Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: I’m From by Gary R. Gray Jr., illustrated by Oge Mora (Balzer + Bray, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

What Kate DiCamillo Understands About Children by Casey Cep from The New Yorker. Peek: “I can never make my peace with suffering, but holding on to things doesn’t make my stories any better, it doesn’t make…people around me any happier….[W]e all have to push against the darkness however we can. For me, it’s…writing stories that let children feel seen and to know they’re not alone in whatever they’re going through.”

Roaring Brook Press

…An Eagle Drums Interview With Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson by Betsy Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “[W]e are better working together, but this in itself is a skill that needs to be practiced over and over again. The best part of Humanity is the fluidity of it all, so celebrate and rejoice with one another frequently so you don’t miss anything good!”

Amber McBride Talks With Roger by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: “I use writing as a way to cope….[E]verything I write doesn’t have to be published. I’ve got several books that won’t be published. They were written for…my mental health, getting me through a difficult time. It is finding the balance between what am I giving to the world and what am I keeping…for my own healing.”

How I Wrote What I Didn’t Know by Srividhya Venkat from Writers’ Rumpus. Peek: “[I]f you ever contemplate writing about something you ‘don’t know,’ here’s my two cents: Follow your curiosity and don’t limit yourself. Be ready to do the required due diligence. Draw inspiration and/or parallels from your own experiences. Share your work with your critique group (and experts, if needed). Be kind to yourself and exercise self-care.”

Equity & Inclusion

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

An Indies Introduce Q&A With K. X. Song with Zsamé Morgan from the American Booksellers Association. Peek: “[W]hen you read a novel, you put yourself in the shoes of your narrator or protagonist. You start to relate to them, no matter how different they are from you….[I]n some way, this exercise changes you—even after you close…the book….[D]iverse representation in stories is important, regardless of if you’re the one actually being ‘represented.’”

American Indians / Indigenous Peoples / Native Nations from Social Justice Books. Peek: “This list is drawn from books recommended by Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children’s Literature.” Categories include: Board Books, Elementary, Middle School, and High School/Adult.

Check This Out: Ways to Play by L. Marie from El Space–The Blog of L. Marie. Peek: [Lyn Miller-Lachmann:] “Levine Querido put out a call…for a picture book text by an autistic author….My biggest challenge was overcoming the feeling that I couldn’t do this. What helped me was seeing [the autistic illustrator’s] gallery of illustrations…I could connect his universe to my own experiences of playing with toys in ways that were different from the other kids….”

little bee books

Guest Post: Making Connections Through Dosas by Suma Subramaniam from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: “There is no question that food and animals are enticing topics for young readers. They have played significant roles in books for a long time. However as a child, I hardly read any children’s stories about Indian food even if that’s what I ate…I didn’t see the publishing landscape change even after I became an adult.”

Disabled Authors Deserve, and Demand, More by Alice Wong from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Disabled people hunger to see themselves accurately depicted…The challenges and barriers are significant for disabled writers, artists, and creatives, but there is also such richness, joy, creativity, and abundance in our wisdom and lived experiences….[P]eople don’t realize how difficult it is to tell your story when it feels like the world doesn’t have space for you.”

How Adults Can Discuss 9/11 With Young People by Saadia Faruqi from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[M]any of us…are wondering how to broach [9/11] with young people…Things you may be aware of include airport security and the wars on terror. Things you may not be aware of include everyday discrimination of anyone who looks like the enemy…Talk about…[n]ot just the attacks, but also the repercussions felt all over the world.”

Writing Craft

St. Martin’s Essentials

10 Books To Make You a Better Writer by Beth Kempton from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[A healthy] way to get better at writing…is to hone your own evaluation skills and learn to trust your own opinion…The best way to do that is to read and write a lot….Here are 10 books…which have made me a better writer because of the advice they offer [or] the masterful way they are written….”

The Walk—Interview With Winsome Bingham by Andrea Wang from Picture Book Builders. Peek: “[The book] is an example of a ‘moment in time’ narrative. This is what happened and here is how….I never liked the ‘three times try and fail’ format. Most times, Black and Brown children will not have the opportunity to try and fail. Most times, they have one shot. So, I create my own structure and format.”

Let’s Talk Illustrators #259: Oleksandr Shatokhin by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “The approach to creating a silent book definitely differs from the standard one and therefore requires emotional, clear, and understandable development of the plot in illustrations. Wordless books are called silent…because they lack words but [are] overflowing with emotions!… I wanted to make this book…purely based on feelings…. Sometimes words are superfluous. I love quiet books.”

