Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: The Light Within You by Namita Moolani Mehra, illustrated by Kamala Nair (Two Lions, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Grief, Hope, and Bittersweet Endings, a Guest Post by Victoria Wlosok by Amanda MacGregor from School Library Journal. Peek: “[The] idea…[is] that where there is grief, there can also be hope. In fact, there should be. There must be, because hope is necessary and human and a way to continue. Hope is how you take a hard thing and make it better; hope is how you stare down grief and get out the other side.”

Nancy Paulsen Books

Family Is Often at the Center of Stories by Jennifer Baker from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Thinking of justice and ‘doing unto others’ reminds me of how my family instilled in me the desire to learn, to heal, to help. It reminds me how much I relate to the complexity of what we’re told and what we feel. It reinforces that we can convey the layers of these experiences…to readers of all ages….”

Shelf Care Interview: Jessixa and Aaron Bagley by Sarah Hunter from Booklist. Peek: “[Middle grade books] help these kids get through this inconsistent and clumsy time by showing everybody that you’re not perfect, that everybody’s families are a little messy, things don’t always make sense, you don’t always look the ways that you feel…on the inside…[T]hese books…are special because they’re creating space for kids’ struggles to become visible.”

Hope for the Future Is at the Heart of The Infinity Particle by Wendy Xu by Nithya Ramcharan from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Wendy Xu on becoming a writer:] “[R]ead nonfiction…If you read 20 books, and they’re all fiction, and they’re all telling a story a certain way, you’re going to trap yourself into telling a story that kind of way, but if you read nonfiction and read widely, you’re going to find lots of different ways to tell stories.”

Equity & Inclusion


Seeing Yourself in a Story, a Guest Post by Michelle Mohrweis by Amanda MacGregor from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “I want my queer and neurodivergent readers to know they aren’t alone. They aren’t…a child incapable of being a hero in their own story. They can be whomever they want to be….I want kids who are nothing like my characters to read these books too…to gain an appreciation for the differences we all have, and empathy for others.”

Q&A: Malia Maunakea, Author of “Lei and the Fire Goddess” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “I searched for similar Hawaiian stories in the middle grade space that I could find in our Colorado libraries, and came up empty handed, so I decided to write one and base it on stories I learned and experiences I had growing up in Hawaiʻi, with a heaping dose of fiction mixed in for fun.”

Passports to Diversity: Educators and Students Travel the World Through Translated Texts by Patricia J. Murphy from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Lori Sieling, K–1 special education teacher:] “Six out of 10 kids I have this year speak a different language at home…This means that they’re coming from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, practice different religions, and have knowledge that I don’t necessarily have….When I introduce titles that match their backgrounds, it lights a spark in my kids….”

Viking Books for Young Readers

Amanda Gorman Talks New Children’s Book, Political Ambitions on Today from YouTube. Peek: “[Children] understand that big things are going on, and they might not see how they fit into the big picture, but…when they view themselves represented in stories as agents of light and hope and change, that’s one of the greatest ways we can empower the next generation to take charge.”

Q&A: Lisa Springer, Author of “There’s No Way I’d Die First” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “I never saw any…girls who looked like me in horror movies. I wanted to address the running gag of Black people being the first to die…I wanted to celebrate Black girls and their humanity, holding them up as heroes…I was really excited to write this story of a Black girl subverting the horror genre….”

Lauren Layfield on Indi Raye Is Totally Faking It Immortalising Her Teenage Experiences by Tacye from United by Pop. Peek: “I literally didn’t know what Guyanese representation looked like as a kid, so I think making [the book] was a bit of self-healing for me! Also, I think it just made sense; being mixed race,…its easy to feel a bit lost sometimes, you can feel quite unsure of which community you fit into….”

Writing Craft

Nancy Paulsen Books

Interview With “Thieves’ Gambit” Author Kayvion Lewi by Tristian Evans from GVN. Peek: “I’m what I call a plantser—something between a planner and a pantser. After getting the feel for the story by writing the first chapter, I whipped up a super brief outline…After that, it was just a matter of sitting down and…crunch[ing] out the story. My first draft took about a month and a half to finish….”

Spilling the Tea: Kaija Langley on Mentorship Programs & Growing as a Writer from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[I] draft…the Who, What, Where, and Why of each story and a very loose outline…follow[s]. I put in my ear buds, start an ambient soundtrack on my Calm app, and write scenes on my iPad or Notes app on my phone. I might be at home,…in my office, on a subway, or a beach.”

