Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Rock Your Mocs by Laurel Goodluck, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (Heartdrum, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Spilling the Tea With Author Joanna Ho from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I hope the book moves people to recognize the power they have to create change…in their lives, in their communities, in the world. The world’s issues are complex and often overwhelming, but we can all start somewhere and do something….I hope readers recognize the ability art and artists have to see possibility and create toward this vision.”

Viking Books for Young Readers

Author Chat With Hailey Alcaraz (Up in Flames) by Cherokee Crum from YA Books Central. Peek: “It’s never too late to become a better version of yourself, to learn from your mistakes and move forward with new understandings. Growth is…painful and often not as straightforward as we’d like, but it’s worth [it]. It’s okay to be a messy, complicated version of yourself; it doesn’t make you any less worthy of love and success.”

Interview With Claribel A. Ortega by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: “I am just writing my honest experience…Kids know when you’re talking down to them or keeping things from them, and while I…make sure that my books are appropriate for the ages I write for, I think writing about the world as it really is, with all the diversity that entails, is my job as an author.”

Finding Myself Through Princess Jasmine, a Guest Post by Alexandra Monir by Amanda MacGregor from School Library Journal. Peek: “Celebrate what makes you uniquely youboth on and off the page. Don’t give up your power to those who would marginalize or discriminate against you. When you are authentically yourself, the right people and…right opportunities will find you…And then that moment will come, when you realize you wouldn’t want to be anyone else but you.”

Equity & Inclusion

Little, Brown Ink

Q&A With Sharee Miller by Erika Hardison from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[I]t’s very important to see [different] hairstyles…Growing up, I felt like I didn’t see myself or my friends represented in this way. A lot of my work centers on natural hair and the acceptance of natural hair. It was something that I was thinking about when I was that age and I continue to think about it.”

Taking Steps To Decolonize Fantasy, a Guest Post by Jasmine Walls and Teo DuVall by Amanda MacGregor from School Library Journal. Peek: “Fantasy as a genre has long been steeped in expectations of Euro-centric settings, characters, and even the languages used for magic….What we aimed to do…was to bring the focus on a cast of characters who are culturally diverse, who’ve been forced to the margins of society, and that don’t conform to a single rigid magic system.”

Author Interview With Kelis Rowe from Assembly on Literature of NCTE. Peek: “[I]t’s important to me that my novels are…windows into the lives of Black American teens….I felt compelled to give my son, kids like him,…a depiction of a young person living with Sensory Processing Disorder, the school-aged struggles he and his parents experienced because of it, and the ways that he navigates it while having a full, typical teen life.”

Crown Books for Young Readers

Interview: Magical Goblin Twins Set Out on Whimsical Adventure by Hwang Dong-hee from The Korea Herald. Peek: [Frances Cha:] “I was rereading my old favorite children’s books to my own kids….I was very surprised to see that my beloved books had things that I didn’t want my kids to internalize before they go out into the world…[T]he good characters have golden hair and blue eyes, and the evil characters have black hair and black eyes.”

Q&A: Mazey Eddings, Author of “Tilly in Technicolor” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of media with autistic and/or ADHD characters, and what was out there often villainized and infantilized those characters. I wanted to create a story of unfettered neurodivergent joy. I wanted to show special interests and hyperfocus and inattention and stimming on the page, in a beautiful light.”

Diverse Books for All Coalition Commits to Action by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[T]he Diverse Books for All Coalition…has taken major steps toward its mission of providing communities in need with increased access to diverse children’s books…[The coalition] will use its collective market power to purchase and distribute 600,000 ‘new, high-quality, affordable children’s books by and about diverse races, cultures, identities, and abilities’ over the next 18 months.”

Writing Craft

Balzer + Bray

WNDMG Wednesday—Introducing Isi Hendrix by Heather Murphy Capps from From The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “I always struggled when my mentor or agent or editors wanted me to dive deeper into a character I don’t particularly like. The way I can’t stand this character you’d never think I was the one who created him. So, in my early drafts I tended to just blow him off as an irredeemable jerk.”

Debut Author Interview: Emi Pinto and Bee Bakshi and the Gingerbread Sisters by Natalie Aguirre from Literary Rambles. Peek: “I am definitely a pantser—I did not have any outline when I started this story, just a location and a vague image of [characters]. With having deadlines now,…[I] try and do some plotting in hopes of streamlining my process and saving some time, but often I just end up back into pantsing and discovery writing.”

[Illustrator] Sean Qualls from African Amerian Literature Book Club. Peek: “I generally start with a thumbnail sketch…Once I get a few things that I like, I put them on my photocopier and blow them up….I’ll keep on redrawing and sometimes paint on top of that until I get a sketch I really like…[T]hen I’ll blow it up to the size that I want the book to be.”

