Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: The Heart Never Forgets by Ana Ot, illustrated by Hayden Goodman (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2024).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Behind the Mic With Cynthia Leitich Smith and Shaun Taylor-Corbett with Jo Reed from AudioFile. Peek: [Cynthia Leitich Smith:] “I’m very aware of how deeply young readers take in story….[W]hat I’ve found over some 25 years…as a published author from conversations with and letters from kids is that books can…open them up to be themselves. They can validate young readers; they can expose them to new interests that have a defining impact on their lives.”

Levine Querido

Interview: “Mani Semilla Finds Her Quetzal Voice” by Anna Lapera by Amaris Castillo from Latinx In Publishing. Peek: “[T]here are so many ways [for kids] to be an activist…[Y]ou just have to choose the one that’s right for you. It doesn’t mean you have to be the loudest…[or] the face of whatever movement you’re doing….It’s a process. Everyone that wants to be an activist has their own journey and an arc of getting there.”

Five questions for Paula Yoo by Michelle Lee and Horn Book editors from The Horn Book. Peek: “[P]eople want to talk about their pain because they…want people to understand what they went through so that it doesn’t happen again. My book is about approaching famous historical events from…viewpoints often dismissed or erased….[L]ike a diamond, there are many different and unique facets to the same story and history that all shine brilliantly, beautifully, and powerfully.”

Interview With Traci Huahn & Michelle Jing Chan: Mamie Tape Fights To Go to School from Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Peek: “[While] it’s important to practice and improve your craft,…it’s equally important to venture out into the world and experience life! Inspiration for new stories and illustrations has hit me at…unexpected times, even when I’m learning or doing something that is completely unrelated to art or books….Your experiences can inform the stories you can tell through your work.”

Equity & Inclusion

Crown Books for Young Readers

In Conversation: Catherine Con Morse and Ellen Oh from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Ellen Oh:] “When I go on school visits across the country, at some point in almost every school, I have Asian kids come find me and tell me just how important it is to read about kids who look like them and have those Asian cultural touchstone moments. It is such an important reminder of why I write.”

Joyful Song: A Naming Story—An Interview With Lesléa Newman from Keshet. Peek: “I see the world through the lens of being a Jew and of being a lesbian….I write out of the Jewish lesbian experience about the human experience…[W]hat I’m trying to do with all my books is, from that place, infuse the world with positivity, with love, and with the notion that every child has a place.”

An Author Interview With David A. Robertson by Lisely Laboy from Diverse BookFinder. Peek: “[Children’s] ability to see themselves in literature is empowering…[I]t’s equally important that they learn about others through the books they read….[W]hile the amount of books [about and by marginalized writers] is rising, so too are the challenges to those books by people…uncomfortable with change. Kids deserve to have books that educate them and inform them.”

Harry N. Abrams

We Save Us: Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow on Collective Joy as Resistance by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I began writing this story about being racially excluded because…[t]he stories often go something like this: first, a Black/Muslim/Asian/pick-any-variety-of-non-white child is excluded from the group. Some stuff happens and then, it ends with white kids…realizing they should include them….What’s often missing from these stories are the ways in which marginalized kids…find each other and form friendships.”

How To Find Diverse Books About Asian American Pacific Islander Cultures by Mia Wenjen from Colorín Colorado. Peek: “[T]he number of diverse children’s books…hasn’t kept up to reflect the ethnic diversity of the United States….I’ve been making book lists to help readers find what they are looking for. Because my kids are half Korean, and a quarter Japanese and Chinese American, I started making book lists for them. I [also] made a Filipino book list….”

Samira Ahmed: Lead With Curiosity, Not Just Passion by Robert Lee Brewer from Writer’s Digest. Peek: “The question that inspired [this book] was both simple and heartbreaking: How can I be brave?…[A]s I heard more stories of my books being soft banned or banned outright in the wave of book bans that began sweeping the country over two years ago, I realized it was the foundational question for my next book.”

