Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Autumn Peltier, Water Warrior by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Bridget George (Roaring Book Press, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Q&A: Jen Ferguson, Author of “Those Pink Mountain Nights” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “You can only ever write about the real world with nuance, empathy, and care. Because these aren’t just difficult topics, they are the things teens (and well, the rest of us) are going through all the time….I try to remember that stories are found in the layers and…the nuance, not in the topic or subject itself.”


Review and Author Q&A: Barely Floating by Lilliam Rivera with Amaris Castillo from Latinx in Publishing. Peek: “Sometimes as parents…we’re busy just trying to protect our children…, and that never changes as they grow older. But I really wanted this idea of: It’s not yes, or no, or right, or wrong. It’s more like, this is where I am. This is where I am standing, and can you meet me in this spot?”

Interview With Richard Ho and Lynn Scurfield, Creators of Two New Years by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: [Lynn Scurfield:] “Illustration careers can take a while to get off the ground. If things are slow don’t beat yourself up over it. If being a kidlit artist is something you desperately want, be stubborn and try a lot of things. Put you and your art out there…[K]eep experimenting. One day something will stick and it’ll be easier.”

When it All Syncs Up | Author Interview by Felicia from Stuck in Fiction. Peek: “I hope that young readers…realize the power of their words and try to be a bit kinder to their peers whenever they can. Often bullying can be seen as harmless, but I hope to highlight some of the long-lasting trauma that can be avoided if young people treat each other with more compassion despite their differences.”

Equity & Inclusion

Scholastic Focus

Memoir Tackles Author’s Oklahoma Childhood by Jovonne Wagner from ICT News. Peek: [Eddie Chuculate:] “There’s probably some Americans (that) still think…all Indians are on the reservation, they all hunt or they all have peace pipes…Experiences of Native Americans are widely varied. You can’t just buttonhole or pigeonhole the experience…There’s Natives in every state and all over…and everyone’s got a different circumstance, whether it be off or on the reservation.”

Byron Graves—Author: A Brief Interview by E. Jourdain Jr. from Under the Lights. Peek: “Whenever I’m struggling to find the energy to write, or I’m really having a tough time working through some edits, I always remember why I love writing and what my purpose is. And that’s connecting with teens and young adults who have been underrepresented historically in literature or media.”

Q&A: Julio Anta and Jacoby Salcedo, Author and Illustrator of “Frontera” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: [Jacoby Salcedo:] “[R]eaders can expect to learn the harsh truth of what it takes to actually immigrate into this country. This book is not a light read…but I think [the writer] carefully balanced out the harshness of immigrating with the hope that the migrants have for a better life perfectly…[Y]ou’ll come out seeing the perseverance these characters have.”

Dial Books

Five Questions for Pedro Martín from The Horn Book. Peek: “Living in the Midwest, I rarely get the chance to speak Spanish or shop at Mexican markets or even hear our music on a day-to-day basis. So, working on this book has had the effect of filling me with all that cultural goodness I had been missing out on all these years.”

Roaring Beyond Boundaries: Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir’s Inspiring Tale of Basketball, Faith and Inclusion by Matthew Celestial from Today’s Parent. Peek: “I see the importance of being real, honest, and raw with our children in a way they can understand….If we shelter them from different beliefs and people, what are we teaching them?…[I] pray that this book allows people to love, to accept and to want to learn more from different people.”

Writer Jason Reynolds on the Inner World of Miles Morales by Robyn Belt from Marvel. Peek: “My mantra for…this character is ‘what does it mean to put on a mask and be invisible and then take off the mask and still be invisible?’ That’s the true north of the way that I’m telling these stories…What I’m thinking about is over harsh punishment for Black children, specifically Black boys in school.”

Writing Craft


Jesús Trejo and Eliza Kinkz Talk With Roger by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: [Eliza Kinkz:] “I draw out an illustration ahead of time, figure out how and where I want the drawing to be. And then I paint separately….I lay the drawing on a light table, then I put my watercolor piece of paper on top, and then I’ll mark where stuff is supposed to be…[I] do the whole picture book…all at once.”

20 Questions: Writing Process from the Soaring ‘20s. Peek: [Darshana Khiani:] “My first drafts are always pen on paper. This helps keep my internal editor away so I can keep moving forward with the idea instead of trying to fix things up. Once written, I file it away in a new drafts folder. If the story is really calling to me, I will…start revising within a week….”

Q&A: Andrew Joseph White, Author of “The Spirit Bares Its Teeth” by Mimi Koehler from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “Usually when I write a book,…I’ve worked out most…issues, found a solid footing, decided what story I want to tell. I didn’t have that luxury with [this book]I was still looking for why I was writing it. I had to find that through two incomprehensible drafts…and some of the hardest revision work I’ve ever done.”

