Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Not He or She, I’m Me by A. M. Wild, illustrated by Kah Yangni (Henry Holt and Co. BYR), 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Bestselling Author Jason Reynolds on His Books Being Banned: “It Feels Insulting” by Carly Tagen-Dye and Kate Tuttle from People Magazine. Peek: “I’d like to believe that I’ve been a part of creating a new generation of readers: literate young people, people who care about stories, people who care about their own stories and the stories of the people around them. People who are excited to know that they too can do this…I really truly believe this.”

Quill Tree Books

Q&A: Kendare Blake, Author of “Champion of Fate” by Zoe CW from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “Write! That’s the most obvious advice, and the most important. Get the words on the page. Daydreaming is great, outlining might be part of your process, but eventually, the pre-work is over and you…need to get those words out. Don’t get stuck in phase zero. Once you move into phase one: first draft, anything can happen.”

Q&A With A.S. King by Alyssa Taft from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[N]o matter how popular you are,…inside of you lives an idea that you’re weird or different somehow. Yet if you invite people to be weird, and they show up, that invites more people to be…okay with it. And that inner self…they think is so weird is actually not that weird at all because we all have it.”

Q&A: Kosoko Jackson, Author of “The Forest Demands Its Due” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “[W]riting isn’t lineal. It isn’t writing every day on the same project. Sometimes it’s going backwards, jumping around, and finding out what works for you….[T]here are so many people giving advice….You’ll find what works for you in time and no one can or should rush that. Everyone’s process is different and valid.”

Laurie Halse Anderson Discusses Censorship, its Frightening Impact, and the Need for Conversation by Kara Yorio from School Library Journal. Peek: “As we contemplate this anti-Constitutional attack on children’s and families’ freedom to read…there’s a lot of people who are really angry—a lot of white people who are angry—that their kids are seeing books about people who aren’t like them. It makes them uncomfortable. But [they] really should be uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable is a human condition. We use books to help us make sense of it and to learn and to grow.”

Equity & Inclusion


Q&A With Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie by Yasmin Belkhyr from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I think [through] the very act of writing a children’s book that’s set in Nigeria and that’s about the ordinary life of a family, I am contributing to diversifying the stories that are published as children’s books. But I don’t want to be the only person who made books diverse. I want to be one of many.”

Gwendolyn Wallace on Unlocking Emotional Truths Through History by Gwendolyn Wallace from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I cannot put into words how it feels to be told that you are part of a long struggle to live free…I wanted to write a book that…reached across time to the next generation, saying, ‘I know you may be hurting, but look at our beautiful history. Look what we’ve done with our anger and hope.’”

Four Questions for Asha Ashanti Bromfield by Iyana Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[I] feel like empathy is our superpower as a human race. To empathize, we must first share and shine a light on…what Black girls really go through…I want to demystify that idea that we’re just one-dimensional…[I]t’s important that humanity sits with us and witnesses what it means to be a Black girl in this world.”

American Girl Publishing

Guest Post: Varsha Bajaj on Kavi, 2023 American Girl from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: “No one character or story can ever represent an entire, culturally, and religiously diverse community….I hope that slivers of [the character’s] life…will feel familiar and reflect aspects of many in the community. I hope that [her] story can be both a mirror…and a welcoming window for girls who might be unfamiliar with [her] world.”

Eyes Everywhere: Revealing Beholder by Ryan La Sala from “As a rather gay kid, my childhood was defined by a fight to stay alive. Every day, my goal was to outrun this faceless disdain that would bloom behind the eyes of the people around me, seemingly at random….Many queer people have learned to not only live, but to thrive in similar—or much worse—circumstances.”

Ridgefield Children’s Author Inspired by Her Chinese Heritage To Write Books She Lacked as a Kid by Sandra Diamond Fox from The Ridgefield Press. Peek: [Julie Leung:] “I was one of three Asian people in the entire school. It was really hard to find stories about Asian Americans in general…Most of the history books that reflected Chinese American contributions were very limiting….It was like, ‘We helped build the railroad’…There is a vibrant Chinese American community…that really contributed a ton to American society.”

Writing Craft

Clarion Books

Q&A With Karina Yan Glaser by Krystyna Poray Goddu from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[During NaNoWriMo] I wrote 1,667 words a day for a month and that was my first draft of [the first book in the series]. It was horrible! But the characters were there with their personalities….I worked on [the other series’ books] pretty much the same way….I [tried] to write 1,667 words every day for a month.”

Illustrator Saturday—Galia Bernstein from Kathy Temean. Peek: [Galia’s process:] “[D]raw a storyboard for the entire book with small thumbnail sketches….[Work on] the thumbnail for the spread….Final pencil sketch. iPad Pro and Apple Pencil….Digital tracing in Photoshop….[L]ower the opacity of the sketch and trace all the lines in a more loose, gestural way on a separate layer. Fully ‘inked’ spread. Final color stage in Photoshop.”

