Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Game of Freedom: Mestre Bimba and the Art of Capoeira by Duncan Tonatiuh (Harry N. Abrams, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Quill Tree Books

An Interview With Jewell Parker Rhodes by Chelsea Stringfield from Parnassus Musing. Peek: [Advice for aspiring young writers:] “Read, read, read, and read some more. Consciously and unconsciously, you’re learning what makes a story and developing your own taste and style. Study people. And when you write, start first with characterization—not just the outside appearance and actions but also the inside desires and motivations.”

Interview With Sophia N. Lee and Christine Almeda, Creators of Lolo’s Sari-sari Store by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: [Sophia N. Lee:] “Don’t be afraid to let yourself be curious about things. Wherever you find yourself, take a moment to see what stories are taking place around you. Also—don’t let your fear of being bad prevent you from getting things down on the page….Embrace being bad, have the heart of a beginner, and don’t be afraid to experiment!”

Celebrating Black Women Writers…With Davina Tijani from Spread the Word. Peek: “My advice to authors is to understand your writing style in terms, are you a planner (plan every detail of your story) or a pantser (don’t plan, just go with the flow). By identifying which one you are, you can build better writing patterns and figure out how you can write better and more smartly.”

Equity & Inclusion

Holiday House

Book Q&As With Deborah Kalb from Deborah Kalb Books. Peek: [Clar Angkasa:] “Thinking back on the narratives I grew up [with], I became very determined to create the type of stories that I felt was missing in my childhood, ones where girls are so much more than a mother, or a daughter or a love interest, and women’s choices aren’t limited to stereotypical gender roles.”

Why My “Last Cuentista” Protagonist Is Visually Impaired by Donna Barba Higuera from School Library Journal. Peek: “I wanted to create a character who feels like most of us did at that age: Powerless. Questioning our ability to make change in the world. I wanted to show a young girl who persevered regardless of a physical challenge she faced in secrecy, and a family who tried to hide her vision loss from the world.”

We Need Diverse Books Calls Scholastic Book Fairs to Action from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “By creating a segregated set of books…and offering these diverse titles to only schools that opt-in, the Scholastic Book Fairs bent to the will of extremist book-banning groups….We insist that Scholastic use their power to uplift diverse voices and to lend their considerable resources to combat book bans…[and] significantly increase their support of the teachers and librarians….”

Entangled: Teen

Q&A: Pintip Dunn and Love Dunn, Co-Authors of “The Lotus Flower Champion” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “We hope that this story will make others who also struggle with OCD feel less alone. It is so vastly important for young people to see themselves reflected in stories, and we hope that anyone who has felt a little bit different, for whatever reason, can find a bit of themselves in [the main character].”

Mari Lowe Pens Powerful Moral Caper for Tweens by Levine Querido from School Library Journal. Peek: “I would love it if [readers] could…find that commonality with my characters despite our differences…Too much media surrounding my culture tends to be written by outsiders searching for a way to make us seem exotic and alien….[I] don’t want my culture to be the entire story; rather, a natural setting that will become more familiar to readers.”

Levine Querido: Making Waves in the Spanish Market from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “With LQ, [Arthur Levine] vowed to create a diverse collective of publishing professionals to pour their energies into magnificent books by…marginalized creators. More than half of the LQ staff identifies as Latine…[A]s of 2023, 30% of the publisher’s list is by Latine creators….LQ launched a new imprint, Ediciones LQ, in 2022, which publishes books in Spanish.”

Writing Craft

Chronicle Books

Let’s Talk Illustrators #250: Lian Cho by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “As I do with every book I work on, I began this book with research to learn more about my subject. If you’re further interested in learning about my process of using research, I wrote a comic about the process which you can read on my newsletter here [How to Learn to Draw Anything].”

Q&A With Jessixa and Aaron Bagley by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [On collaborating with husband/illustrator:] “He would tell me if a sentence was too long to fit in a word bubble….[H]e’d come out from doing sketches or thumbnails and…put it in front of me, saying, ‘You need to shorten this,’ which is a huge advantage to living with your collaborator; you can actually make on-the-fly changes.”

Author Interview: Elisa Stone Leahy and Tethered to Other Stars by Natalie Aguirre from Literary Rambles. Peek: “It is important to write what you love. But it is also important to figure out where that intersects with what your audience loves….If you have any kids in your life who fit the audience you are writing to, get to know them and their friends…Listen to podcasts, follow blogs, get on your librarian’s email lists,…etc.”