Neal Porter Books

A Walk in the Woods: An Interview With Nikki Grimes About Friendship, Representation, and Grief by Amy Malskeit from Imagination Soup. Peek: “I tried coming up with storyline ideas that Jerry could illustrate, and he kept saying no…, not because they weren’t workable, or worthy…, but because he wanted this book to be a conversation between an author and an artist…It took a while for me to figure out how to achieve that…Until I did, we just kept talking.”

Four Questions for Nikkolas Smith by Idris Grey from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Speed painting is what I do…I can’t spend long amounts of time on pieces. I have to get the idea and the energy out quickly. They’re all very painterly….[I] want my visual art…to have a lot of movement, the feeling of oil on canvas. A lot of people who don’t know will think it is oil painting.”

Visiting New Spaces: A Q&A With Meera Sriram by Kristi Wright from Kid Lit Craft. Peek: “I thoroughly enjoy revising! I love sitting with all the feedback from critique partners, parsing through every comment, processing every suggestion, and later experimenting and incorporating changes as needed. I read aloud every version countless times. Sometimes, I rewrite the whole thing! Regardless, the process always opens new doors, most often one door at a time.”


Diversity Is on the Rise in Children’s Literature by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The Cooperative Children’s Book Center…released its annual compilation of statistics on diversity in children’s literature. Of the 3,450 books published in 2022 that were received by the CCBC, 40%…were by a person of color, defined by the CCBC as having at least one author, illustrator, or compiler of each book being a person of color….”

The Shifting Middle Grade Market by Joanne O’Sullivan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “According to Circana BookScan, 2022 ended with year-over-year middle grade sales down 16% overall and 19% in hardcover. This year has seen overall middle grade sales down 8% year over year, while hardcover sales in the category are down 7%….Last year, graphic novels accounted for around a quarter of all middle grade sales….”

It’s Not Me, It’s You: An Argument for Shorter Middle Grade Books by Melissa Taylor from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[M]any kids won’t even pick up a long book…When looking at a book with a lot of pages, children might be intimidated, they might prefer quicker stories, they might be struggling readers, and/or…have attention issues….We can do better for all readers, not just struggling readers,…and readers who, like me, prefer…options of well-paced, exceptionally written shorter books.”

KKR Wins S&S for $1.62 Billion by Jim Milliot and Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[T]he private investment firm KKR has reached an agreement with Paramount Global to acquire Simon & Schuster for $1.62 billion in an all cash transaction. Though below the $2.175 billion that Penguin Random House had previously agreed to pay for the country’s third largest trade publisher, $1.62 billion is a healthy price….”


Reading the Rainbow: DonorsChoose Debuts ColorPop Books by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “ColorPop Books, an online shop selling curated bundles of books featuring diverse characters and creators for families, [has] launch[ed]…The new venture is sponsored by DonorsChoose, the education nonprofit that helps public school teachers secure donated funding for classroom projects…Five dollars of the purchase price of each ColorPop bundle goes to the DonorsChoose Book Donation Fund….”


The Little Free Library’s Indigenous Library Program grants “no-cost Little Free Library boxes full of books to Indigenous communities with limited book access.” In tribal communities, book access is a challenge because most do not have their own public libraries. Apply for an Indigenous Library Program grant here.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Hits Notable Milestone—200 Million Books Sent to Children by David Chiu from People Magazine. Peek: “[T]he Imagination Library has so far gifted 200 million books worldwide since its founding….‘I know there are children in communities around the world with big dreams and the seeds of these dreams are often found in books,’ said Parton….[The] Library…mails over 2 million free age-appropriate books each month to enrolled children from birth to age five.”

A “Serious Responsibility”: Four SLJ Reviewers Talk Process, Selecting Stars by Kara Yario from School Library Journal. Peek: “A group of approximately 500 practicing or recently retired school, public, and academic librarians…along with some children’s literature academics and the SLJ Reviews editors…are SLJ’s reviewers….[T]hey know what is expected and what librarians need from a review….[T]he reviewers know firsthand that sometimes stars are all librarians have time to see.”

Page Public Library, Community Heartbeat: Best Small Library In America, 2023 by Amy Rea from Library Journal. Peek: “The Page Public Library, on the northern Arizona border, is considered…the essential core of the community….[T]he library, with its staff of nine, has become a lifeline, serving adults, students, and businesses in creative and critical ways. For its sustaining work, Page Library is the recipient of LJ’s 2023 Best Small Library in America Award….”


Social Media Corner: Mastering BookTok from SCBWI. Peek: “As of August 2023, #Booktok has racked up over 173 billion views….Booktok does not come without its fair share of criticism…[including] overconsumption of books, lack of diversity amongst the top picks, and ‘review bombing’ new work if misinformation gets out about the author or illustrator….[B]ut the positives…tend to outweigh the negatives!”

