Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: My Grandfather’s Song by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huynh Kim Liên (Make Me a World, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Author/Illustrator Interview: Kaz Windness by Ryan G. Van Cleave from Only Picture Books. Peek: “Books should be told with sincerity and by people who either care about children or are willing to be vulnerable about their own childhoods….I would caution authors not to follow trends. Instead, write the book only you can write. Dig into your psyche and pull out your truthiest truths, and tell that story.”


WNDMG—Interview With Adrianna Cuevas by K.D. Garcia from From The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “Scary stories tend to be fast-paced and plot-driven, creating a satisfying experience for even the most reluctant readers….Spooky books are also empowering as young readers get to see kids like them overcoming impossible odds…So [middle grade] authors are using the genre to help kids access more serious themes that they often face in their lives….”

Author Q&A: Vlad, the Fabulous Vampire by Flavia Z. Drago with Amaris Castillo from Latinx in Publishing. Peek: “I want [readers] to enjoy the world that I’ve created…[and] feel the love for monsters that I feel. Monsters are misfits. Monsters are just reflections of ourselves…But in making monsters fearful, we have kind of detached ourselves from the things that we fear about ourselves as well…I just think it’s good to look back at them.”

Interview With Terry J. Benton-Walker by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: “My favorite element of writing is how extraordinary it is that we start with a literal blank page…and create entire worlds with rich characters and intricate stories that ripple through the very real lives in our world. Art in every form is the closest form of magic that’s accessible to almost anyone…[W]e artists are all magicians….”

Equity & Inclusion

Union Square & Co.

The Rich History of the Chinese Fantasy Genre: A Guest Post by A Bright Heart Author Kate Chenli from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “Chinese-inspired fantasy books have…gained popularity in recent years….It’s exciting to see…[them] hit the bookstores in the Western world where they have been well received by critics and readers alike. The success of these novels demonstrates that people are eager to read beyond Western culture, and curious to learn more from the rich landscape of Eastern culture.”

We Need Diverse Books Supports a House Resolution Denouncing Censorship and Book Bans by Caroline Richmond from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [WNDB’s CEO Ellen Oh:] “In 2014…only 8 percent of children’s books published that year were written by authors who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color….[L]ess than a decade later, we’ve seen that number jump to 45% annually…When children lose access to diverse books, they are denied the opportunity to build empathy toward others who might not look like them.”

Writing for the Gaps: A Richard Fairgray Guest Post by Betsy Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “Writing queer stories is a delicate balancing act….[W]here are the stories…from the nuanced and defined queer characters’ perspective? It seems unfair that we gave them agency and then didn’t give them any time to wield it. I want more stories where the queer characters can be something other than perfect or dead.”

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

We Don’t Talk About Harry Potter by Dhonielle Clayton from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I want this series to talk about what the future of magic could look like when all kids are accounted for, and there’s a place for them to be centered and feel included….How does it help all readers reinvent their idea of a hero? How can inclusive worlds create more readers?”

Tacoma Author Blends Fantasy Into Contemporary Debut Young Adult Novel by Haley Zimmerman from The Seattle Times. Peek: [Lily Meade:] “I want [readers] to be able to stand up for themselves in ways that some people have to learn the hard way….I like to write about real-world issues through an extraordinary lens…because you can’t defeat racism….But you can create a villain that is larger than that, and you can destroy that. And that can be empowering.”

BookTrust Represents Has Been There My Entire Career. Being Published Feels Surreal, But Amazing! from BookTrust. Peek: [Davina Tijani:] “I did have moments when I worried that…as a black writer I might have to write about certain topics, like racism or slavery….Now, I definitely feel stronger in myself to know that I don’t have to write about these topics. I can write about black joy, black triumph, stories that don’t have race at the forefront.”

Writing Craft

Viking Books for Young Readers

Eunnie To Debut New Sapphic Graphic Novel by Lindsey Anderson from SGN. Peek: “I like doing things out of order in an illustration. I have to do this before I lose interest. If I get bored with this one thing, I…move on from it and never come back, but I couldn’t do that for this [graphic novel]. That was a little bit of a challenge, but I did it….”

Where Do You Get Your Ideas: On Mindfulness and Creativity in Picture Books and Graphic Novels from Writers Digest. Peek: [Minh Lê:] “[I] don’t think of an idea as something I ‘get.’ An idea doesn’t feel like an acquisition or something I’m hunting down….[I]t’s more like receiving or noticing ideas….[M]y process is about making myself open to receiving ideas, and creating the conditions that make me available to notice inspiration when it’s staring me in the face.”

Laekan Zea Kemp: Writing a Book Series Is Tough by Robert Lee Brewer from Writer’s Digest. Peek: “[I’m] a pantser, or…what I like to refer to as a headlights writer, meaning I only plan about two to three chapters ahead of me at a time. As a discovery writer, I prefer to take my time and will usually spend about eight months drafting a novel before spending another several months on revisions.”

