Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: The ABCs of Asian American History by Renee Macalino Rutledge, illustrated by Lauren Akazawa Mendez (Bloom Books for Young Readers, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Simply Seven With Samantha Hawkins: My Mommy Marches from Jena Benton. Peek: “Whatever you write, whatever you put out into this world, make it yours, and make it count! Write to change the world, write to make the world a better place for every child, anywhere in the world. Remember that picture books are often a child’s first glimpses of the real world, so what we write truly matters.”


Call Me Adnan Interview: Illustrator Hazem Asif from Reem Faruqi. Peek: “[C]onsistency should be the key and foundation of success for every artist. Have faith in yourself and be your greatest supporter. Strive to develop a distinctive and dynamic style that is unique to you and helps push your creative boundaries. Let your consistency be the driving force behind your artistic journey.”

Meet Sharon M. Draper by Scholastic Behind the Scenes from YouTube. Peek: “[I]t’s very important that children see strong childhood relationships in fiction. Because of the internet, because everybody has a tablet or a computer or a phone, they don’t communicate the way they used to…[It’s] real important that they have the opportunity through books to see deeper and more expansive layers of what a story can produce.”

U.S. Book Show 2023: Meg Medina by Linda Lowen  from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “You have to center the reader, think about them as sacred, and really write childhood…They’re growing up. You’re helping to build their tools, their sense of self and fairness, and the way they self-reflect and understand people….You’re writing for the child you’re writing about. You want to give them agency within what’s possible for a child.”

Equity & Inclusion

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Ream Shukairy Pours Her Heart Out in Her Love Letter to Syria—“The Next New Syrian Girl” by Khushboo Malhotra from Celeb Mix. Peek: “I’ve always wanted to see myself represented in the media. Muslim stories that are historically projected in media feel like they’re written for everyone else except for Muslims. While those stories are representative of some Muslims, they just fit into the narrative that has been historically accepted by gatekeepers who have the final say.”

Let the Right Ones In: LGBTQ Voices in Publishing by Liz Scheier from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Gigi Griffis:] “When you’re writing as a marginalized author from any sort of background, you’re picking apart your own feelings about a world that’s been horrifying to you at some point…This lets you go into darker things, give characters hope and agency, and unpack difficult things in a way that’s entertaining and safe to explore.”

U.S. Book Show 2023: Tillie Walden by Shaenon K. Garrity from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I get very frustrated with depictions of young women who are just badass characters and never fully cope with the things they go through…I wanted to bring a new quality to this character, which wasn’t just that she can survive anything…,[but] she can learn to cope with her feelings and memories and become a whole, nuanced person.”

Viking Books for Young Readers

Maia, Alex Shibutani Talk New Book, Life Transitions, and AAPI Representation by Mary Omatiga from NBC Sports. Peek: “I think when you talk about visibility and representation, we were always fortunate that we had each other to encourage one another. But…to be able to have those stories that are accessible of people who’ve gone on to do a variety of things, overcome different challenges…[T]hat’s the gift that we want to give the next generation.”

Five Questions for Vashti Harrison from The Horn Book. Peek: “[T]he thing about anti-fat bias is that it’s not just about individual mindsets or perspectives; it refers to systemic and pervasive mistreatment and discrimination on groups of people simply because of their size or body weight or shape. I want to acknowledge with this book that those things exist and are real in our society.”

PEN America, Penguin Random House Sue Florida School District Over “Unconstitutional” Book Bans by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “PEN America, Penguin Random House, a group of authors, and a group of parents have filed a federal lawsuit against a Florida school district over the ‘unconstitutional’ removal of books from school libraries….The suit seeks to have the district’s actions declared unconstitutional and to have the banned books returned to library shelves.”

Writing Craft


Interview: Betty C. Tang Opens Up About Parachute Kids by Avery Kaplan from The Beat. Peek: [Regarding layout and design:] “I wanted to think outside of the box—literally—and avoid having only rectangular boxes and try to make the page look interesting. And because I have on average six to seven panels per page, I needed to find creative ways to utilize as much space as possible, without it looking overcrowded.”

How Keisha Morris Built the Art for A Girl Can Build Anything by Pat Zietlow Miller from Picture Book Builders. Peek: “Once I’ve read the manuscript, I let the ideas flow in and start with scribbling those ideas in a sketchbook or on my iPad….At this stage, I like having more than one idea for each spread so when I go back and create detailed sketches, I can select the strongest idea to move forward with.”

The Writing Quest: A Q&A With Karen Krossing by Anne-Marie Strohman from Kid Lit Craft. Peek: [On writing picture books:] “One breakthrough happened when I applied my novel-plotting strategies to a picture-book manuscript. I created a template of the three-act structure in a 14.5-spread grid, which gave me a container and shape for the manuscript. I have since played with variations of my…template using alternative structures. I still begin a new picture-book manuscript in a grid….”

Tapioca Stories

Let’s Talk Illustrators #248: Natalia Aguerre by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek. “My characters always tend to take up the whole scene, so when I was asked to do a story about a monster, I didn’t hesitate!…I always focus a lot on the characters. I tend to work with limited and vibrant palettes. I like to accentuate with color, to turn it into another narrative element.”