Writing Craft


Familiar Voices From Kansas Helped Me Translate a Novel From Japan by Avery Fischer Udagawa from Kansas Reflector. Peek: “When translating [a Japanese book], I had to figure out how to handle the speech…Translation often gets misconstrued as a mechanical process. But I find it to be heart work, because I experience a story emotionally and then begin to hear and tell it in English, trying to stir the same feelings in other people….”

Research and Wishes: A Q&A With Nedda Lewers About Daughters of the Lamp by Betsy Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “It took me seven years to create and…get [the debut book] published. That process involved a gagillion small steps. Focusing on the small step(s) you can take every day rather than the end goal, which can feel daunting, worked for me….When I began drafting, I found it…helpful to connect regularly with other writers in my community….”

Guest Post: Letting Characters Lead the Way by Saumiya Balasubramaniam from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: “It was important for me to expose [the] rift right at the start…[so] readers can watch and learn how one can grow through and from the resolution of the conflicts….The spreads…follow a structured, chronological progression of events, but also show the character growing and shifting. Occasionally, a scene also leaves room open to a reader’s interpretation.”


Five questions for Renée Watson and Ekua Holmes by Nicholl Denice Montgomery and Horn Book editors from The Horn Book. Peek: [Renée Watson:] “When I am writing odes or poems of celebration, I tend to write free verse poetry….Not having to follow any rules…gives me the most freedom to express myself. When I am …writing about something that feels too hard to put into words, I turn to formula poems…[that] give me a container to put my emotions into.”

Let’s Talk Illustrators #289: Mae Waite by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “We created character sketches and painting swatches to maintain consistency and keep the protagonist recognizable….The medium used was mainly acrylic on paper. I love using the two together because it behaves a lot like watercolor when diluted with water but you can also build it up to make it opaque….[I] enjoy using acrylics because it’s so versatile….”

Q & A With Carlos Matias by Amanda Ramirez from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[What] help[ed] me is my day job as a copywriter….You have to write everything very succinctly. You have to tell the story very fast, and you don’t have much room….[A]s I was developing [the PB], I thought of every page like a small ad: it has its image, and every page has to tell a little story….”


Lerner Publishing Group

Lerner Publishing To Release Ojibwe Books by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Lerner Publishing Group and the Midwest Indigenous Immersion Network, a nonprofit…dedicated to preserving and promoting Ojibwe and other Indigenous languages,…are collaborating on a line of Ojibwe-language books for young readers targeting the school and library market….The initiative will debut with the release in August of a total of 16 paperback books for ages four to eight….”

AI Challenges, Freedom To Read Top AAP Annual Meeting Discussions by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The search for methods of reining in technology companies’ unauthorized copying of copyrighted materials to build generative AI models was the primary theme of this year’s annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers….Last year, AAP also ramped up its efforts to challenge a number of book banning laws across the country.”

Naming Source Languages and Translators Serves Young Readers by Avery Fischer Udagawa from ALSC Blog. Peek: “Translations are a rich source of diversity….[O]mitting the author’s language and/or translator’s name—usually to hide that a book is a translation—amounts to English-washing that perpetuates English supremacy. Many in publishing have worked to overcome unproven hang-ups around how Others can or cannot be acknowledged….Let’s embrace translations today while naming authors’ languages and translators.”

PW Is Changing Its Paywall from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[Beginning May 7], Publishers Weekly is changing the way users access content on Paying subscribers…will continue to have unlimited access to all of the site’s content. Subscribers to any of PW’s free e-newsletters will have access to five articles…in a 30-day period….Those who don’t subscribe to any of PW’s free e-newsletters will have access to three articles….”


The American Booksellers Association Children’s Institute (Ci2024) takes place Jun. 10 to Jun. 12 at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel in New Orleans. The event offers “unique education for children’s booksellers in addition to general education sessions, roundtable discussions, networking events, receptions and parties, and dedicated time to network with booksellers, authors, and publishers from around the country.” Registration is open.

Social Justice Books: A Teaching for Change Project is an online bookstore with more than 100 carefully selected lists of multicultural and social justice books for children, young adults and educators. Most titles here are linked to When purchasing from the provided link, a small percentage of sales goes to Teaching for Change to sustain Social Justice Books selection, reviews, outreach and more.