Knopf Books for Young Readers

Diverse Books: Five Questions for Sharon G. Flake by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: “I am not a poet; I occasionally write poetry….[G]oing outside my comfort zone was the biggest challenge. I had a poet friend read my work; she knows exactly what it takes to write a great poem. When I came up short, she pointed it out. I learned to value poetry and verse novels in a new way.”

Seizing the Day, or Not, in Middle-Grade Sequels, a Guest Post by Michael Mann by Amanda MacGregor from School Library Journal. Peek: “[I wanted to] free [the character], and the reader, and perhaps myself—from the sequel’s curse….[You need] to give yourself a break….[O]n my sequel,…no sooner had I got my book deal for book one, I had to start writing the sequel. No sooner was the first draft in, then the edits or the social media started.”

Cover Reveal and Chat With Kekla Magoon About The Secret Library by Betsy Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “I sketched a rough outline based on the scene fragments I had…[W]ithin a few days I had this lightning strike moment when I realized how the novel needed to end. My first draft was still rather haphazard, but that lightning strike moment…gave me something to write toward…[T]hat allowed me to continue drafting and finding my way.”


Leslie Zampetti Launches Literary Agency from Pubishers Weekly. Peek: “Leslie Zampetti, secretary and board member of the Association of American Literary Agents, has launched her own literary agency, Open Book Literary….The new agency will focus on underrepresented authors of children’s books, including picture books, middle grade, and YA, as well as adult fiction, including literary mysteries, upmarket romance, and historical fiction.”

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Policy on AI from SCBWI. Peek: “For over 50 years, SCBWI has encouraged and celebrated the creativity, dedication, and lived experiences of our members….Therefore, we are opposed to any use of text-prompted generative AI in writing, illustrating or other aspects of creating children’s books until fair policies and regulations are established to protect the work of all human creators.”

Rollout of Scholastic Book Fairs’ New Diversity Offering Comes Under Fire by Nathalie op de Beeck from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[Scholastic] responded to accusations of censorship at its book fairs stemming from the creation of a new diverse stories offering, called ‘Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice,’ which librarians and school officials hosting fairs must decide whether to offer….[Scholastic] created the collection for U.S. elementary school book fairs as a way to continue providing diverse books….”


FTRF and SCBWI Speak Out About the Freedom To Read by Nathalie op de Beeck from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Joyce McIntosh, Asst. Program Director, Freedom to Read Foundation:] “Please don’t be afraid to publish a book you have in you…While we are experiencing this chilling effect throughout the country right now, the majority of people on all sides of the political spectrum want to have access to information….The one area where I truly see hope…is that judges have absolutely ruled with upholding the First Amendment.”

Eva Longoria Promotes Access to Books, Multicultural Stories in New Partnership by Raul A. Reyes from NBC News. Peek: “[Eva] Longoria…announced a partnership with Mott’s to make it easier for families to access multicultural stories. Mott’s is launching a mobile library that will travel across the country, along with a program that allows families to get free books with qualifying purchases…Longoria hopes to help raise awareness of diverse books and authors….”


AAP Sales: Up 8.5% in August; Up 0.6% Year to Date from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “Total net book sales in August in the U.S. rose 8.5%, to $1.45 billion, compared to August 2022, representing sales of 1,226 publishers and distributed clients as reported to the Association of American Publishers. For the first eight months of the year, total net book sales are up 0.6%, to $8 billion.”

Chronicle Books

Children’s Booksellers Anticipate Happy Holidays by Claire Kirch and Nathalie op de Beeck from Pubishers Weekly. Peek: “With fall children’s book season upon us, booksellers already have a lot to love. August and early September releases have garnered strong recommendations, and anticipation is building for October and November’s offerings….While [headliners] are certain to fly off the shelves, booksellers feel confident about many other page-turners from publishers large and small.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Top Five Steps for Evaluating Online Writing Conferences by Kelli Panique from Writers Rumpus. Peek: “The first and most important thing to evaluate in a writing conference is the speakers. Ask yourself…: Who are they? Have you heard of them before? What’s their level of experience? Have they taught before? Have they been published? If so, by whom? In which genres have they been published? Do they have other relevant experience?”

The University of Colorado Boulder School of Education and the Boulder Book Store present the free 2023 Children’s Book Festival from Oct. 25 to Oct. 27. On Oct. 26, authors and illustrators will visit several Colorado elementary schools for an author visit. On Oct. 27, there will be virtual Children’s Book Author Panels. Register here for the panels. Some of the featured authors and illustrators include Derrick Barnes, Carole Lindstorm and Dave Valezsa.

The 2023 Festival of Words Delaware, a free one-day literary conference for young adult readers and the people who educate them, takes place Dec. 2 from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. eastern at St. George’s Technical High School, 555 Hyett’s Corner Rd., Middletown, DE. Participants “will learn the tricks of the trade from published authors and experts in the field.” See presenters here and register here.


Congratulations to the winners of the 2023 Kirkus Prize. The Young Readers’ Literature Prize went to America Redux: Visual Stories from Our Dynamic History by Ariel Aberg-Riger (Balzer + Bray, 2023).

