Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Rani’s Remarkable Day by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Anoosha Syed (Clarion Books, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Magical Realism As a Genre for Youth: Author Karla Valenti Invites Exploration of Big Questions by Nawal Qarooni from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Writing for young people allows me to create stories that combine both the cultural richness of my experiences with the exciting explorations of big questions….[Books] allow readers to access complex or novel experiences that are outside the scope of their lived experience….[B]ooks are a transformational journey as a reader connects more deeply with their own reality.”

Author Spotlight: Nicole Chen from KidLit411. Peek: “Revise, revise, revise. Focus on quality and honing in on that unique story message…After I honed in on the kernel of what I really wanted to say…and rewrote a story draft to reflect that, the pieces fell into place. But it took many rounds…[B]e patient and take your time to build the best story you possibly can!”

Blackstone Publishing

Bijal Vachharajani on Her Favorite Children’s Books, Writing Process, Inspirations, and More by Surabhi Rawat from Times of India. Peek: “[C]hildren’s book shouldn’t always have a message in them. They story always comes first. Even when I’m plotting, the first thing is always about the story—like what happens when trees communicate with each other. I think messages are something that adults always look for in stories, but children see the story first.”

Sitting Down With Local Author Christine Day Ahead of Her New Book “We Still Belong” Being Released with Studio 13 Live from YouTube. Peek: “[The] story is set over the course of Indigenous People’s Day. I really like stories for young readers that take place over the course of one day…[F]or kids and teens who are experiencing so many things for the first time, a single day really could feel that big [and] really can make or break you.”

Equity & Inclusion

Tu Books

AAPI Month 2023: Seven Authors on Highlighting Their Cultures for Young Readers by Iyana Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Doan Phuong Nguyen:] “I would have loved having a novel like this…growing up. There weren’t any middle grade or young adult novels with characters who looked like me…so I desperately wished I was white…I hope Vietnamese children are able to find themselves in stories that explore their cultural heritage…Perhaps I would have learned to love and accept my heritage sooner….”

We Need Diverse Books: A Decade in Action from The Horn Book. Peek: “WNDB’s original programming adopted a holistic approach, targeting all aspects of the book pipeline: from the diverse authors who created the books to the publishing professionals who acquired them to the readers who consumed them. Soon the flagship programs of WNDB, which would create significant and sustainable change over the next decade, began to take shape.”

For Author Aya Khalil, Writing Is Resistance in Today’s America by Isabella Silvers from The New Arab. Peek: “When you’re little, you want to see people who look like you, dress like you or have the same name as you in books or on TV. I never had that…Arabs, immigrants or anybody who’s ever felt like they stood out…I want them to feel empowered…about who they are and know that their stories matter.”


Silent Suffering: My Hopes for A Work in Progress, a Guest Post by Jarrett Lerner by Amanda MacGregor from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “I had never before seen a book about a boy struggling with their body image and disordered eating, and to have had a book like that while I was struggling with such stuff as a young boy would’ve been miraculous….I wanted to shine a light on…a quiet kind of…pain that doesn’t announce itself but instead hides….”

Trans Kids Deserve To See Themselves in Children’s Books by Kyle Lukoff from Bazaar. Peek: “[C]hildren deserve honesty, they deserve language, and they deserve to know who they are….Trans children deserve to know that trans people exist….[T]hey should…be given the descriptors that line up with how other trans people talk about themselves and, more importantly, the communities and cultures that we build and maintain by ourselves, for ourselves and each other.”

Writing Craft

Harry N. Abrams

Interview: “Grounded” by Aisha Saeed, S.K. Ali, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, & Huda Al-Marashi from School Library Journal. Peek: [Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow:] “[This] collaboration required a lot of meetings! We met virtually to brainstorm, outline and re-outline, and discuss chapters as we went…[W]e critiqued each other’s chapters in between those meetings. We were Zooming biweekly during the heaviest drafting and revision stages, but it was fun to talk through the story together and laugh at our characters’ antics.”

Jason Reynolds on Living a Curious, Creative, and Imaginative Life from School Library Journal. Peek: “I’m very meticulous. I’m very picky about every word, every line, every paragraph, every page, every chapter. I go through very slowly…I mine and mine. I prune and prune. I make sure every word is the right word, that there’s no extra words. That it’s clear, that the pace is working, [that] the characters are fleshed out.”

Levine Querido

To Remember Is To Live Again, a Guest Post by Federico Erebia by Amanda MacGregor from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “For the writing, I chose to use rhyming, as well as free verse poetry, other poetic devices for lyrical writing, and standard prose. This mix…is unusual, but I like its effect, causing both subtle and visceral emotions. I use Spanish and translation in unexpected ways. And I included over two hundred dichos, or Spanish proverbs….”

