Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: When the Stars Came Home by Brittany Luby , illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Laurie Halse Anderson: Speaking for the Voiceless by Lisa Tolin from Pen America. Peek: “[T]eenagers are such outstanding human beings….[I]t is so critical that they have access to books…that allow them to work through what the real world is, before they are facing it. When you read, you develop empathy. When you read, you develop your soul. When you read a book, you connect with the page, you connect with yourself.”

Scholastic Press

A Conversation With Angela Cervantes by Michelle Pastor from Scholastic On Our Minds. Peek: “Ghost stories can be an escape and fun, but I believe young readers choose scary stories for the hope. They grab it from the bookshelf knowing it will be frightening, but they open it and keep reading because they’re hopeful that the story’s main protagonist will triumph against whatever ghost haunts them.”

“Be Brave…Just Read”: Highlights from the 2023 NBA Teen Press Conference by Iyana Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Dhonielle Clayton:] “In these turbulent times that we are living in right now, I believe that stories are the things that will save us…They are the things that make this weird world feel a little smaller, a little less scary—a place where we can work out the dark and scary parts of this human existence.”

This Strathcona County Author Wants Kids To Learn “The Only Way to Make Bread” by Aaron Sousa from CBC News. Peek: “We all want to solve the world’s problems, but maybe that begins with breaking bread with your neighbor and they break bread with theirs, and then you build community…If kids can figure out how to get along with each other and how to get what they need, maybe we can figure it out, too.”

Equity & Inclusion


Debbie Reese on Book Bans and Native Representation by Coshandra Dillard and Crystal L. Keels, Ph.D. from Learning For Justice Magazine. Peek: “The increase of Native authors who write for children is small but significant. Editors used to tell Native authors that the characters and storylines of manuscripts they…[submitted] would not sell. The reason? Their stories did not match the public perception of who Native peoples are….Those stereotypes misinform readers and perpetuate a cycle of ignorance….”

Who Deserves Happy Ever Afters: Ellen Oh with TEDx Talks from YouTube. Peek: “[B]ecause of a lack of representation, I didn’t know that seeing yourself in the pages of a book would be life transforming….[I] found my Asian-American immigrant family experience in the pages of a book…[T]his was a book that saved me from my own self-hatred, that made me realize that being Asian-American was nothing to be ashamed of.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Vashti Harrison—“Big” with The Daily Show from YouTube. Peek: “I remember the fear and the anxiety and the shame that I felt as a young child. And I wanted to make a book that acknowledged that those feelings are big and sometimes can trap us in and box us in, and express how those feelings can be really overwhelming for a young person.”

Michaela Goade: How Teachers, Librarians, and Families Can Find Authentic Native Books with Reading Rockets from Peek: “[For] educators or caregivers who are looking to incorporate more Native books in their curriculum…or libraries [or] homes,…a great place to start is to always look to the land where you reside. Whose traditional territory are you on?”

Five Questions With Christine Randall by Finnian Burnett from Finally Finnian. Peek: “I grew up fat, and nerdy, and neurodiverse, and anxious, and queer, and so the most obvious answer [to what inspires you]…is the old adage about writing what you know. But I think the honest answer is that because I grew up [with] all of those things at once, I didn’t often feel seen….It felt isolating….”

Writing Craft

Delacorte Press

Q&A With Jesse Q. Sutanto by Amanda Ramirez from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I can only really write…three books a year….I really love switching back and forth between genres and age ranges, though. It kind of feels like eating something savory and then something sweet. After I write a dark book that’s about like, a bitter, resentful marriage, I’m so ready for something lighter.”

Interview With Kylie Lee Baker (The Scarlet Alchemist) by Nils Shukla from The Fantasy Hive. Peek: “The editing process…was fun because [the book] was pretty structurally sound from the start…I didn’t have to do a ton of re-writing. Instead, I got to fulfill fun requests from my editor like ‘make the stakes higher here’ (which translates to ‘add more blood and violence’ in my mind)….I don’t like re-writing chapters from the ground up.”

#HerStory With Aya Khalil from Women of Toledo. Peek: “[D]o your research. Spend hours at the library reading recently published books in your genre. Join groups like SCBWI, 12×12 and take classes from Highlights Foundation, The Writing Barn, Inked Voices and check out free resources like Josh Funk Books. Apply for mentorships….Check for people who can critique your work or [to] find critique partners….”


Candlewick Makes Leadership Changes by Nathalie op de Beeck from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Candlewick Press in Somerville, Mass…announced significant changes to its roster. Former Walker Books Group managing director Karen Lotz is taking on the role of Candlewick publishing director-at-large. Senior executive editor Katie Cunningham will now serve as Candlewick senior v-p, editorial, and associate publisher, overseeing the editorial department and steering the publishing program.”