Quill Tree Books

Kosoko Jackson Centers Black, Queer Characters in a Haunting New Tale by Rege Behe from Pittsburgh City Paper. Peek: “When I come up with a book, it usually appears as a cinematic piece before I start plotting…[There’s] one quintessential scene…I think of first and I use that to set the tone for the whole book….[I]f I get to the point…where this is a story I’m going to write, that scene has to resonate with me emotionally.”

The Words We Share—Interview With Jack Wong by Andrea Wang from Picture Book Builders. Peek: “I’m technically…a ‘pantser’ when it comes to writing—so the story’s development was never as neat and linear as…[I] describe it—but it really came down to knowing my main characters first, then putting them into a scenario to see how they would react based on their individual personalities, and how they care for each other.”

Debut Author Interview: Caroline Huntoon and Skating on Mars by Natalie Aguirre from Literary Rambles. Peek: “I’m not a ‘write two pages each day’ kind of person. When I’m drafting, I carve out substantive chunks of time…and sit down to write a not-so-great draft. I trust in the writing process…I’ll revise, reverse outline, revise again, get readers’ eyes on it…[Knowing] the book will get better makes it easier to generate the initial content.”


Disney Partners With Kugali for Middle Grade Imprint by Iyana Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Disney Hyperion has announced a new graphic novel imprint, Kugali Ink, in collaboration with pan-African entertainment company Kugali. The imprint will celebrate African voices and provide visual adventures for middle grade readers. Kugali Ink is set to release its first two graphic novels…in 2025….”

Scholastic Apologizes, Will End Controversial Book Fair Offering by Nathalie op de Beeck from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “This fall,…we offered a collection of books to supplement the diverse collection of titles already available at the Scholastic Book Fair….[T]he separate nature of the collection has caused confusion and feelings of exclusion. We are working across Scholastic to find a better way….[The collection] will not be offered with our next season in January.”

KKR Purchase of S&S Completed from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “[T]he KKR purchase of Simon & Schuster from Paramount Global has been officially completed. With the $1.62 billion all‐cash transaction, S&S is…the only independent major trade publisher in the U.S….[Jonathan Karp, S&S President:] ‘This marks the first time since 1975…that we will stand on our own and not as part of a larger media conglomerate….’”

Gibbs Smith, F. Ferguson Books in Co-Publishing Agreement from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “Gibbs Smith and F. Ferguson Books have begun a co-publishing agreement under which F. Ferguson Books will publish books as a Gibbs Smith imprint….The agreement covers all past and future F. Ferguson Books titles. Founded by Fabian Ferguson, F. Ferguson Books, Newark, N.J., specializes in children’s books featuring Black lead characters.”


In Appeal Brief, Texas Defends Controversial Book Rating Law by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “In an appeal brief…Texas state attorneys argue that HB 900—the state’s controversial book rating law—is constitutional…[and] aims to establish standards that will ‘protect children from sexually explicit material at school’…HB 900 requires book vendors—at their own considerable expense—to review and rate books…for sexual content under a vaguely articulated standard.”


Announcing the Evanston Public Library 101 Great Books for Kids List: 2023 Edition! by Betsy Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “[T]here is one library…that puts its all into its own children’s list….[T]he Evanston Public Library is the Most dedicated, Most committed, and Most discerning of all the library lists out there….[A]ny employee of the library may be a part of our committee….[W]e had twenty-four people…working together to bring us this collection of particularly fabulous titles for kids.”


BookStop Returns in 2023 from SCBWI. “Our annual member bookselling promotion, SCBWI BookStop, is now open for members to create pages for their books. Traditionally and independently/self-published books are welcome to be put on sale for book buyers and readers worldwide.” The BookStop gallery is open to the public from Nov. 14 to Dec. 22.

How to Sell Books at a School Visit from Annette Whipple. Peek: “Every school I’ve worked with…wanted students to have the opportunity to purchase books or they have purchased books for their students….I do not require it as part of my author visit contract. Nor do I require a minimum purchase….Whether you sell your inventory of books or work with a bookstore, parents need a book order form.”