One Author, Seven Questions: Malavika Kannan by Savannah Kennelly from The NOVL. Peek: “[T]here’s a definite three-act and episodic structure to the novel, even as it builds up to its climax…[It] has a large cast of characters…so it was important that no thread or plotline was neglected. I had diagrams on diagrams made of little notecards. My bedroom wall looked like that of someone hunting down a serial killer.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Spilling the Tea: Grace Lin on Turning a Tasty Concept Into a Delicious Picture Book from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “The illustrations…were inspired by old Chinese labels from around the same period of the posters, labels that were printed in 2 or 3 colors. Creating them was…my first foray into digital! I drew the images with pencil on tracing paper, scanned the drawing in and ‘cleaned’ them up and colored them up in Photoshop.”

Four Questions for S.H. Cotugno by Amanda Ramirez from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[W]hen I go into revisions, I say to myself, even if I disagree with the [editor’s] note[s], I would like to give it the benefit of the doubt. I always give it a shot. More often than not, I find something extremely valuable in that. And if it doesn’t feel right, then I’ll push back.”

Let’s Talk Illustrators #262: Yolanda Mosquera by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “I wanted to use only three colors, blue, orange and yellow and the colors that give their superpositions, but…I didn’t like the final result…and I had to manipulate the image digitally to obtain another color range. I used the stencil technique and created the images by separate colors….[F]or each page…I had to make three different layers of color.”


The Little Press

The Little Press and One Little Earth Set Big Goals by Nathalie op de Beeck from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The Little Press, an independent children’s publisher…, isn’t quite as little anymore….[T]he press now acquires picture books, middle grade for the imprint Blue Bronco Books, and Christian books for the imprint Bless This Press. This month the company will launch its first YA novel…and has partnered with environmental nonprofit One Little Earth to add to its nature-themed offerings.”

New S&S Program, Books Belong, Takes Aim at Book Bans by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Simon & Schuster is introducing a new ‘multi-platform education and resources program,’ Books Belong,…as part of an effort to expand the publisher’s response to the book bans and challenges….The initiative’s website will host ‘reading group guides and videos, book lists, giveaways, exclusive author and expert content, and links to additional resources’….”

You Just Found Out Your Book Was Used to Train AI. Now What? from The Authors Guild. Peek: “[Y]ou may have recently discovered that your published book was included in a dataset of books used to train artificial intelligence systems without your permission. (Search the dataset here.) This…rais[es] concerns about copyright, compensation, and the future implications of AI. Here’s what you need to know if your work has been used to ‘train’ AI….” See, also, Send a Letter to AI Companies Telling Them They Do Not Have the Right to Use Your Work.


More than $1MM Raised for Book and Comic Sellers Thanks to Humble Bundle and Ebook Publishers from the Binc Foundation. Peek: “Thanks to Humble Bundle and 17 publishers, more than $1 million has been donated to the Book Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation in less than six years to support the people who own and work at book and comic stores across the country. One million dollars translates to nearly 500 emergency financial assistance grants….”


The Ultimate Email Marketing Glossary for Authors by Sandra Beckwith from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “Here are just a few of the many reasons…authors should build an email list: You own your email list….It’s more effective than social media marketing….So why aren’t more of you building an email list you can use to communicate regularly with the people who read the kinds of books you write? The problem…[is] where to begin.”


Meet Wimee in All His Myriad Forms by Betsy Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “If you attended the last American Library Association conference…you might have run across a little robot by the name of Wimee….[Wimee Team:] ‘He’s part of a fast-growing educational show…born out of a regional library system partnership’…[Michael Hyacinthe:] ‘The app’s unique capability to transform words into images offer[s] children a chance to become visual storytellers and designers.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Check out Pop! Goes the Reader’s Halloween kids book lists: 70 Scary (And Not-So-Scary) 2023 Middle Grade Books To Get Readers in the Halloween Spirit and 65 Scary (And Not-So-Scary) 2023 Young Adult Books To Get Readers in the Halloween Spirit.

The National Indian Education Association presents its 2023 54th Annual NIEA Convention & Trade Show on Oct. 18 to Oct. 21 in Albuquerque, NM. “Our theme this year is Education Sovereignty. It Begins with Us. Sign up today to join Tribal leaders, Native advocates, parents, elders, and students working to transform Native learning systems.” Keynote Panelists for Educator Day include (subject to change) Brian Young (Diné) and Laurel Goodluck (Mandan, Hidatsa & Tsimshian).