Tundra Books

Author & Illustrator Chat With Cristina Quintero and Sarah Gonzales (The Only Way To Make Bread) by Cherokee Crum from YA Books Central. Peek: [Sarah Gonzales:] “At the beginning I worked on studies of different types of bread and characters….The fastest part was doing the thumbnail sketches…I refined the sketches on the computer and prepared them to be transferred onto paper for the colored pencil work. The most time-consuming phases were rendering the finals with colored pencils and editing them digitally….”

An Interview With Watercress Author Andrea Wang and Illustrator Jason Chin by Jennie McDonald from Collaborative Classroom. Peek: [Jason Chin:] “I look for two things when I’m deciding what to work on next: a topic that fascinates me and a story to go with it. Often, it starts with a topic that I just can’t get out of my head, and at some point, I make a connection that gives me a glimpse of a story.”

WNDMG Wednesday—Interview With Debut Author Jude Atwood by K.D. Garcia from From The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “I’d write…for a few hours a day, but what I’d finished seemed so small compared to what I had left to do. And then I’d put in another day of writing, and another, and eventually, I had a book…I had to rework it into a second draft, and then a third—but you get the picture!”


First-Ever Dr. Suess Graphic Novels To Launch in Spring 2024 from Penguin Random House. Peek: “In 2024, Random House Graphic, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, together with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, will publish the first-ever line of graphic novels starring classic Dr. Seuss characters in all-new stories. The inaugural Dr. Seuss graphic novel program list features three chapter book series…each starring an iconic Dr. Seuss character…in brand-new adventures.”

The NYU Advanced Publishing Institute. “The NYU Advanced Publishing Institute (NYU API) is an exciting new executive education course designed for mid to senior-level publishing professionals interested in the latest strategies and business practices in book publishing. This 5-day program reimagines the highly popular Yale Publishing Course, which ran from 2010 to 2019. NYU API will launch Jan. 8-12, 2024.” Get early bird pricing through Oct. 15.

If you missed the Artificial Intelligence: Revolution and Opportunity in Trade Publishing conference, you can watch it now on replay until Oct. 27 to catch up on the most talked about topic in the industry. “This program gathered top thinkers on emerging technologies and tackled the topics on everyone’s mind: Will AI affect editorial? Product acquisition? Marketing? Production?”

PW Close-Up: Kids Can Press at 50 from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Patricia Ocampo:] “Every editor is haunted by the old adage ‘There are no new stories’…How can we tell that story in a new way? Who hasn’t told that story before? Is playing with format, with details, with character enough?…I’m drawn to stories from creators who have not traditionally been published. By nature, their stories haven’t been widely heard….”


Four Book Publicity Facts That Will Help You Succeed by Sandra Beckwith from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “Book publicity is that free media exposure that results when your book title appears in a print or digital…or is heard in a podcast, radio, or TV interview….Free press release distribution services and sites don’t actually ‘distribute’ press releases….Book publicity is about more than sending press releases….You don’t need relationships with journalists to get book publicity….”


RISE Bookselling’s “Reviving the High Street” Campaign from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “The European & International Book Federation‘s RISE Bookselling program is launching its Reviving the High Street campaign to address challenges in the face of online retail growth, rising overhead costs, and a lack of investment in local infrastructure….RISE Bookselling seeks to highlight booksellers’ unusual value, raise awareness of the challenges they face, and propose concrete solutions.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Orca Book Publishers

If you’re looking for books to read with your kids that honor Native and Indigenous culture, check out the past winners of the American Indian Youth Literature Awards, in these categories: Picture Book, Middle Grade Book and Young Adult Book. For new releases, you may also want to check out the Heartdrum imprint list.

One Book, One San Diego In-Person Kids Author Event With Antwan Eady takes place at the San Diego Air & Space Museum, 2001 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, CA on Nov. 3 at 3 p.m. pacific. Antwan Eady is the author of Nigel and the Moon, illustrated by Gracey Zhang (Katherine Tegen Books, 2022). His new book, The Last Stand, illustrated by Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey (Knopf Books for Young Readers), comes out in January, 2024.

Scholastic’s Teach Graphix Week takes place Oct. 16 to Oct. 20. “Join us to celebrate the power of graphic novels in the classroom and the ability to read and be creative….Connect with us on on to learn more about this year’s fun activities with your students, communicate with this year’s Teach Graphix Week authors and enter to win a free set of their books.” The Graphix Flip Webinar, with live Q&A with renowned authors, takes place Oct. 17. Register here.

The free 2023 Texas Book Festival takes place Nov. 11 to Nov. 12 in downtown Austin, in and around the State Capitol. The festival lineup features over 300 authors across all ages and genres. Some of the many children’s/YA authors and illustrators include Jacqueline Woodson, Christina Soontornvat, Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey, Yamile Saied Méndez, and Don Tate.


Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the Diverse Book Awards Short List, especially in the Children’s and Young Adult categories. The  awards are meant to “highlight the best of the diverse voices published in the UK & Ireland both traditionally and self-published” because “there’s a need to showcase the talent of marginalized voices….”