How to Fight Book Bans in 2024 by Kelly Jensen from Book Riot. Peek: “Vote,…paying significant attention to down-ballot candidates, like those running for school or library boards….Show up to board meetings….Get in your elected official’s ears….Stay on top of [censorship] news….If you’ve got anything in the reserves to do more, pick one thing….It could be writing letters to your local paper about the importance of your library and/or school library.”


The American Library Association’s Annual Conference & Exhibit takes place Jun. 27 to Jul. 2 in San Diego. The event “brings together thousands of librarians and library staff, educators, authors, publishers, special guests, and exhibitors at the world’s largest library event!” View schedule here.

Movers & Shakers 2024 by Executive Editor Lisa Peet from Library Journal. Peek: “The understanding that all library workers are collaborators and storytellers—from directors to…catalogers, developers, and vendors—is pivotal to what makes this…an important profession. Advocacy is a critical part of the work…[A] new level needs to be recognized: those stepping up to combat the current wave of materials challenges and legislation that would restrict the freedom to read.”


Favorite Writing Tools and Resources I Can’t Live Without by Sandra Beckwith from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “[WordPress] can create and format content for you without [you] knowing anything about programming….[Headline Studio] is both a WordPress plug-in and web-based tool that helps writers create effective, attention-getting headlines….I use [Canva] almost daily for my weekly blog post images, social media graphics, and to create printable products….ConvertKit, my email service provider,…[is] powerful, yet easy to use….”

Education/Other Resources/Events

The Highlights Foundation’s in-person Native Creatives: An In-Community Retreat takes place Aug. 21 to Aug. 25 at the Highlights Foundation Campus. “Immerse yourself in a supportive space that honors the diverse voices and storytelling traditions of indigenous peoples….” Traci Sorell, Tanaya Winder and Miranda Paul will lead evening discussions.

Join Kekla Magoon and Cynthia Leitich Smith at LITapalooza 2024, Naperville, IL, from Jul. 25 to Jul. 26 as they celebrate their new book Blue Stars: The Vice Principal Problem, illustrated by Molly Murakami (Candlewick Press, 2024).

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators‘ virtual 2024 Summer Conference takes place Aug. 1 to Aug. 4. “Explore all aspects of children’s book creation: writing, illustrating, translating, and marketing. Immerse yourself in [50] sessions specifically for illustrators, traditionally published & self-published authors, nonfiction writers, graphic novel creators, picture book writers and more!” View the schedule here and register here.

Read Your World Celebrates LGBTQIA+ from Read Your World. Peek: “ We are  thrilled to announce the Read Your World Celebrates LGBTQIA+ Virtual Event on…June 3rd! On this day we will chat with authors and allies from the LGBTQIA+ community, unveil our classroom kit: Creating Inclusive Classrooms: LGBTQIA+ Classroom Kit, give away books, and so much more.” Regsiter here.


Congratulations to the winners of the 2024 B&N Children’s and YA Book Awards. The Overall Winner and Young Reader Winner is The Misfits: A Royal Conundrum by Lisa Yee, illustrated by Dan Santat (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2024). The Picture Book Winner is I Lived Inside a Whale by Xin Lo (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2024), and the Young Adult Winner is Powerless by Lauren Roberts (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Reader, 2023).

Congratulations to Lesléa Newman, recipient of the 2024 Golden Crown Literary Society Trailblazer Award, which is granted for lifetime achievement and is presented each year to one author in recognition of contributions to sapphic literature. Lesléa has written 86 books for readers of all ages, including books for kids and teens.

Knopf Books for Young Readers

Congratulations to the 2024 Green Earth Book Award winners and honorees in six categories: Picture Book Primary, Picture Book Intermediate, Chldren’s Fiction, Children’s Non-fiction, Young Adult Fiction and Young Adult Non-fiction. Books are chosen that inspire children and young adults to grow a deeper understanding, respect and responsibility for the natural environment.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2024 British Book Awards, especially in the categories of Children’s Non-fiction, Children’s Illustrated and Children’s Fiction. The awards affirm, connect and energize the word of reading “by showcasing the authors and illustrators who have stirred our hearts and imaginations, and the industry behind the scenes who have brought them to readers.”

