Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith, Gayleen Rabakukk, Suma SubramaniamA.J. EversoleMitu Malhotra and Gail Vannelli for Cynsations

Spotlight Image: The Last Stand by Antwan Eady, illustrated by Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2024).

Author/Illustrator Insights

The Loveboat, Taipei Trilogy’s Finale: Exploring Uncharted Places, a Guest Post by Abigail Hing Wen by Amanda MacGregor from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “Write what only you can write, drawing from your unique experiences, ideas and the things that make you laugh and cry. No one else can write those but you. If you find yourself drawn to scenes or characters you love but have never seen before, then you’re probably onto something.”

Labyrinth Road

Esme Symes-Smith Helps Young Readers Find the Hero Within by Lindsey Anderson from Seattle Gay News. Peek: “There are as many ways to be brave as there are human beings…Sometimes brave looks like standing up to the bad guys. Sometimes it looks like protecting yourself. Sometimes it looks like taking care of the people you love. Heroes come in countless different shapes and sizes.”

Interview With Author Eric Smith of With or Without You with Authors and Agents Podcast on YouTube. Peek: “Read a whole bunch…It was only because I started reading YA novels that I realized where it was I actually wanted to be because I had no idea….It took me finally reading out of my comfort zone to discover [that]….You can learn so much from other categories and genres….Don’t feel like you need to pigeonhole yourself.”

Shark Teeth by Sherri Winston with Bloomsbury Publishing on YouTube. Peek: [What author hopes readers take away from the story:] “[T]here can always be light after the tunnel….You don’t have to become the victim of your circumstances. You can be the survivor of your circumstances….If kids know that, it will take away some of the sense of futility.”

Equity & Inclusion

Joy Revolution

In Conversation: Elle Gonzalez Rose and Nicola and David Yoon from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I wrote this book because I needed something very happy where queerness and Latinidad were able to exist in harmony, and not feel like they were at odds with one another, like you can either be proud of your Latine heritage, or you can be openly queer. I wanted a book where you could be both….”

Texas Freedom to Read Project To Fight Book Bans & Defend the Right to Read from Texas Freedom to Read Project. Peek: [Anne Russey, Project cofounder:] “Every student should be able to read books where they see themselves reflected and have access to stories and perspectives that are very different from their own. Restricting and banning books deprives students of their fundamental First Amendment right to receive information and ideas.”

Congress Introduces New Bill to Fight Book Bans in Schools by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “…the Fight Book Bans Act would offer school districts funding to defend against the ongoing surge in challenges to books and educational materials that has led to thousands of titles being pulled from school library bookshelves.”

Coming Home to the Library, a Guest Post by Yasmin Rahman by Amanda MacGregor from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “[I]t seems ridiculous that I, an avid book lover…, did not realize that being a librarian was the perfect job for me….[M]ost of my debut novel, All The Things We Never Said, was written in the solace of peaceful libraries. But…I had never seen anyone who looked like me working in one of them.”

Astra Young Readers

A Message From Author Mariel Jungkunz, Author of Dreams of Green from Astra Publishing House on YouTube. Peek: “[The book] is about family, culture, tradition….When I was looking for picture books about my traditions, everything that I celebrate (Puerto Rico), everything that we celebrate in Latin America, I didn’t find many books…I hope that the book inspires interest in other holiday traditions….[and] in language….”

Interview With Gabe Cole Novoa, Author of “Most Ardently: A Pride and Prejudice Remix” by Yu-Hung Tien and Mariam Wassif from Keats-Shelly Association of America. Peek: “[I]f you look at historical documents you’ll find that there have been queer people all throughout history. This is a big part of the reason I love writing queer historical fiction—because it’s an opportunity…to tell the stories of people who have largely been left out of or straightwashed in the most popular historical accounts.”

Writing Craft

Interview With Jyoti Rajan Gopal, Author of My Paati’s Saris by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: “As a picture book writer, you don’t have a lot of words to tell your story, typically 500-700. So, every word you write has to count. Some of my stories write themselves very quickly. Others go through many, many revisions before I discover the structure the story needs or the heart of what I’m trying to say.”

Candlewick Press

Padma Venkatraman Discusses Shakti Is Strength from Calling The Moon Anthology by Suma Subramaniam from Diverse Verse. Peek: [Use of poetic devices:] “Rhythm, and the music of the language, are vital to poetry….[In this story] I decided to experiment with spaces between words, as well as the use of capitalization…[L]yricism and brevity are key. As for the use of white space…, some years back, I wrote a poem about its significance to me, which you can read here.”

Off With Their Heads: Zoe Hana Mikuta from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “I read a lot, and…have a lot of tea, and pretend they’re magic potions that will solve all my plot holes….[I] accept that my creativity comes in waves. The best thing I can do to feed it is be patient….‘Write without fear; edit without mercy’ is the eternal, internal chant to keep from scaring the creativity off.”