Congratulations to the 2023 Kerlan Award winners: Laurie Hertzel and Lauren Stringer. Laurie is a former editor of the Star Tribune Book Review and past president of the National Book Critics Circle, and Lauren is an award-winning author and illustrator of many celebrated picture books. The Kerlan Award recognizes “singular attainments in the creation of children’s literature.”

Levine Querido

Congratulations to the winners of the New England Independent Booksellers Association’s New England Book Awards. The winners in the categories of Children’s, Middle Grade and Young Adult are, respectively: Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine by Hannah Moushabeck, illustrated by Reem Madooh (Chronicle Books, 2023), Hoops by Matt Tavares (Candlewick Press, 2023), and When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb (Levine Querido, 2022).


LKBF School Visit Fund is a “special fund dedicated to connecting Latinx authors and illustrators with students through virtual and in-person school visits….This program will include a real-time, one-hour, virtual visit from an author or illustrator of our choosing. A standard visit accommodates up to 35 students and two educators.” Spring 2024 semester applications are open. Apply here until Dec. 15.

We Need Diverse Books2023 Scholastic Giveaway: Power of Story. Peek: “WNDB is committed to not only celebrating diverse books but providing those books to students nationwide. With this giveaway, we are celebrating the power of story in each book bundle….Winning classrooms and organizations will receive one bundle.” Submit application by Oct. 15.

Children’s Press

2023 Scholastic Sweepstakes. Persons employed by a school, public, or private library can enter for a chance to receive a full set of one of these Scholastic Library Publishing Nonfiction Series: “Learn About: The Five Senses” (five books for ages 5 to 7) or “A True Book: Money” (four books for ages 8 to 10). You can also opt-in to be auto-approved for Scholastic e-galleys on Edelweiss. Enter by Oct. 31.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Cynsational Readers, I have a lot of upcoming author events, so I got my flu shot and my Covid shot this week. I recommend that you get both, too. I made an appointment, which helped, because there are local shortages. My system wasn’t thrilled about processing both vaccines at once. I was mildly nauseated for about twenty-four hours, and my arm ached badly on the morning of day, too. But my schedule is cheerfully bursting right now, so I didn’t want to make two trips to the pharmacy. If you adopt the same approach, consider taking some aspirin. Otherwise, you may want to space your shots out by at least a few days. Enough of that, here’s the latest book news specific to Heartdrum (and me, too!):

Rosemary Brosnan at Heartdrum has acquired Here Come the Aunties! by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee) (l.), author of Harvest House and Sisters of the Neversea, illustrated by Aphelandra Messer (Oneida)(pictured above), a celebration of beloved aunties, who are so important to Native families and many other families everywhere. Publication is set for winter 2026; Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown Ltd. brokered the deal for world English rights.

We Need Diverse Books Cover Reveal! I Am Osage: How Clarence Tinker Became the First Native American Major General, written by Kim Rogers, illustrated by Bobby Von Martin (Heartdrum, 2024).

This informative and inspiring picture book by acclaimed author Kim Rogers (Wichita), with striking artwork by debut illustrator Bobby Von Martin (Choctaw), celebrates the achievements of Clarence Tinker, a member of the Osage Nation who became the first Native American major general.

Clarence Tinker always knew that he wanted to do something extraordinary. Something adventurous. Something that made a difference in the world. But as a member of the Osage Nation at the turn of the twentieth century, there were a lot of obstacles that he had to face to achieve his dreams. When he was a child, Clarence was taken away from his family and community. He was forced to attend a prison-like boarding school, like many other Native children of his generation. There, he wasn’t able to speak his language or practice his Osage customs.

Still, Clarence kept his dream close to his heart and joined the US Army with the goal of becoming an officer. Though he was treading an unfamiliar path, he worked hard and never forgot his Osage values and traditions that, ultimately, paved his way to success.

I Am Osage, the first nonfiction project from the Heartdrum imprint, combines gorgeous, vibrant artwork with a stirring text that celebrates an unsung hero while also shedding light on significant American history.

Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith, cover by Sharon Irla, interior art by MaryBeth Timothy (Heartdrum) ebook and audio book editions are both on sale during the month of October 2023. The ebook is available for only $1.99 or less and the audio book is available for $4.99 or less from your favorite retailers. You can find direct purchase links from HarperKids. Note that the sales aren’t reflected on the Harper site, but they are on the bookseller sites.

More Personally – Gayleen

After wrapping up a messy first draft last week, I stepped away from the computer to help build something tangible. Ron and I added railing to the back deck of our Bed & Breakfast Cottage.

As it came together I was struck by the parallels of construction and writing: how the work goes faster with a plan (or an outline), how the whole rests on a few structural elements (plot points), and how evenly spacing the spindles (vertical pieces, I learned) makes the project all come together – much like proper pacing makes a manuscript gel into a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. Before and after pictures below.

Personal Links – Gayleen

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