AAP [Association of American Publishers] Meeting Looks at Publishing During a “Dicey Time” by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “AAP CEO Maria Pallante…[said] the unfolding AI developments mark a paradigm shift. ‘We can’t go back to the world before AI, any more than we can go back to the world before the Internet’…In trade publishing, Pallante asked…what would happen if AI-generated works flooded the internet, potentially depressing the value of human authorship?”

Mo Willems Forms Hidden Pigeon Company To Expand IP Library by Karen Raugust from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Author and illustrator Mo Willems has formed the Hidden Pigeon Company in partnership with Willems’s existing production partner, the global media company Stampede Ventures, and private investment firm RedBird Capital Partners. The new venture’s mission is to expand Willems’s library of kids’ and family IP, both existing and in development, across entertainment platforms.”

Lerner Publisher Services Adds Two Publishers from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “Lerner Publisher Services has announced two new distribution agreements: Lerner will be the exclusive book distributor for Scallywag Press in all North American markets….Scallywag Press’s inaugural list with Lerner features three picture books…Lerner will also distribute select library bound children’s series and single titles to the school and public library market for Mayo Clinic Press Kids….”

TikTok Parent Company ByteDance Files Trademark for Publishing Venture from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok,…filed a trademark for 8th Note Press…[whose products and services include] ‘an app to read, download and discuss fiction e-books in an online community; retail bookstore services; ordering books in audio, printed and digital formats; publishing e-books, audiobooks and physical books; as well as providing online, non-downloadable fiction and non-fiction books.’”


It’s Okay for Libraries To Be loud! Take It From Me, a Librarian by Karen MacPherson from The Washington Post. Peek: “If you’re a baby boomer like me, you probably remember libraries as places of silent reading; any loud voices were immediately shushed by a librarian. These days, however, libraries are more like bustling community centers, where being at least somewhat noisy is the new normal, especially when kids are involved.”

Library Journal Movers & Shakers 2023. Peek: [Lisa Peet, Executive Editor:] “One of the questions I’m asked most often…is: What are the biggest issues facing libraries today? Anyone seeking answers would do well to take a look at the 2023 lineup of Movers & Shakers, who are engaging in those issues head on: challenges to intellectual freedom, racism,…and a systemic lack of opportunity for those who are underserved.”


Trends To Help Shape Your Marketing Plans in 2023 by Andrea Moran from Kirkus Reviews. Peek: “There are lots of changes afoot in the book publishing world….As an author, it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with what’s coming next so you can incorporate these practices into your writing and marketing plan if they sound right for you…[R]emember to pick and choose what feels authentic to you and your book.”


Bookstore Sales Rise 10.8% in March from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “In March, bookstore sales rose 10.8%, to $593 million, compared to March 2022, according to preliminary Census Bureau estimates….For the year to date, bookstore sales rose 11.9%, to $2.07 billion compared to the first quarter of 2022….Total retail sales in March rose 2.6%, to $697.2 billion, compared to March 2022.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Dial Books

Penguin Random House’s Middle Grade Munchies presents Snack & Chat With Jack Cheng, during which he’ll discuss his new book The Many Masks of Andy Zhou (Dial Books, 2023). This free virtual event takes place Jun. 16 at 12 p.m. pacific, 2 p.m. central, 3 p.m. eastern. Register here. Download the sampler here to start reading.

Join Chronicle Books and Levine Querido for a Sneak Peek of Upcoming Books. Hear author Nina LaCour speak about her first book in an early readers series: The Apartment House on Poppy Hill, illustrated by Sònia Albert (Chronicle Books, 2023). Also hear comics writer, artist, and editor Jasmine Walls in conversation with illustrator Teo DuVall about their collaboration on their graphic novel Brooms (Levine Querido, 2023). This free virtual event takes place Jun. 1 at 10 a.m. pacific, 12 p.m. central, 1 p.m. eastern. Register here.

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.


Congratulations to the finalists for the 2023 Manitoba Book Awards, especially for the McNally Robinson Book for Young People Award (Older Category) and the Manuela Dias Book Design and Illustration Award: Children’s Illustration/Graphic Novel. The winners will be revealed in mid-June.


Congratulations to the winning and honor books of the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative‘s 2023 Translated YA Book Prize: This is Our Place by Vitor Martins, translated by Larissa Helena (PUSH, 2022)(Winner), Alice on the Run: One Child’s Journey Through the Rwandan Civil War by Gaspard Talmasse, translated by Nanette McGuinness (Life Drawn, 2022)(Honor Book), and The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa, translated by Louise Heal Kawai (HarperVia, 2023)(Honor Book).

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the American Library Association Booklist’s Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth list. “A good story is timeless, and these impeccable novels have plucked their subjects from the past, making them relevant to today’s readers.”

Congratulations to the winners of the British Book Awards, especially in the categories of Illustrator of the Year, Children’s Non-Ficton, Children’s Illustrated, and Children’s Fiction. Congratulations also to the winners of the Book Trade Awards, especially in the categories of Children’s Publisher of the Year and Children’s Bookseller of the Year.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Gayleen

This week I read Finding Jupiter by Kelis Rowe (Crown, 2022). I met Kelis a few weeks ago at the Texas Library Association conference and couldn’t wait to dive into this YA novel that weaves found poetry into a compelling dual point of view narrative.