Harry N. Abrams

Exclusive Excerpt Reveal for All the Fighting Parts by Hannah V. Sawyerr from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[This] is a novel in verse that uses poetry, court transcripts, and mixed-media to amplify the voice of [a] 16-year-old…before and after surviving an assault…[In] the sections directly after the assault, the…poems use more white space, more frequent line breaks, and take on different shapes….to reflect the way her mind and body shift while she…reclaim[s] her voice.”

Authors In Conversation: David Bowles and Guadalupe García McCall from The Nerd Daily. Peek: [Guadalupe García McCall:] “A big part of my writing process is to give my characters a lot of leeway, letting them think and feel and do what comes naturally to them as people who live and breathe and share their experiences with me in my head. It’s a very visceral…experience, to go on this journey of life with my characters.”

I Am Not Alone (Francisco X. Stork), Author Q&A from YA Books Central. Peek: “The first draft is the most fun. I try to just let the story flow with a sense of play and adventure even though I don’t exactly know where it is going. But I have learned to enjoy revising as well. In many ways, the revision process is where I discover what the story is about.”


Levine Querido

Children’s Booksellers Anticipate Happy Holidays by Claire Kirch and Nathalie op de Beeck from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[F]all children’s book season [is] upon us…[While] major releases are certain to fly off the shelves, booksellers feel confident about many other page-turners from publishers large and small. In the run-up to this autumn’s holidays, look for beloved authors’ latest books, fantasy of all flavors, stories told in verse, and tales that foreground diversity and emotional learning.”


AI Is About to Turn Book Publishing Upside-Down by Thad McIlroy from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I’ve argued…that every function in trade book publishing…can be effectively automated with the help of generative AI. If this is true, trade book publishing as we know it will become obsolete. It’s not that books won’t be written and published and read; it’s…that the mechanisms by which they are developed and sold will largely be machine driven…”

“A Plague on the Industry”: Book Publishing’s Broken Blurb System by Sophie Vershbow from Esquire. Peek: “The many authors I spoke to described the process of asking for blurbs as ‘excruciating’…An editorial director within the Big Five…told me that he spends about a third of his week dealing with blurbs…My sources consistently acknowledged that submitting a glowing blurb without actually liking the book was commonplace in the industry.”


Statement Opposing HISD Elimination of Librarian Jobs and Library Services from Texas Library Association. Peek: “Decades of research…have shown a correlation between improved academic achievement and graduation rates on campuses that employ certified school librarians….The Texas Library Association and Texas Association of School Librarians…oppose dismantling effective school library programs and removing school librarians at schools that need those essential educators and services the most.”

Librarians Can Play a Key Role Implementing Artificial Intelligence in Schools by Andrew Bauld from School Library Journal. Peek: “[L]ibrarians evolved from teaching traditional literacy to training students in media and digital literacy…[T]he next step is AI literacy. Just like learning the skills to effectively search an online database, students will need to learn how to converse with AI to get the best research results and to distinguish between what’s real and what’s AI generated.”


Book Marketing Buzzwords You Need To Know by Sandra Beckwith from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “Here are…common book marketing buzzwords you’re likely to come across as you learn how to market your books….1. Call to action—CTA…tells your reader what you want them to do next….They might say, ‘If you liked this, please subscribe to my newsletter,’ or ‘What do you think of my new character’s name? Tell me in a comment.’”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Dutton Books for Young Readers

Schuler Books presents The Collectors Virtual Event with A.S. King, David Levithan, Cory McCarthy and Randy Ribay. The free event takes place Sept. 26 at 3:30 p.m. pacific, 5:30 p.m. central, 6:30 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Educators’ Night With Cynthia Leitich Smith: Celebrating Native Voices & Visions for Young Readers takes place Oct. 4 from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, 125 West Bay Rd., Amherst, MA. Cynthia will reflect on “how we got here, what to consider, tips for navigating, connecting with kids and teens, and how all of this is key to everyone living on Native ancestral land today….” The event will also be livestreamed through Facebook Live, but not recorded. Reserve your spot here.

Join Lerner BooksLifting Diverse Voices Webinar, a panel discussion with authors Talia Aikens-Nuñez, Lars Ortiz and Dr. Artika Tyner, and hosted by librarian and #ReadWoke founder Cicely Lewis. They will discuss three fascinating YA books featuring authentic voices and hidden figures in history. The event takes place Oct. 5 at 11 a.m. pacific, 1 p.m. central, 2 p.m. eastern.