Four Big Reasons Manuscripts Get Rejected Part 1 with Laura Backes from Picture Book Summit Podcast. Peek: “[One] reason why your manuscripts might be rejected is that you’re basing your story on an unoriginal idea….The agent or editor can predict the arc or plot from the first few lines…Or the plot is very message driven…[R]eading as many picture books as you can, published in…the last ten years, is going to open up your imagination.”

Cover Reveal: “Alebrijes” by Donna Barba Higuera by Linda Lowen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I’ve had a weird mind since I was a kid. I cannot go through a day without hearing something and coming up with an idea. Because I write middle grade, I pictured different forms of bird drones. Then this character came to mind, this boy, and I had my start.”


Sourcebooks Fire

Spotlight on YA Thrillers by Joanne O’Sullivan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[W]hat exactly is a YA thriller today, and where is the genre headed? [Ben Rosenthal, Sr. Editor, HarperCollins:] ‘In YA in particular, the industry continues to be more top-heavy than we’d like…Authors like Tiffany Jackson have helped blaze trails for authors to get into different categories in YA….[T]hat’s an important aspect of how I want to publish.’”

Spilling the Tea: Author Katherine Locke on Author Finances from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Advances vary so much by genre and by house. You’re going to see advances as low as $500-$1000 at smaller independent houses and advances over six figures at bigger houses for some debuts…..In general, I think debuts typically get somewhere between $7500 and $35,000 for their debuts. It’s hard to say what the true average is….”

Sourcebooks and PRH Buy Callisto Media Publishing Assets from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “Sourcebooks and Penguin Random House have purchased the publishing assets of Callisto Media, publisher of nonfiction adult and children’s books. PRH, which bought 45% of Sourcebooks in 2019 and now has a majority stake in the company, funded the acquisition. Sourcebooks led the purchase and will manage the Callisto Media titles.”


Literati Book Fairs Expand into Minneapolis With Start Reading Now Partnership by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Literati, the popular curator and distributor of children’s books, announced…that it will expand its Literati Book Fair operations into Minneapolis in partnership with nonprofit literacy organization Start Reading Now. The arrangement will bring some 21 free Literati Book Fairs to Minneapolis schools in 2023 and will fund free books for kids in need.”

Joyride Bookshop Partners With the New San Diego Children’s Museum from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “Joyride Bookshop, a children’s bookstore that debuted as a mobile pop-up in summer 2021, has opened a physical location inside the New San Diego Children’s Museum…Bookstore co-owners Katie Turner and Susie Horn have taken over a 350-square-foot space on the museum’s main level. The shop…[will] sell diverse and inclusive children’s books….”


State of America’s Libraries Report 2023 from American Library Association. Peek: “In 2022, the global COVID-19 pandemic entered its third year; political, economic and digital divides grew…[B]ook challenges and bans surged across the country….But despite all these challenges, libraries thrived, pivoting to offer new and updated services to their communities. Adaptation and innovation shined in 2022, proving that there truly is ‘more to the story’ at libraries.” Red the report here.

Education/Other Resources/Events

Children’s Book Committee Releases New “Searchable Best Books List” Tool from Bank Street College of Education. Peek: “On May 1, the Bank Street Children’s Book Committee (CBC) launched its new Searchable Best Books List, an online tool designed to help families, educators, and others access book recommendations for children of all ages. The resource is the latest effort in the CBC’s mission to promote developmentally appropriate and engaging titles that best serve young readers.”

Orchard Books

Scholastic and School Library Journal present Powerful Picture Book Biographies with Aida Salazar, author of Jovita Wore Pants: The Story of a Mexican Freedom Fighter, illustrated by Molly Mendoza (Scholastic Press, 2023), Joanna Ho, author of On the Tip of a Wave: How Ai Weiwei’s Art Is Changing the Tide, illustrated by Catia Chien (Orchard Books, 2023), and Traci N. Todd, author of Holding Her Own: The Exceptional Life of Jackie Ormes, illustrated by Shannon Wright (Orchard Books, 2023). The virtual event takes place May 16 at 11 a.m. pacific, 1 p.m. central, 2 p.m. eastern. Register here.

The ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition takes place Jun. 22 to Jun. 27 in Chicago. The ALA President’s Program takes place Jun. 25 from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., with award-winning filmmaker and author Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu in conversation with ALA President Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada as they discuss “Native Hawaiian philosophy and traditions, and the contributions Wong-Kalu has made to the Native Hawaiian and LGBTQ communities.” Register for the conference here.