Banned Books Week 2023: Programs, Day of Action, and More by Betsy Gomez from The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association. Peek: “Libraries, schools, bookstores, and groups around the world will be calling attention to censorship—and ways to fight it—Oct. 1-7…The American Library Association and Unite Against Book Bans will…[provide] a slate of programs, a call to action on Let Freedom Read Day, videos from the Banned Books From the Big Chair read out, and more!” Read also about Let Freedom Read Day on Oct. 7 from Unite Against Book Bans.

Scholastic presents the Black Bookselling Conference: Connect. Build. Elevate, which takes place Nov. 1 from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. pacific, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. central, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. eastern. The free virtual conference “aims to support Black-owned bookstores [and] Black booksellers, and advocates by creating a curated space for dialog and, more importantly, for action….[It] will showcase…books centering the histories and present-day realities of Black people in children’s literature while prioritizing Black stories, storytellers and the communities they serve and reflect.”

Virtual BookFest @ Bank Street takes place Nov. 4 from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. pacific, 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. central, 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. eastern. Peek: “BookFest is an event devoted to the celebration, discovery, and discussion of books for children and teens. This event, designed for adults, features luminaries from the children’s literature community. Authors, illustrators, editors, reviewers, and scholars will take part in panel discussions and breakout sessions.” Sonia Manzano is the keynote speaker. Register here.


Congratulations to winners of the 2023 James Cropper Wainwright Prize, and especially to the winner in the Children’s Writing on Nature & Conservation category: Leila and the Blue Fox by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, illustrated by Tom de Freston (Hachette Children’s Group, 2022). The prize “is awarded annually to the books which most successfully inspire readers to explore the outdoors and to nurture a respect for the natural world.”

Inhabit Media

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the First Nation Communities READ 2023-2024 Children and Young Adult/Adult Shortlists. First Nation Communities READ was launched “to promote a community-based approach to reading as well as the celebration of Indigenous literature, illustration, and publishing.”

Congratulations to the children’s/YA winners of the Washington State Book Awards 2023 in the Youth categories: How to Hug a Pufferfish by Ellie Peterson (Roaring Brook Press, 2022)(Picture Books), Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone by Tae Keller (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2022)(Books for Young Readers), and The Language of Seabirds by Will Taylor (Scholastic Press, 2022)(Books for Young Adults).

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Welcome, new Cyntern, Mitu Malhotra! We’re so delighted that you’ve joined the team.

Attention, Central Texans! Save the date! BookPeople will host a Native American Heritage Month Celebration with me, Laurel Goodluck, Brian Young, Kim Rogers and Dawn Quigley Nov. 4 at Austin Public Library. Please plan to join us, order a book, and spread the word!

Harvest House (Candlewick, 2023) is among books listed on Pop! Goes the Reader‘s 65 Scary (And Not-So-Scary) 2023 Young Adult Books To Get Readers in the Halloween Spirit.

More Personally – Gayleen

My Lago Vista Friends of the Library group has a book sale next month, and I volunteered to put together a table of Banned/Challenged Books.

I got overwhelmed, then quickly angry when I downloaded the list of banned and challenged titles from PEN America. I’d heard the statistics, but it all becomes more real when you’re holding 40 pages of titles that a few people don’t want others to read.

My work started with a checking a few shelves of recently donated books that won’t be added to the library’s collection (catalog duplicates). I found four titles and took a deeper dive on how Lois Lowry‘s The Giver ended up on the list. PEN showed The Giver was challenged in Frisco, Texas in October 2022. Minimal searching led me to a member of the Texas House so proud of his book banning efforts that he’s issued press releases about it. Cheap political publicity that comes at the cost of young readers.

I encourage you to take a look at PEN’s articles and database to see what’s happening in your state. And check out their Action Items, including a tip sheet for authors whose book has been challenged.

More Personally – Mitu

This year, I have been experimenting with writing picture books. It amazes me how much I can learn by switching one PB manuscript into different points of view or by changing its structure or by writing dramatically different beginnings or endings. Since most initial drafts are under 800 words, it’s a great exercise in playing with story and it has opened my mind to techniques I can apply to revising longer works.

Reading picture books is fun and less of a time commitment, and one of my recent favorites is Beatrice Alemagna’s Things That Go Away. This summer one of my manuscripts was selected for the PJ Library Summer Camp for Picture Books at the Highlights Foundation. This was an valuable opportunity for me to continue learning how to write and revise in this genre.