Let’s Talk Illustrators #270: Maryam Tahmasebi by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “I try not to have any preconceptions in my mind when reading a new story…The first drafts are not always good…but among them, I find ideas that clarify my path and preserve the unique and new parts that are specific to the new story. And based on those, I move forward to complete the new story design….”

Peachtree Teen

Interview With Maria Ingrande Mora, Author of The Immeasurable Depth of You by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: “I love whatever part of writing I’m not currently doing. When I’m drafting, I’m longing to revise. When I’m revising, I’m longing to start a new draft. That friction is part of what keeps the creative process exciting to someone like me (a person with ADHD).”


An Upate on U.S. Scholastic Book Fairs for Spring 2024 from Scholastic News Room. Peek: “Spring ’24 Scholastic Book Fairs will: include all of the books from the fall Celebrating Voices Collection throughout the fair, joining a number of new titles with a wide array of representation; feature an enhanced, online Book Fair preview with industry standard information and search functionality…; and deliver all books in the fair to schools….”

Four Editors Tell PW Why They Love Their Work and Their Imprints’ Missions by Diane Patrick from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Bria Ragin, Joy Revolution Editor:] “[T]he books I grew up reading…didn’t reflect my experience as a Black teen girl….I’m passionate about… providing [authors] a safe space where they can explore their culture, language, whatever feels true to them and their experiences…The hope is to bring greater attention to people whose voices were not often highlighted.”

AAP Calls Big Tech’s AI Arguments “Nonsense” by John Maher and Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “In a second round of comments submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office…, the Association of American Publishers insists that copyright law protects authors, publishers, and creators from…unauthorized appropriation of their works by AI developers and slammed assertions…that fair use permits developers to use copyrighted works to train their systems without permission or compensation.”

Leaver Launches Gemini Books Group by Sian Bayley from The Bookseller. Peek: “Marcus Leaver, formerly president of Sterling Publishing, c.e.o. of The Quarto Group and co-founder of the Welbeck Publishing Group, has formed Gemini Books Group, with the acquisitions of Imagine That!, Palazzo Editions, Ad Lib Publishers, Mardle Books and Pimpernel Press….Gemini’s focus will be on non-fiction gift books and children’s books.”

Penguin Random House, Authors Sue To Block Iowa Anti-LGBTQ Book Banning Law by John Maher and Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Penguin Random House and the Iowa State Education Association, along with four bestselling authors and five plaintiffs…[have filed] a federal lawsuit against Iowa to block…[a] sweeping new law that…seeks to silence LGBTQ+ students and bans books with sexual or LGBTQ+ content. Authors Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Malinda Lo, and Jodi Picoult…are among the named plaintiffs….”


Book Ownership Declines for U.K. Children from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “In 2023, more children who received free school meals said they did not have a book of their own compared to the year before (12.4% in 2023 vs 9.7% in 2022), according to a recent study by the U.K.’s National Literacy Trust, which noted that book ownership is ‘associated with better reading performance.’”


How To Find Time for Book Promotion by Sandra Beckwith from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “[T]ips from authors:…Re-allocate your writing time. You carved out time to write the book, didn’t you?…Use your phone…to post on social media….Get outside help for easier tasks. Not everyone can afford to hire a social media manager, but many can pay a college student….Create ‘pre-made’ responses to frequently asked questions, then copy and paste when responding.”


Author and National Ambassador Meg Medina Selected Honorary Chair of National Library Week 2024 from American Library Association News. Peek: Award-winning author and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Meg Medina has been selected Honorary Chair of National Library Week, April 7-13, 2024, which celebrates the indispensable role of libraries and library workers in schools and communities….’Ready, Set, Library!’ is the theme…It reminds us of the dynamic role of libraries in our always-online world.”

The Public Library Association 2024 Conference will take place Apr. 3 to Apr. 5 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, OH. The event “offers more than 100…education sessions, inspiring speakers and authors, engaging networking opportunities, career services, micro-learning moments, and a bustling exhibits hall featuring the latest in products, services, and innovations.” There will be a Children’s-Author Breakfast on Apr. 4. Register here.

Education/Other Resources/Events

Reminder to register for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Winter Conference 2024! The In-Person Conference takes place Feb. 9 to Feb. 11 at the New York Hilton Midtown, 1335 Avenue of the Americas, NY. “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, [and] dive deep into your craft.” Register here. The Virtual Conference takes place Feb. 23 to Feb. 24. Register here.

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators presents its Special Holiday Digital Workshop: Meet the Agents! on Dec. 14 at 1 p.m. pacific, 3 p.m. central, 4 p.m. eastern. Four agents plus moderator Jemiscoe Chambers-Black (Agent, Andrea Brown Literary Agency) will discuss their wish lists. Attendees are then welcome to query the agents through Dec. Register here.