Little Rebels Shortlist from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “A shortlist has been released for the £2,000…Little Rebels Award, which is given for radical fiction aimed at children aged 0-12 by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers and was established in conjunction with Letterbox Library. The winner of the award…will be named in July.”

2023 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award Shortlists Announced. “The annual awards, which come with a $6,000 prize each, recognize artistic excellence in writing and illustration in English-language Canadian picture books, middle grade, and young adult literature….[S]tudent juries from Jesse Ketchum Junior and Senior Public School in Toronto will choose the winning titles.”

Congratulations to the winners of the Bank Street College of Education’s Children’s Book Committee Awards 2023: I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel Books, 2022)(Josette Frank Award), Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Joy, illustrated by Janelle Washington (Roaring Book Press, 2022)(Flora Stieglitz Straus Award), and Augusta Savage: The Shape of a Sculptor’s Life by Marilyn Nelson (Christy Ottaviano Books)(Claudia Lewis Award).

Candlewick Press

Congratulations to the winners and silver medalists of the the Irma Black Award and Cook Prize. The winners are Bathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by David Roberts (Chronicle Books, 2022)(Irma Black Award Gold Medalist), and Anglerfish: the Seadevil of the Deep by Elaine M. Alexander, illustrated by Fiona Fogg (Candlewick Press, 2022)(Cook Prize Gold Medalist).

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books were selected for the Bank Street College of Education’s Children’s Book Committee‘s The Best Children’s Books of the Year 2023 Edition. The book includes “more than 600 titles chosen by the Children’s Book Committee as the best of the best published in 2022. In choosing books for the annual list, committee members consider literary quality and excellence of presentation as well as the potential emotional impact of the books on young readers.”

Congratulations to the winner of the 2023 Anna Dewdney Read-Together Award, which is given annually to a picture book “that is both a superb read-aloud and also sparks compassion, empathy, and connection”: The Proudest Color by Dr. Sheila Modir and Jeffrey Kashou, illustrated by Monica Mikai (Familius, 2021).

Scholarships, Grants & Offerings

Publishers Weekly is offering to librarians a limited number of complimentary in-person tickets (on first come, first serve basis) and free virtual tickets to the U.S. Book Show: Connecting the Community. Building Buzz Around Books, which 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. For free in-person tickets use promo code PFL100 when registering. For free virtual tickets, use promo code PFLCOMP. Get your tickets here.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Preparations for the upcoming We Need Diverse Books Native Children’s-YA Writing Intensive are in full swing. However, I’ve been able to sneak in some writing time, and I’m so grateful for all of the ongoing support for my new Indigenous YA ghost novel, Harvest House, cover by Britt Newton (Candlewick, 2023) for ages 12-up.

Candlewick Press

“The spirit of a young Indigenous woman is rumored to haunt a crossroads, and who she was and what happened to her – and how the raw injustice of the past can leach its poison into the present – are at the heart of this well-crafted mystery…” —The Buffalo News



Kudos to Christine Day for her starred review from Kirkus Reviews for We Still Belong, cover by Madelyn Goodnight (Heartdrum, 2023):

★ “A rich, captivating story that will resonate with readers.”

More Personally – Gayleen

This week I learned about the Texas legislature, specifically the Senate Committee on Education which was scheduled to discuss HB 900, the READER act, (Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources), a bill aimed squarely at limiting book access. Ahead of the hearing, I emailed several senators, urging them to vote against the bill. I couldn’t make it to the capitol, but discovered Texas Senate committee hearings are available to view online. HB 900 wasn’t discussed in part 1 of the committee meeting, in fact it didn’t come up until the committee reconvened after the Senate adjourned around 5:30 p.m.

I’m grateful to author Chris Barton and the librarians, teachers and booksellers who testified against the bill. The final witness to testify against the bill (around 7:30 p.m.) was an eighth grade student who masterfully articulated how important books are to her and reminded the committee that limiting access to books will hurt young readers. I hope the senators were as moved by her testimony as I was.

In cheerier news, next Friday I’ll be selling books (with no restrictions) at the Lago Vista Friends of the Library Book Sale to grow our library collection.

More Personally – Gail

I was excited to interview children’s/YA Indigenous author David A. Robertson for Lunch Ticket Literary Journal. We discussed his work, his writing process, and his mission to educate young readers: “If we’re really going to work together to heal and create change, we have to know why we’re doing it….We have to know the history and what’s happening today. We can learn in several ways, and one way is by reading books that have value and meaning.” You can read the interview here. His newest book was released in April: That Song That Called Them Home, illustrated by Maya McKibbin (Tundra Books, 2023).

Personal Links – Gayleen

The American War on Books: A Prominent Feature of the Assault on Freedom of Thought and Expression in the US is the Race to Ban Books by Belén Fernández from Al Jazeera.