Congratulations to the winners and finalists of the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library’s Minnesota Book Awards, especially in the categories of Children’s Literature, Middle Grade Literature, and Young Adult Literature. The year-long awards program connects the world of Minnesota books—writers, artists, illustrators, publishers and editors—to readers throughout the state.

Feiwel & Friends

Congratulations to Amber McBride, who won the 2024 LA Times Book Prize in the category of Young Adult Literature for Gone Wolf (Feiwel & Friends, 2023). “The Times’ Book Prizes recognize outstanding literary achievements and celebrate the highest quality of writing from authors at all stages of their careers.”

Congratulations to the 2024 finalists of the BC and Yukon Book Prizes, and especially for the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize and the Shiela A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize. The prizes are given to recognize and promote the achievements of the book community in BC and Yukon.

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators who were nominated for the Washington Library Association’s 2025 Towner Award. “This prestigious award is presented annually in the Spring to the finest nonfiction book of the year, as chosen by 2nd-6th graders in Washington State from a selection of 10 nominated books.”

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators who made the 34th Annual Reading the West Awards Shortlists, especially in the categories of Picture Books, Young Readers and Young Adults. The awards honor the best fiction, non-fiction, and illustrated books for adults and children set in one of the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association member states, or created by an author or artist living in the region. Voting is open until May 31.

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books were selected for the Bank Street College of Education’s (Center for Children’s Literature) The Best Children’s Books of the Year 2024 Edition. The book includes “more than 600 titles chosen by the Children’s Book Committee as the best of the best published in 2023. In choosing books for the annual list, committee members consider literary quality and excellence of presentation as well as the potential emotional impact of the books on young readers.”

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators who made the American Library Association’s Booklist’s 2024 Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth list. “Covering everything from ancient Aztec civilizations to the aftermath of 9/11 in America, these historical fiction novels…lay bare the human condition in times of turmoil.”


Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the Children’s Book Council’s 2024 Favorites Awards Lists in the categories of Children’s Favorites, Young Adult Favorites, Teacher Favorites and Librarian Favorites. In curating the lists, “children, teens, teachers, and librarians across 50 states read newly published K-12 grade books and vote for the ones they like best.”

Lee & Low Books is accepting submissions until Jun. 30 to its New Visions Award, which is given biennially to an unpublished writer of color or a Native/Indigenous writer for a middle grade or young adult novel or graphic novel manuscript. Winners receive a standard publishing contract and an advance of $15,000. They will also be given close mentorship as they develop their book for publication. Submit here.

First round voting is open through May 31 for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators2024 Crystal Kite Awards. This peer-selected award honors writers, illustrators and translators in 15 divisions across the globe. Voting is open here to everyone, including non-members.


NYSCA To Offer Grants to New York–Based Writers, Translators from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The New York State Council on the Arts will award grants of $10,000 to New York–based artists, including poets, fiction writers, nonfiction writers, and translators, for commission of new work  in 2025. Applicants must apply through a sponsoring organization.” The application portal opens Jun. 5 and closes Jul. 17 at 1 p.m. pacific, 3 p.m. central, 4 p.m. eastern.

Scholastic Diversity and Inclusion Bookseller Scholarship from Scholastic. Peek: “Scholastic is…[launching] the Diversity and Inclusion Bookseller Scholarship, designed to support marginalized booksellers and bookstores in attending ABA Children’s Institute. This scholarship, beginning with the…Institute scheduled for June 10-12 in New Orleans, is dedicated to uplifting underrepresented voices within the world of children’s literature. Two applicants…[will] receive free registration…, complimentary hotel accommodation…and [travel] reimbursement….”