Dinalie Dabarera on “Quiet Time With My Seeya” from Books + Publishing. Peek: “The writing…happened over a period of a few years, in intermittent spurts….The illustration phase was a lot more structured,…with thumbnails and roughs progressing to clean sketches and the full color final art…..[D]oing both the writing and illustrating is quite a different process [than] collaborating with someone. There is a real freedom in having that control….”

Harry N. Abrams

Interview With Jorge Cham by Betsy Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “I break [the book] down into chapters, with each chapter tackling a different sub-topic. I start by making a list of the general 8-10 most important sub-topics…[W]ithin each chapter, I do a lot of reading and talking to experts and I make a list of the three or four most important points kids should know about….”

Swimming Toward a Dream, Interview: Illustrator Asma Enayeh from Reem Faeuqi. Peek: “I usually read the full story before signing….I gather as much reference and inspiration as I can. The better the preparation is the best the outcome. Then after sketching the spreads, I color using watercolors and gouache. The last step is scanning everything and then cleaning the drawings and forming the layers on Photoshop.”

Best Buddies: A Pie for Us! by Vicky Fang from Kathy Temean. Peek: “Every book has gone through dozens of revisions to ensure that the stories are clear, readable, and funny. We worked on tiny word changes to create engaging patterns of repetition for early readers,…and looked at overall patterns to make sure style, voice, narration, and dialogue were consistently treated throughout the series.”


Lit Agent Landscape Diversifies Some As Anxieties Over Book Business Grow by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The results of this year’s Association of American Literary Agents (AALA) biannual membership survey indicate that the agency sector of the book business is diversifying more rapidly than its counterpart in the publishing houses. Still, the sector remains predominantly white…However, this year’s respondents are slightly more diverse than they were two years ago.”

Generative AI vs. Copyright by Lloyd J. Jassin from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “GAI’s ability to incentivize progress and innovation threatens the entertainment industry’s dependence on copyright to protect creative works….For AI output to infringe upon a book, it must have taken a substantial amount of copyrightable expression from the author’s work. When it comes to text, GAI is an artful plagiarist….The predictive model emulates, it doesn’t copy.”

Editor Interview: Meredith Mundy (Abrams Appleseed) by Only Picture Books. Peek: “Ninety percent of the time, we reject a submission because it’s just not special or original enough. Absolutely everyone thinks they can write a book for children. And that’s true! But can everyone write a children’s book that adds something truly new and needed to what’s already out there? That’s a much bigger challenge.”


New York Public Library Launches Campaign in Response to Rise in Censorship by Phil Morehart from I Love Libraries. Peek: “New York Public Library (NYPL) is partnering with the American Library Association and Unite Against Book Bans to launch the ‘Books for All’ campaign during Banned Books Week, held Oct. 1–7, to underscore the importance of reading and access to knowledge for all and the vital role that public libraries play in our democracy.” See, also, Free Downloads Banned Books Week from the American Library Association.

LJ Librarian of the Year 2024: Nomination Period Is Open from Library Journal. Peek: “The LJ editors are seeking nominations for the 35th annual Library Journal Librarian of the Year Award…to honor a professional librarian for outstanding achievement and accomplishments reflecting the loftiest service goals of the library profession….Any working professional librarian in any type of library anywhere in North America (United States, Canada, Mexico) is eligible.” Nomination deadline is Nov. 6. Submit here.


At [California Independent Booksellers Alliance Fall Fest], a Variety of Voices in Children’s Books by Nathalie op de Beeck from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[Author] Tokuda-Hall…reminded booksellers that they play an essential role in ‘creating the environment that allows our books to exist’…Booksellers ‘hold a lot of power’ in getting books on shelves and into the hands of readers, Tokuda-Hall said, and their requests influence ‘who gets tours, who gets ARCs, who gets marketing support.’”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Organizations Line Up Speakers and Demonstrations for Banned Books Week 2023 by Nathalie op de Beeck from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Banned Books Week runs…[through Oct. 7, which  has been declared] a day to write a letter to an elected official, post about the freedom to read on social media, or put a local school board meeting on the calendar….PEN America lists panels—virtual and in–person—throughout October and well beyond BBW.”

Oct. 7 is Let Freedom Read Day, during which everyone is being asked “to take at least one action to help defend books from censorship and to stand up for the library staff, educators, writers, publishers, and booksellers who make them available.” Download a list of the many ways to take such action here.

Pride and Less Prejudice’s Third Annual Banned Together Auction fundraiser, in conjunction with Banned Books Week, takes place until Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. pacific. 9 p.m. central, 10 p.m. eastern. Bid on and purchase items, make a donation, and learn more about PLP’s mission to fight “anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, culture, and legislation with representation in the form of children’s literature.”

The 2023 American Association of School Librarians National Conference takes place Oct. 19 to Oct. 21 at the Tampa Convention Center. The conference “will feature daily keynotes, more than 150 concurrent sessions, author panels, research into practice sessions, more than 150 exhibitors, the best practice IdeaLab, author signings, and endless networking opportunities.” Some of the keyote speakers include Nikkolas Smith and Nic Stone, and some of the panelists include Lesa Cline-Ransome and Traci Sorell. Register here.

