place May 20 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. eastern at the Gaithersburg Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg, 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 SmithMika SongJerdine Nolen, and Nick Brooks.


Random House

Congratulations to the nominees of the 2023-2024 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award list. “The Massachusetts Children’s Book Award was established as a program to encourage children to read great books. 25 books are nominated each year as excellent titles for 9-12-year-olds in fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novels. The nominees must be available in paperback and must have been published within the last five years.” Selections include: The Hero Next Door: A We Need Diverse Books Anthology, edited by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (Random House, 2019, 2021).

Congratulations to the winners of the Mystery Writers of America’s 2023 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, and especially to Aggie Morton Mystery Queen: The Seaside Corpse by Marthe Jocelyn (Tundra Books, 2022)(Best Juvenile) and The Red Palace by June Hur (Feiwel & Friends, 2022) (Best Young Adult).

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators who made the 33rd Annual Reading the West Awards Shortlists, especially in the categories of Picture Books, Young Readers and Young Adults. “Reading the West was conceived to celebrate the diversity, courage, tenacity, expertise, and indie spirit of the bookstores in the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association.” Voting is open until May 31; winners will be announced Jun. 13.

Scholarships & Grants

We Need Diverse BooksWalter Dean Myers Grants will open for submissions on Jun.1. They were established to provide grants of $2,000 each to promising diverse unpublished writers and illustrators. “In 2023, we are offering three community-specific grants in addition to our general five Walter Grants….We are also offering one Walter Grant to disabled writers and two Walter Grants to trans writers and illustrators.” Apply here.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Candlewick Press

Hooray for a third starred review for Harvest House, cover by Britt Newton (Candlewick, 2023)!

★ “…includes moments of joy: Hughie speaking to his sister in Mvskoke, the language of his ancestors, and doing seasonal activities with his friends. What results is an atmospheric, transfixing mystery.” —Shelf Awareness, starred review


Rosemary Brosnan and Cynthia Leitich Smith at HarperChildren’s/Heartdrum have acquired, in a two-book deal, A Constellation of Minor Bears by Stonewall Honor author Jen Ferguson (Métis/white)(The Summer of Bitter and Sweet). In this contemporary novel, two Métis teens whose once-best friendship is hanging by a thread set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in a long-planned post-graduation trip, but their fragile bond is put to the test when a runaway from an abusive weight loss camp unexpectedly joins their hiking group. Publication is planned for fall 2024; Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency handled the deal for world English rights. 

Plus, the New Jersey Library Association has nominated The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson (Heartdrum, 2022) for the 2023 Garden State Teen Book Award in the category Fiction Grades 9-12. This award will be voted on by students this fall and the winner will be announced early next year.


Highly Recommended! A Letter for Bob by author Kim Rogers, illustrated by Jonathan Nelson, reviewed by Dr. Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “I adore this book with a completeness I didn’t anticipate. I’ll be sharing it at every workshop I do, with librarians, educators, teacher-educators…everyone.”

More Personally – Gayleen

Naomi Canale and Gayleen at Austin SCBWI networking dinner.

Last weekend I attended the Austin SCBWI conference and heard insightful talks from the likes of Linda Sue Park and e.E. Charlton-Trujillo. I also reconnected with a former critique partner, the fabulously talented Naomi Canale (pictured above) who not only writes, but also illustrates.

Personal Links – Gayleen

Ban Book Bans: Say No to Racist Silencing of Black and Brown Voices by Kizzy Albritton from the Fulcrum. Peek: “Over the last two years, there has been a growing list of book bans within publicly funded educational spaces and books written by Black and Brown authors have been targeted repeatedly.”