Usborne Launches U.S. Trade Partnership by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Fifty years after Peter Usborne founded Usborne Publishing in London, with the goal of revitalizing children’s nonfiction, the independent company has announced a new U.S. trade distribution partnership with HarperCollins. The first U.S. list was released this fall with 253 titles, selected from its backlist of bestselling series and one-off books, as well as new titles.”

Blackstone Publishing To Distribute Dreamscape Media Physical Audio from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “Blackstone Publishing is distributing worldwide physical audio formats—CD and MP3-CD—of Dreamscape Media. Dreamscape Media produces fiction and nonfiction audiobooks, book-based children’s read-along video programs, and offers video and audio distribution services. Titles are available to both library and retail channels in physical and digital formats.”


Optimism and Opportunities at the 2023 Shanghai Children’s Book Fair by Teri Tan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[M]any [exhibitors at the Shanghai Children’s Book Fair] expressed hope for a quick revival of the children’s book segment in China amid high potentials for signed deals in the weeks ahead. For some exhibitors, significant changes in the marketplace had them shifting gears and reassessing offerings to Chinese publishers and rights agents.”


Why Picture Book Authors Make the Best Marketers by Chelsea Tornetto from Writers’ Rumpus. Peek: “[D]id you know that many of the same skills you use to write a great children’s book can also help you market it? Here are…picture book writing skills that can make you a master at marketing:…Picture book writers know that a picture is worth a thousand words….Picture books writers know the power of a repeated refrain.”


In the Battle Over Books, Who Gets To Decide What’s Age-Appropriate at Libraries? by Tovia Smith from NPR. Peek: “[O]ne…effort[] around the U.S. [is] to change how decisions are made about which books libraries should have on shelves and in which section of the library they belong….Books usually get an initial designation from authors and publishers. Then, professional book reviewers usually weigh in, and distributors and booksellers…[But] local library staff make the final call….”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Tundra Books

AICL’s Year in Review for 2023 from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “American Indians in Children’s Literature is pleased to share our annual year-end list of books…We’d like multiple copies of them to be in every classroom, school, and public library. Our emphasis is books by Native writers and illustrators whose Nations are on the continent we know as North America. Most are ones that came out in 2023.”

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids by Cynthia Leitich Smith, Read by Kenny Ramos and DeLanna Studi from Audio File Magazine. Peek: “Kenny Ramos and DeLanna Studi narrate with warmth as they bring a memorable intertribal powwow to life for listeners. Sixteen Indigenous authors weave together diverse stories in celebration of coming together as a community while also highlighting the young protagonists’ many different personalities and experiences.”

Scholastic and School Library Journal present Picture Books That Inspire with Hadley Davis and Zahra Lari, authors of Not Yet: The Story of an Unstoppable Skater (Orchard Books, 2024), and also with Joanna Ho, author of We Who Produce Pearls (Orchard Books, 2024). They’ll explore “the magical world of colorful illustrations, engaging storytelling, and valuable insights into the art of creating picture books.” The webinar takes place Dec. 13 at 11 a.m. pacific, 1 p.m. central, 2 p.m. eastern.

Harry N. Abrams

We Need Diverse Books 2023 Gift Guide. Peek: “Tis the season for gathering with loved ones, celebrating with food and fun—all with some gifting sprinkled throughout! Here’s a guide to some of the best diverse-owned, book-ish themed shops and items the internet has to offer….[WNDB] programs celebrate diverse books, mentor diverse writers and illustrators, support diverse publishing professionals, and provide books to classrooms nationwide.”


Congratulations to the winners and honorees of the National Council of Teachers of English‘s 2024 Prestigious Literary Awards:


Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books were included in School Library Journal’s Best Books 2023 in the categories picture books, transitional chapter books, middle grade, young adults, nonfiction elementary, nonfiction middle to high school, poetry, graphic novels, and Top 10 Manga.

Congratulations to Anna Rose Johnson, whose book The Star That Aways Stays (Holiday House, 2022) won the 2023 Christy Amplify Award. “The Christy Amplify Award for Christian Fiction was created by publishers and agents to elevate and recognize under-represented ethnic stories of excellence, and their authors.”

The New York Public Library Reveals the Best Books of 2023 for Kids, Teens, and Adults from the New York Public Library. Peek: “The New York Public Library announced…its Best Books of 2023, a curated list of 240 recommended titles published this year for children, teens, and adults. For nearly a century NYPL’s expert librarians have been providing New Yorkers with their year-end recommendations, celebrating books that inspire a love of reading….”