Book People and the Austin Public Library (APL) present Heartdrum Native American Heritage Month Celebration with authors Cynthia Leitich Smith, Brian Young, Laurel Goodluck, Dawn Quigley and Kim Rogers. This free event takes place Nov. 4 at 12:30 a.m. at the APL, 710 W. César Chávez St., Austin, TX, “as part of the library’s full day of music, food and more celebrating the rich heritage of Native Americans.” The authors will be signing and personalizing copies of their books. RSVP here.

Lambeth Libraries presents Black Books for Kids Book Chat, during which librarians Zoey and Liz chat about some amazing new children’s books published in 2023 by Black writers and illustrators. The free online event takes place Oct. 11 at 10:30 a.m. pacific, 12:30 p.m. central, 1:30 p.m. eastern. Register here.


Dial Books

Congratulations to the five finalists for the 2023 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. The finalists are: Gather by Kenneth M. Cadow (Candlewick, 2023), Huda F Cares? by Huda Fahmy (Dial Books, 2023), Big by Vashti Harrison (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2023), The Lost Year: A Survival Story of the Ukrainian Famine by Katherine Marsh (Roaring Brook Press, 2023), and A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat (First Second, 2023).

Congratulations to the school that won the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators2023 Amber Brown Award: Clementon Elementary School, Clementon, NJ. “The Amber Brown Grant commemorates author and beloved school speaker, Paula Danziger. One school is awarded each year with an author or illustrator visit and new books to continue Paula’s love of connecting children with creative influences.”

Readers can nominate their favorite books for the 2023 Cybils Awards until Oct. 15. The awards “recognize books written for children and young adults that combine both the highest literary merit and popular appeal.” The award categories are Board Books, Fiction Picture Books, Easy Readers & Early Chapter Books, EMG Speculative Fiction, Middle-Grade Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, YA Speculative Fiction, Graphic Novels, Poetry and Nonfiction.

The submission window for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators2023 Narrative Art Award is open until Oct. 31. The award is “given annually to an illustrator who can tell a visual story, through sequential images, with great clarity and nuance.” The winner will receive an all-expense-paid trip to the SCBWI 2024 New York Winter Conference.

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and IllustratorsImpact and Legacy Fund has two awards open for submissions until Nov. 5: The Russell Freedman Award for Nonfiction for a Better World, which is “given to a work of nonfiction [children’s or YA book traditionally published in 2023] that contributes to our understanding of how to make our world and society better,” and the Stephen Fraser Encouragement Fund, which “offers three no-strings attached yearly grants of $2,000 each to three children’s book authors, artists or translators who have traditionally published at least one book.”

In Memory

Obituary: Ed Young by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Caldecott Medal–winning author-illustrator Ed Young, best known for his reinterpretations of folktales and legends from his native China, and evocative illustrations rendered in a range of mediums, died September 29…He was 91….[Ed Young:] ‘I feel the story has to be exciting, and a moving experience for a child.’…[H]e created more than 100 books for young readers….”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Y’all must visit the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts! I had the honor of speaking to educators there this week, and it was one of my all-time favorite events. Huge gratitude to the teachers, staff, and the Booking Biz.

More Personally – Gayleen

Cooler weather this week prompted me to write outside on the deck. Chirping birds and gentle breezes boosted my spirits as I tackled tense scenes on the page.

More Personally – AJ

Happy October! This is my very favorite month of the year, mostly because where I live this is the month things truly swing from summer to fall. Getting outside and feeling the first hints of chill in the air make me feel more grounded than any other time in the year.

I just finished reading Dungeons & Drama by Kristy Boyce (Delacorte, 2024). I loved reading her debut, Hot British Boyfriend, and really feel like she is nailing the humor and authenticity in the teen contemporary space. Dungeons & Drama is out Jan. 9 from Delacorte!

I’ve also just finished reading two short story anthologies that I loved. Sometimes I think short stories are such a tease because I feel I could easily spend more time in their worlds and all I get is a little glimpse! But they’re very inspiring, and as long as they’re filling up the creative well, I suppose I can forgive that small flaw.

More Personally – Mitu

This October, I have decided to break out of my comfort zone and post daily art on Instagram. I am enjoying creating pen and ink drawings from art challenge prompts. In fact, I am stretching my brain to combine three of those prompts! I use the three words as a jumping off prompt to think up a narrative composition that is appropriate for children. So far, I have created images that could possibly become story writing springboards for me—this art exercise is identical to free writing in a journal. It also keeps me accountable as a creative. If anyone is interested Inktober, SCBWI Artober and Andrea Brown Literary Agency Artfest have a series of prompts running from Oct. 1 to Oct. 31. You can see my combinations of these prompts on my Instagram.

Personal Links – Gayleen