Harry N. Abrams

At the Museum With Leila Sales by Diane Roback from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Leila Sales arranged an inventive event in keeping with the theme of her middle grade novel [The Museum of Lost and Found]. In the story, sixth grader Vanessa…creates an exhibit about her former best friend, hoping to understand what went wrong between them….[S]ixth and seventh graders…across New York City attended a free one-day ‘make your own museum’ camp….”

Six Must-Read YA Novels by Indigenous Authors from Kirkus Reviews. Peek: “The autumn months are a time when harmful, inaccurate narratives about Indigenous people are especially prevalent….[O]bservances are rife with misinformation, and they’re commonly taught in schools in ways that ignore uncomfortable historical and contemporary truths. Books by Indigenous authors…are critical correctives that dismantle historical myths, explore present-day Native lives, and imagine Native futures.”


Congratulations to Katherine Rundell, whose children’s book Impossible Creatures (Bloomsbury, 2023) was selected as Waterstones Book of the Year. Bea Carvalho, Head of Books, stated that “this is as close to perfects as fiction gets: Immaculate world-building, dazzling storytelling, and adventure galore.”

Dial Books

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books were named to the Texas Library Association 2024 Reading Lists. The five lists include the Little Maverick list (graphic novels for K-5), the SPOT list (Spirit of Texas. Grade 6-12, Texas authors and illustrators), the Maverick list (graphic novels, grade 6-12), the TAYSHAS list (grade 9-12, fiction and nonfiction), and the Lone Star list (grade 6-8).

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators who made the Booklist Editors’ Choice: Books for Youth, 2023 List. “Committed to providing a broad selection of outstanding books that mixes popular appeal with literary excellence, the Books for Youth editorial staff has chosen the [listed] titles as its most recommended nonfiction, fiction, and picture-book offerings of the year.”

The nomination submission deadline for the 2024 School Librarian of the Year Award, presented by School Library Journal and sponsored by Scholastic, is Dec. 20. The award “honors a K–12 library professional for outstanding achievement and the exemplary use of 21st-century tools and services to engage children and teens toward fostering multiple literacies.”

Congratulations to the winners of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators2023 Don Freeman Illustration Grants: Jessica Goecke and Betsy Wallin. One grant goes to a published illustrator and the other to a pre-published illustrator. The $1,000 award may be used by the recipient in any way to that helps them complete their project.

Congratulations to the winner of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators2023 Karen and Philip Cushman Late Bloomer Award, which is for authors over the age of fifty who have not been traditionally published in the children’s literature field. The winner is Danielle Sunshine for Guys Like Us.

Congratulations to the winners of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators2023 Work-in-Progress Grants. The winners in the categories of Picture Book, Chapter Book, Middle Grade, Young Adult, Nonfiction, and Underrepresented Voices will have their work promoted and sent to a list of agents and editors.


The We Need Diverse Books Winter Auction takes place through Dec. 11. WNDB’s goal is to “diversify the publishing industry, so we can promote literacy, build empathy, and reduce bias.” View items here and register here.

We Need Diverse Books has announced Read With Pride, an initiative supporting the LGBTQIA+ writing community and the young readers who need these stories. WNDB will launch its new Rainbow Workshop to provide mentorships, critiques, and community to aspiring LGBTQ+ writers, reopen Emergency Grants to give financial support to LGBTQIA+ creators in need, and send diverse books where they are most needed. Consider donating here.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

I’m honored to be highlighted among 100 Children’s Authors & Illustrators Everyone Should Know by Rachel Walker from @readingrocketsorg. “Meet 100 wonderful authors and illustrators who create beautiful and timeless books for children, contributing fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, and poetry to our bookshelves. We hope you discover some new books and learn about the folks who brought them to life.”

Accolades continue to pour in for Heartdrum books! For example, Kim Rogers and Julie Flett’s Just Like Grandma has been named to the Booklist Editors’ Choice list. It’s hard to keep up, not that I’m complaining. But if you’re not already, be sure to follow me on social media as we’re approaching Cynsations winter hiatus and you don’t want to miss any of the good news.

Let’s hear it for Circle of Love, an upcoming Heartdrum picture book by Monique Gray Smith and Nicole Niedhardt! In this warmhearted book, we join Molly at the Intertribal Community Center, where she introduces us to people she knows and loves: her grandmother and her grandmother’s wife, her uncles and their baby, her cousins, and her treasured friends. They dance, sing, garden, learn, pray, and eat together. And tonight, they come together for a feast! Molly shares with the reader how each person makes her feel–and reminds us that love is love.

More Personally – Gayleen

This week I dove into Odder by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Charles Santoso (Feiwel & Friends, 2022) and once again marveled at Katherine Applegate’s skill in making us care so deeply while using so few words.

I’ve set a goal to read every book on the 2024-2025 Texas Bluebonnet Award list. Next up is Legends of Lotus Island: The Guardian Test by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Kevin Hong (Scholastic, 2023).