Holiday House

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made NPR’s 2023 Books We Love list, and especially to the books in the Kids Books and Young Adult categories. [Meghan Collins Sullivan, NPR’s senior books and culture editor:] “We’re so excited to bring you our annual, interactive guide of the books NPR’s staff and book critics loved the most this year…With the variety of genres and topics represented here, we’re sure you’ll find something you love too.”

Congratulations to the final round nominees for the 2023 Goodreads Choice Awards, especially in the categories of Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction and Best Young Adult Fiction. Voting ends Dec. 3 and the winners will be announced Dec. 7.

Congratulations to the California Independent Booksellers Alliance’s Golden Poppy Awards 2023 Finalists, and especially to the finalists in the categories of Picture Books, Middle Grade, Young Adult, Children’s Nonfiction, and Mirrors & Windows: Excellence in Children’s Literature. The awards recognize “the most distinguished books written and illustrated by creators who have made California their home.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made Kirikus ReviewsBest of 2023: Our Favorite Children’s Books. “[C]ompiling our annual best books lists…[is] a chance not only to surface superb titles, but also to take stock, to reexamine the ideas that matter to us…and to get a sense of where we’re going.”

Congratulations to the finalists for the 2023 BookLife Fiction Prize, especially 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. The winner will be announced Dec. 11.

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made Shelf Awareness‘s 2023 list of Best Children’s and YA Books. The list encompasses “varying genres across age ranges—including read-alouds, early chapter books, poetic middle-grade, and introspective nonfiction for young adults.”

Scholarships & Grants

Congratulations to the ten recipients of We Need Diverse Books2023 Walter Dean Myers Grant. The Walter Grant provides grants of $2,000 each to promising diverse writers and illustrators who are currently unpublished.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Thank you, friends! Thank you, Candlewick Press, HarperChildren’s, NCTE, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Booking Biz for your support and hospitality. My fall 2023 speaker schedule has concluded and joyfully so. I look forward to several weeks at home, writing and spending time with friends and family.

The “best of” season is a joyful one. Heartdrum-imprint highlights include:

  • Just Like Grandma by Kim Rogers and Julie Flett, Two Tribes by Emily Bowen Cohen, and Rez Ball by Byron Graves, cover art by Natasha Donovan were named to the New York Public Library’s Best Books of 2023 List.
  • A Letter for Bob by Kim Rogers and Jonathan Nelson was named to the Kirkus Reviews list of Best Picture Books of 2023 About Families.
  • Rez Ball by Byron Graves, cover art by Natasha Donovan was named a Book Riot Best Book for Teens and to the Texas Library Association’s Tayshas list.
  • Two Tribes by Emily Bowen Cohen was named to the Texas Library Association Bluebonnet List and School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2023.
  • We Still Belong by Christine Day, cover art by Madelyn Goodnight and Just Like Grandma by Kim Rogers and Julie Flett were named to Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best Books of 2023.
  • In the 2023 review, American Indians in Children’s Literature recommended Just Like Grandma by Kim Rogers and Julie Flett, A Letter for Bob by Kim Rogers and Jonathan Nelson, Rock Your Mocs by Laurie Goodluck and Madelyn Goodnight, Jo Jo Makoons: Fancy Pants and Jo Jo Makoons: Snow Day (both) by Dawn Quigley and Tara Audibert, Heroes of the Water Monster by Brian Young, cover art by Shonto Begay, We Still Belong by Christine Day, cover art by Madelyn Goodnight, and Rez Ball by Byron Graves, cover art by Natasha Donovan. 
  • Jazzy’s Native Bookshelf at Bookelicious Books highlighted Just Like Grandma by Kim Rogers and Julie Flett, A Letter for Bob by Kim Rogers and Jonathan Nelson, Rock Your Mocs by Laurel Goodluck and Madelyn Goodnight, Jo Jo Makoons: Snow Day by Dawn Quigley and Tara Audibert, and Heroes of the Water Monster by Brian Young, cover art by Shonto Begay.

More Personally – Gayleen

This week I’ve reveled in the lush botanical masterpiece that is The Girl From Earth’s End by Tara Dairman (Candlewick, 2023). I feel guilty that it’s been in my TBR pile for so long, but at the same time Tara’s amazing garden descriptions are the perfect antidote for gray fall days. I’m savoring every blossoming page and dreaming of lush spring plantings.

Personal Links – Gayleen

  • Fifth Circuit Hears Appeal of Texas Book Rating Law by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “…lawyers for a coalition of plaintiff booksellers and publishing industry groups…urged the court to immediately lift an administrative stay that has allowed the law to take effect despite being found unconstitutional.” A recording of the full hearing is available here.