Congratulations to the nominees of the 2024 Forest of Reading Awards, especially in the Program for Kids: the Blue Spruce Award, the Silver Birch Express Award, the Silver Birch Fiction Award, the Yellow Cedar Award, the Red Maple Award, the White Pine Award, the Poplar Prize, the Larch Prize, and the Tamarac Prize. The Forest of Reading initiative “offers ten reading programs to encourage a love of reading in people of all ages.”

Katherine Tegen Books

Congratulations to the winner of the Massachusetts Teen Choice Book Award, chosen by over 1,000 teens in grades 7-12: The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson (Katherine Tegan Books, 2022). The first runner-up is I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel Books, 2022) and the second runner up is The Getaway by Lamar Giles (Scholastic Press, 2022).

Congratulations to the winners of the Goddard Riverside’s 2023 Book Prizes, which awards books that create change in the name of Social Justice for All. The winner of the CBC Youth Book Prize for Social Justice is Food for Hope: How John van Hengel Invented Food Banks for the Hungry by Jeff Gottesfeld, illustrated by Michelle Laurentia Agatha (Creston Books, 2023).

2023 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards Virtual Celebration by Elissa Gershowitz from The Horn Book. Peek: “[J]oin us for our free first-ever Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards Virtual Celebration on…Nov. 3 at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. 2023 BGHB winners Angeline Boulley (Fiction & Poetry), Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Nonfiction), and Jack Wong (Picture Book) will be in conversation with each other and with me, reading their acceptance speeches [and] answering audience questions….” Register here.

Scholarships & Grants

Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Penguin Random House will award college scholarships of up to $10,000 each to five public U.S. high school seniors….[planning] to enroll in an accredited two-year or four-year college, university, or approved vocational-technical school Fall 2024. Submit one original literary composition in English in one…genre[] of poetry, spoken word, fiction/drama, personal essay/memoir, or book bans prompt.” Deadline is Jan. 16 or when 1,000 applications are received.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Hey, Cynsational readers! It’s full-out autumn here in Austin. Last weekend, I even got away to the Texas Hill Country. The town of Comfort made a terrific destination. Charming, friendly, and the eats were delicious.

Not for the Faint of Heart from The Horn Book. Peek: “As Halloween nears, check out these six pulse-pounding, often horror-inflected tales of the supernatural, recommended for young adult readers…if you dare.”

Cynthia Leitich Smith’s “Reservation Dogs” Read-Alikes from School Library Journal. Peek: “The recent TV series finale of “Reservation Dogs” closes three award-winning seasons of authentic, resonant episodes set on a modern-day rural Oklahoma rez and centered on four Native teens within their intergenerational tribal community. After you’ve finished watching this remarkable show, reach next for these literary novels—and one nonfiction gateway book—written by Indigenous voices, for more characters that reflect a full range of emotion and authenticity—humor, mystery, intrigue, and healing.”

SLJ Webcast: Native Storytelling in Children’s Books at 2:30 ET, 1:30 CT Nov. 1. Acclaimed authors Angeline Boulley and Cynthia Leitich Smith discuss Indigenous representation, craft, and the future of Indigenous kid lit.  Moderator: Dr. Debbie Reese.

Cover Reveal for Red Bird Danced by Dawn Quigley, art by Carla Joseph (Heartdrum, 2024) from Caroline Richmond at We Need Diverse Books. Peek:

Ariel and Tomah have lived in the city’s intertribal housing complex all their lives. But for both of them, this Dagwaagin (Autumn) season is different than any before.

From his bench outside the front door of his building, Tomah watches his community move around him. He is better at making people laugh than he is at schoolwork, but often it feels like his neighbor Ariel is the only one who really sees him, even in her sadness.

Ariel has always danced ballet because of her auntie Bineshiinh and loves the way it makes her feet hover above the ground like a bird. But ever since Auntie went missing, Ariel’s dancing doesn’t feel like flying.

As the seasons change and the cold of winter gives way to spring’s promise, Ariel and Tomah begin to change too, learning to share the rhythms and stories they carry within themselves.

With lyrical verse and powerful emotion, Dawn Quigley tells the story of urban Native kids who find strength in connection with those who came before–and in the hope that lets them take flight.

Reminder! Heartdrum Native American Month Celebration! BookPeople will feature Native children’s authors Laurel Goodluck (Mandan-Hidatsa), Dawn Quigley (Ojibwe), Kim Rogers (Wichita), Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee), and Brian Young (Navajo) at 12:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 4 at Austin Public Library (710 W. César Chávez St.).

More Personally – Gayleen

I spent much of last weekend working the Lago Vista Friends of the Library Book Sale where nearly 400 people turned out over two days to shop books. New this year was a “banned books table” stocked with titles found on National Coalition Against Censorship‘s database of challenged and banned books. The table drew interest, and the books sold before I thought to snap a picture, but I was excited to raise awareness about intellectual freedom and am grateful for the American Library Association’s resources and graphics that made it easier to talk about the problem.