Education/Other Resources/Events

The free virtual Latinx Kidlit Book Festival will be streamed live on the festival’s YouTube channel on Fridays starting Sept. 22 through Oct. 13. The sessions are geared toward all schools, educators, students and book lovers and are suitable for students of every age—from pre-K to 12th grade—and every background and identity. See schedule here and sign up to receive a free classroom set of books here.

Library Journal’s free virtual Day of Dialog Fall 2023 takes place Oct. 26 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 will hear from top authors in genre fiction, literary fiction, and nonfiction and learn about the latest titles and trends…Sessions will be available for on-demand viewing within 24 hours, and the entire event will be accessible for three months from event date.”

School Library Journal’s free virtual Fall 2023 Day of Dialog takes place Oct. 12 from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. pacific, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. central, 9 a.m. to 6 pm eastern. “Our daylong program of author panels, in-depth conversations, and keynote talks will leave you informed, inspired, and entertained. Come hear about the hottest forthcoming titles for children, tweens, and teens… Sessions will be available for on-demand viewing within 24 hours, and the entire event will be accessible for three months from event date.”


Congratulations to the winners of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and IllustratorsGraphic Novel Award and Novel-in-Verse Award. The winners are: Somesh Kumar for Little by Little (Graphic Novel) and Charlotte Sheer for Tagged for Delivery (Novel-in-Verse). The awards were established to recognize excellent unpublished works in these two categories.

Here’s the Longlist for the 2023 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature from Literary Hub. Peek: “Today, the National Book Foundation announced the longlist for the 2023 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. The ten titles were all written by newcomers to the National Book Awards, and were selected from a pool of 348 books submitted for consideration by their publishers….[F]inalists will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 3.”

Orchard Books

Congratulations to the winners and honorees of the 2023 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, which celebrate excellence in children’s and young adult literature. The winners are: When You Can Swim by Jack Wong (Orchard Books, 2023)(Picture Book), Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley (Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), 2023)(Fiction and Poetry), and Sunshine by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Graphix, 2023)(Nonfiction).

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and IllustratorsImpact & Legacy Fund has three awards open for submission from children’s book creators. No SCBWI membership is required:

Scholastic Focus

Congratulations to the winners and honorees of the International Literacy Association’s 2023 Children’s and Young Adult Book Awards. The awards recognize “newly published authors who show unusual promise in the children’s and young adult book field.” The winners are:

Congratulations to the winners of the 2023 Arab American Book Awards in the categories of YA and Children’s Literature. The winners are: Ida in the Middle by Nora Lester Murad (Crocodile Books, 2022)(YA) and Arab Arab All Year Long! by Cathy Camper (Candlewick Press, 2022)(Children’s Literature).

Scholastic Press

Congratulations to the recipients of the 2023 Malka Penn Award for Human Rights, which “is given annually to the authors of an outstanding children’s book addressing human rights issues or themes such as discrimination, equity, poverty, justice, war, peace, slavery or freedom.” The winners are: Beneath the Wide Silk Sky by Emily Inouye Huey (Scholastic Press, 2022)(Novel) and The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs by Chana Stiefel, illustrated by Susan Gal (Scholastic Press, 2022)(Picture Book).

New Jacqueline Woodson Award for LGBTQ+ Children’s/YA Literature from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “The Publishing Triangle is adding the Jacqueline Woodson Award for LGBTQ+ Children’s/YA Literature, which will honor outstanding works of literature geared toward children and young adults that explore themes related to LGBTQ+ experiences, identities, and issues. The award will highlight books that effectively address LGBTQ+ topics in an age-appropriate and sensitive manner….”

Scholarships, Grants, Mentorships

Submissions for the Annick Press Mentorship Program will be accepted until Sept. 29. The program, for Canadian writers who have been historically excluded from children’s publishing, seeks “to provide guidance on development of book ideas for children and young adults with a view to publication, whether or not at Annick, and to provide insight into the editorial process and the publishing industry.” Access the application form here.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Welcome back to Cynsations! It’s been a whirlwind of a summer for me. Highlights included the WNDB Native Children’s-YA Writing Intensive and a ten-day research road trip for my next middle-grade novel. There’s so much news to share. I’ll have to settle for highlighting…!

Exciting news! Cover Reveal for Mission One: The Vice Principal Problem by Kekla Magoon and Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Molly Murakami by JoAnn Yao from We Need Diverse Books.