How Podcasts Are Helping Books Reach Larger Audiences by Anne McCarthy from New York Book Forum. Peek: “[I]n 2023, there are over three million podcasts worldwide…Podcast hosts are enthusiastic about podcasting as a way to help books reach bigger audiences. Wudan Yan,…host of The Writers’ Co-op,…[says] ‘Podcasts can be a great tool for authors to spread the word about their new book, largely because podcasts hit a different market from print and TV….’”

Education/Other Resources/Events


The New York Public Library presents KidsLIVE! Livestream With Emily Bowen Cohen on Nov. 14 during which there will be a discussion of her middle grade graphic novel Two Tribes (Heartdrum, 2023), an author Q&A, and an activity. The event takes place at 12:30 p.m. pacific. 2:30 p.m. central, 3:30 p.m. eastern. Register here to receive the Zoom link.

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and IllustratorsWinter Conference 2024 takes place in-person at the New York Hilton Midtown, 1335 Avenue of the Americas, New York. “Come and be inspired by renowned authors and illustrators, learn about the state of the children’s book publishing industry from panels of agents, editors and art directors, dive deep into your craft…and get your work in front of industry professionals!” The event takes place Feb. 9 to Feb. 11; registration opens Nov. 10. See the schedule here and register here.

If you missed School Library Journal’s free virtual Fall 2023 Day of Dialogue that took place Oct. 12, which featured author panels, in-depth conversations, and keynote talks, the sessions and exhibits are still available on demand until Jan. 26. Register here.

Library Journal, and School Library Journal present their free virtual Library Con Live, “a day-long celebration of fandom, spotlighting genre fiction for adults and teens with panels devoted to comics and graphic novels, horror, sf/fantasy, and more. In addition to panels and keynotes, [there will be]…fast-track learning sessions hosted by librarians and studio spotlights focusing on visual artists.” The event takes place Nov. 9 from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. pacific, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. central, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. eastern time. Register here.

Reminder! 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 and illustrators across all ages and genres. Check out the Children’s and YA Programming on the festival schedule here.


Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the 2024 longlists for the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the Young Adult Science Book category. The prize celebrates outstanding science writing and illustration for children and young adults.

Levine Querido

Congratulations to the books that were named to Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2023. “From Publishers Weekly’s reviews of children’s and young adult books published in 2023, our selections for the top 50 books of the year include picture books and graphic novels, fiction and nonfiction, and debuts and bestsellers for readers of all ages.”

Congratulations to the winner of the 2023 Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Ficton and also to the nominated shortlisted books, especially the young reader selection Wolfish by Christiane M. Andrews (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2022).

Congratulations to the 2023 BookLife Prize Semifinalists, and especially to the five semifinalists in the YA/Middle Grade category. The BookLife Prize is an annual writing contest sponsored by BookLife and Publishers Weekly that seeks to support independent authors and discover great books.

Nancy Paulsen Books

Congratulations to the winners of the Heartland Booksellers Awards, and especially to the two winners for children’s books: The Davenports by Krysal Marquis (Dial, 2023)(MG/YA Book), and The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Leo Espinosa (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2022)(Picture Book). The awards were presented at the Heartland Fall Forum 2023.


2024 Latinx in Publishing Writers Mentorship Program. Peek: “The Latinx in Publishing Writers Mentorship Program offers the opportunity for unpublished and unagented writers who identify as Latinx (mentees) to strengthen their craft, gain knowledge about the traditional publishing industry, and expand their professional connections through work with experienced Latinx authors (mentors).” Apply here until Nov. 6.

In Memory

Obituary: Eve Bunting from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Award-winning, versatile, and prolific children’s author Eve Bunting died on October 1… She was 94… In all, Bunting created more than 250 books for young people. Her numerous accolades and honors include the Kerlan Award, the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery (Coffin on a Case, Harper, 1991), and the Regina Medal (1997), given by the Catholic Library Association.”

Obituary: Susan Patron from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Acclaimed children’s author, distinguished children’s librarian, and stalwart champion of intellectual freedom, Susan Patron, best known for her Newbery Medal-winning novel The Higher Power of Lucky (Simon & Schuster, 2006), died October 24 in Los Angeles…She was 75….Her way—in all things—was fierce yet gentle, grounded in reality yet bolstered by an almost visionary sense of hope….” See a 2009 Cynsations interview with Susan here.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Look forward to seeing you at an upcoming event!