Scholastic has issued an Open Call for stories by unagented authors, illustrators, and author-illustrators who identify as Indigenous, First Nations, Native American, and/or American Indian, and who live in the U.S. or Canada. Please submit a full chapter book manuscript, or 50 pages of a middle grade or young adult manuscript, or 50 pages of a graphic novel script. Submissions to will be accepted through Jul. 31.

From This Cynsations Series

More Personally – Cynthia

With Erza Jack Keats Honor Author Kim Rogers at the Kaiger Festival in Mississippi. Kim was honored for Just Like Grandma (Heartdrum, 2023)

Thank you to the hosts and everyone at my recent author-speaking events!

Highlights included receiving the 2024 Southern Mississippi Medallion for Outstanding Contributions in Children’s Literature at the Fay B. Kaiger Children’s Literature Festival and continuing the launch tour for Mission One: The Vice Principal Problem (Blue Stars #1), illustrated by Molly Murakami (Candlewick, 2024) with co-author Kekla Magoon at the Texas Library Association Conference, the LA Times Festival of Books, and Gaithersburg Book Festival in Maryland. I also spoke at a couple of virtual events—the Newport Literary Book Festival about Harvest House (Candlewick, 2023) and the SLJ Day of Dialog about On A Wing and a Tear (Heartdrum, 2024).

With New York Times bestselling author Kekla Magoon at the Texas Library Association Conference in San Antonio

In more book news, Harvest House was named to three of the Children’s Book Council’s 2024 Favorites Awards Lists—Young Adult Favorites, Teacher Favorites and Librarian Favorites. The paperback will be released July 2, 2024, and you can pre-order it now.

Meanwhile, there’s so much Heartdrum news, and all of it is fantastic! Highlights include:

RED BIRD DANCED by Dawn Quigley (Ojibwe), cover art by Carla Joseph (Cree)(Heartdrum, 2024). Ages 8-up.

★ Kirkus Reviews (starred): “The protagonists’ dual perspectives convey a mix of hurt and optimism; above all, the power of community comes through. A captivating, exquisitely penned story of hope and survival.”

CIRCLE OF LOVE, written by Monique Gray Smith (Cree-Lakota-Scottish), illustrated by Nicole Niedhardt (Navajo)(Heartdrum, 2024). Ages 4-up.

Kirkus Reviews: “This is a beautiful and moving glimpse into the rich intersections of Indigenous cultures and the Native queer and trans people who co-create them.”

LOOKING FOR SMOKE by K.A. Cobell (Blackfeet), cover photo by Leah Rose Kolakowski (Keweenaw Bay Ojibwe)(June 4, 2024). Ages 13-up.

★ Publishers Weekly (starred): “Via four alternating POVs informed by the intricacies of reservation life, Cobell highlights the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis and delivers a gut-punch of an ending in this timely debut thriller that is by turns spine-tingling and emotionally raw.”

I AM OSAGE: HOW CLARENCE TINKER BECAME THE FIRST NATIVE AMERICAN MAJOR GENERAL, written by Kim Rogers (Wichita), illustrated by Bobby Von Martin (Choctaw)(Heartdrum, 2024). Ages 4-up.

★ School Library Journal (starred): “An excellent addition to nonfiction collections for young readers.”

WHEN WE GATHER (OSTADAHLISIHA): A CHEROKEE TRIBAL FEAST, written by Andrea L. Rogers (Cherokee), illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (Chickasaw)(Heartdrum, 2024). Ages 4-up.

School Library Journal: “An excellent choice for a preschool story time collection.”

Rosemary Brosnan and Cynthia Leitich Smith at HarperCollins/Heartdrum have acquired, in a preempt, “An Expanse of Blue,” a debut YA novel in verse by Kaua Māhoe Adams, about a diasporic Native Hawaiian teenager and her struggle to find herself in the wake of a heartbreaking discovery about her family and first love.”

Recent Heartdrum Cover Reveals

More Personally – Gayleen

This month we’re celebrating our daughter’s college graduation. I’m also celebrating completing a manuscript. Those things have made me reflect on the parallels between parenting and writing. We spend so long nurturing children and  characters, watching them grow and change, and that makes it so difficult when it’s time for that next step.