CYNTHIA: It’s a series, and the stories all include family and friendship dynamics alongside the bigger, bolder missions. I love the interwoven humor, innovation, and heart. That said, the main takeaway is that, working together in family and community, we can raise up and safeguard our communities.

KEKLA: We want readers to have fun with the characters first and foremost, but also definitely to walk away feeling empowered by the knowledge that creating change is possible when you band together with those who share your convictions.

Thanks for all of your support of my new Indigenous YA ghost mystery, Harvest House (Candlewick, 2023). Large-print editions of the novel will be published in hardcover and paperback by Thorndike Press. Check out Six Favorite Authors Writing in New or Unexpected Genres by Alex Brown from Peek: “Harvest House is her first foray into ghosts and murder mysteries, and it did not disappoint…I hadn’t expected a premise like this from Smith, but she absolutely nailed it. Harvest House also was named to’s Teen and Young Adult Best Books of 2023 (So Far).


Rosemary Brosnan and Cynthia Leitich Smith at Heartdrum/HarperCollins have acquired Yáadilá! (Good Grief!) by Laurel Goodluck (Mandan/Hidatsa/Tsimshian), author of Forever Cousins. This humorous intergenerational story portrays the Diné expression for exasperation as a boy’s seeming naughtiness is revealed to be a heartwarming welcome for his grandmother. Jonathan Nelson (Diné), illustrator of A Letter for Bob by Kim Rogers, will illustrate; publication is set for Winter 2025. Nicole Geiger of Full Circle Literary represented both the author and the illustrator for world rights. Don’t miss Rock Your Mocs [by Laurel Goodluck] Celebrates Cultural Superpowers by Gwynne Unruh from The Paper. Video Interview with Laurel Goodluck and Kim Rogers from

  • Those Pink Mountain Nights by Jen Ferguson is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.
  • A Letter for Bob by Kim Rogers and Jonathan Nelson and Jo Jo Makoons: Snow Day by Dawn Quigley and Tara Audibert were selected for Kirkus’ Fall Preview issue. They were spotlighted in the Aug. 15 issue, in a special section devoted to Fall Preview titles.
  • We Still Belong by Christine Day was among Kirkus Reviews Best Books to Read in August.
  • Rez Ball by Byron Graves was named among 20 Great Books for Teen Boys from Reading Middle Grade.

“The heartbeat of Tre’s Ojibwe community beats like a dribbling basketball page after page in this uplifting and raucous debut.” —BookPage on Rez Ball by Byron Graves

“Get this as soon as you can. Pre-order. Recommend it to your local library. Do all the things that will get it into your hands and into lots of other hands too. It’s a page turner with a lot of excitement and heart.” —Rich in Color on Rez Ball by Byron Graves

More Reviews

★ “For its tender vignettes of modern Indigenous life, this tale will make a glowing addition to any…library.”  —Kirkus Reviews, starred, on A Letter for Bob by Kim Rogers and Jonathan Nelson

★ “…lyrical prose that softens the emotionally fraught narrative without sacrificing suspense, resulting in a mystery that subtly builds to a shocking reveal. Intimate and impactful.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred, on Those Pink Mountain Nights by Jen Ferguson

★  “Through a well-characterized ensemble cast, Ferguson…address the myriad of difficult topics facing her characters with sensitivity and care.” —Horn Book, starred, on Those Pink Mountain Nights by Jen Ferguson

★  “A must-purchase for young readers everywhere on how to learn about, be empowered by, and embrace one’s ­identity.” —School Library Journal, starred, on Two Tribes by Emily Bowen Cohen

★ “Via Wesley’s self-aware and astoundingly perceptive first-person voice, Day highlights everyday tween conflicts about fitting in alongside experiential concerns surrounding identifying with one’s heritage in this warmhearted approach to searching for—and finding—community and inclusion.” —Publishers Weekly, starred, on We Still Belong by Christine Day

More Personally – Gayleen

Congratulations to Katherine Marsh on The Lost Year: A Survival Story of the Ukrainian Famine (Roaring Brook Press, 2023) being named to the National Book Awards Longlist! The Lost Year is one of many middle grade books I read this summer, and I particularly loved the NBA longlist announcement because I’ve been using Katherine’s structure as a mentor text for my newest manuscript.

More Personally – Gail

Tu Books

Amanda MacGregor at Teen Librarian Toolbox has described Doan Phuong Nguyen’s debut middle grade novel, Mèo and Bé (Tu Books, 2023), as “a powerful and moving story of one young girl’s survival in the face of unspeakable atrocities.” Amanda says this historical fiction is “so gripping” and “shows us the Vietnam War from a perspective I feel like we have rarely seen.” This is a book you can’t put down!