The in-person and virtual 2023 Neustadt Lit Festival, which takes place Oct. 23 to Oct. 25, will be headlined by Gene Huen Lang, the winner of the 2023 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. On Oct. 24,  Kathy Neustadt will announce the winner of the 2024 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. View the schedule here and register for the festival here.

The free in-person 2023 Boston Book Festival takes place Oct. 14 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Copley Square, and the JustKids Headliners takes place Oct. 21 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Nubian Square. A few of the many Young Readers/Young Adult presenters include Cloe Gong (keynote), Jerry Craft (headliner) and Nikki Grimes (headliner). View the festival headliners here.


A Refresher on Caldecott Criteria by Julie Hakim Azzam from The Horn Book. Peek: “[T]he Caldecott is ‘given annually to the illustrator of the most distinguished American picture book for children, in English, from among those published during the preceding year’….The award is restricted to artists who are citizens or residents of the United States….The book’s intended audience is children and respects a child’s ‘understandings, abilities, and appreciations.’”

Frances Lincoln Books

Congratulations to the 2023 Klaus Fugge Prize winner Mariajo Ilustrajo for Flooded (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2022). The £5,000 prize goes to “the most promising newcomer to children’s picture book illustration.” Flooded is “a funny but powerful demonstration of the impact of climate change in which animals attempt to carry on with business as normal, even while their city is flooding….Humour lightens every page and the book’s ending is positive and upbeat.”


Mentorship With Celesta Rimington and Annie Bailey from SCBWI. Peek: “The SCBWI Utah/Southern Idaho Mentorship Program…help(s) writers polish their manuscripts with the help of established professionals…[Mentees] receive critique and career advice…to help them succeed in the world of children’s publishing. This mentorship is open to all SCBWI members…who have not yet been published or signed a book or illustration contract in the category they are applying for….” Apply by Sept. 30.

The Authors for Voices of Color Fourth Annual Auction takes place from Sept. 26 to Oct. 3. Proceeds will benefit We Need Diverse Books’ Books Save Lives program, internship grants, and professional development for diverse mid-level employees.

In Memory

Bobbi Katz, a well-known prolific author of children’s books, began writing for children in the early 1970s. She passed away on Dec. 3, 2022 at the age of 89. She said: “I write only for children because I desperately want to return childhood to them…I hope to join those writers and artists who delight, sensitize, and give hope to children.” On being a writer, she believed, “There’s nothing better than finding just the right words to make a new connection between ideas or images. It’s super-delicious to share that connection with readers.”

Byron Barton from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Children’s author-illustrator Byron Barton, known for his many picture books for very young children featuring simple text and images rendered in bold blocks of color and thick black outline, died June 3…He was 92….‘I want my drawings to be fun and…informative. The way the lines and shapes are drawn and the colors are put together is done with that…intent.’”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

First, the good news!

Celebrating Excellence in Children’s and Young Adult Literature from The University of Southern Mississippi. Peek: “We’re honored to announce that Cynthia Leitich Smith is the 2024 Southern Miss Medallion winner. Smith is a New York Times bestselling author and the 2021 NSK Neustadt Laureate. Her novel Hearts Unbroken won an American Indian Youth Literature Award and she has been named one of the 10 Must-Read Native American Authors by Book Riot.” The award recognizes distinguished service in the field of children’s literature.

But these are still tough times. The Niles, Michigan school board has refused to circulate two of my books—Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000, Heartdrum 2020) and Sisters of the Neversea (Heartdrum, 2020)—along with 193 diverse titles sent by We Need Diverse Books via the #BooksSaveLives program.

Along with local educators and students, We Need Diverse Books is challenging this decision. Visit WNDB to learn how you can help. You can also read the full text of a letter to the superintendent and the school board 

I am a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School with a tremendous love for the state, which serves as a setting for two of my books. I’m hopeful that the block of #BooksSaveLives titles will be removed and Brandywine students will have the opportunity to access the literary bounty sent to them through the grant program.

More Personally – Gayleen

Over the summer I enjoyed helping Nikki Loftin celebrate her debut picture book, If You Get Lost, illustrated by Deborah Marcero (Anne Schwartz Books, 2023) with a launch party at BookPeople in Austin.

I’m also celebrating a small victory in the fight for intellectual freedom. From Publishers Weekly, “In a Blistering Opinion, Judge Officially Blocks Texas Book Rating Law.” The legislation is also referred to (ironically) as the READER Act for “Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources” The entire order is available here.

During committee hearings I was astounded when a legislator casually dismissed First Amendment violation concerns expressed during public testimony. Fortunately, Judge Albright saw it differently: “…this Court has found that READER likely violates the First Amendment by containing an unconstitutional prior restraint, compelled speech, and unconstitutional vagueness. Protecting First Amendment rights is always in the public interest.”