Summer LGBTQIA in Children’s-YA Lit Roundup

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Writing LGBTQ Picture Book Lit in 1989 Versus Now (AKA Heather Has Two Mommies and Morris Has a Dress) by Mark Joseph Stern from Slate. Peek: “Some schools want it to be more of a broad anti-bullying story. Rather than Morris being himself and the dress being a part of him—which is the message I’m hoping people get from it—they want the book to be about how Morris just likes to dress up for fun.” See also Lesléa Newman and Christine Baldacchino.

LGBT Lit for Children and Teens Comes of Age by Ryan Joe by Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Characters are increasingly certain of who they are, so there’s less drama around the search for identity. This assuredness is evident even in some middle grade novels and picture books.”

Latinx Gay YA by Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez from Gay YA. Peek: “Clearly, gay youth are more than their coming out experiences and there is certainly a need to see gay characters live lives that represent that. However, these stories continue to be extremely valuable for Latinx communities.”

2016 American Library Association Rainbow List: “a bibliography of books with significant gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning content, and which are aimed at youth, birth through age 18.”

Transgender Characters Come of Age in YA Lit by Jocelyn McClurg from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “LGBT issues have found a home in books for young readers in recent years, but only now are fictional trans stories reaching critical mass.”

Promoting LGBTQIA + YA: A Publicist’s POV by Jamie Tan from Gay YA. Peek: “I first wanted to see where this book came from, and if the book was as close to Pat’s heart as it seemed, before doing my duty as a publicist and seeing if I could encourage Pat to talk about these themes in a personal way.” See also Pat Schmatz.

Cynsational News & Resources

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Yowza! It’s no small task to catch up Cynsational readers on a summer of children’s-YA writing, literature and publishing conversations.

More update posts will follow over the next several days–focusing on gender, the LGBTQIA community, and recent awards.

But for now, we’ve categorized the posts by topic and offered brief peeks so you can identify those that are the most interesting, useful and inspiring to you.

Authors & New Releases

Interview: Amanda West Lewis on The Pact from Open Book Toronto. Peek: “If we drench their lives in a poisonous ideology, and give them no chance to develop a sense of empathy, they will grow up believing in only their own version of truth and act accordingly. But how much blame can you ascribe to the child you’ve raised to hate?”

An Asian American Reader Looks for Herself in Books by Kat Yeh from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “There would be another rather large space of time before Asian authors would come into my life again. When my daughter came to reading age, I was excited to discover a new generation of books that now included Asian American authors and characters.”

On Being an Aging Children’s Author from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: “When I began to publish forty years ago, I wasn’t the brightest star on the horizon, but my work got noticed. I wrote on the cutting edge, topics few other writers for young people had dared touch at that time: alcoholism, sexual molestation, religious abuse, mental illness, homosexuality.”

Interview: Jessica Shea on A Tyranny of Petticoats by Lynn Miller Lachman from The Pirate Tree. Peek: “My only directions were that each story had to feature an American girl at some point in history, and that the setting had to be important; the story needed to feel as though it could not take place anywhere or any-when else. I urged them to think diversely in terms of race, sexuality, historical era, geographical area, and class.”

Interview: New Voices Winner Sylvia Liu from Lee & Low. Peek: “The first draft was told mainly in dialogue, and one of my critique mates encouraged me to incorporate more lyrical language.”

Interview: Julius Lester by Marissa Moss from Ingram Library Services. Peek: “I grew up in a slum neighborhood in Kansas City, Kansas in the 1940s. By the time I was 9, three children I’d known had been killed, one of whom was a girl I used to walk to school with whose robe caught fire as she walked by the pot-bellied stove in the kitchen.”


The Return of the Children’s Specialty Bookstore by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Many are small, less than 1,000 sq. ft., but they are already starting to have a large presence. Two-year-old Second Star to the Right was named 2016’s best Denver bookstore by Denver A-List….”


Introduction to Disability Terminology by Corinne Duyvis and Kayla Whaley from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: “Much of our everyday language is casually ableist, and this translates to ableist language in novels, whether the novel features disabled characters or not.”

DK Launches Braille Line of Picture Books
from Children’s Book Council. Peek: “…includes board and nonfiction
books, pairing braille and textured images with printed text to make
stories accessible for both sighted and visually impaired readers.”

Wheelchair Users in Fiction by Kayla Whaley from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: “a congenital disability…. If the character was born with the condition and using a wheelchair is simply a normal part of their life, where’s the drama?” See also Corinne and Kayla on The State of Disability on Book Covers and Corrine on Navigating Criticism and Discussions of Disability Representation.


The Things They Carry: What Muslim YA Needs from Samira Ahmed. Peek: “They carry the lightness and beauty of youth and hope and dreams and the infinite possibilities of a nation that endeavors to be a more perfect union.”

Author Visits, Marketing & Social Media

21 Ways to Fund Author Visits by Carmen Oliver
from The Booking Biz. Peek: “Schools that are faced with tight budgets
might have limited opportunities for author visits, but there are ways
to gain the needed funds so your school can take advantage of this huge
benefit. Following are some ideas and links that teachers, librarians
and writers have offered to help you fund author visits.”

The Art of the Middle School Presentation by Laura Martin from Middle Grade Ninja. Peek: “Middle school kids are a breed of their own. They can be intimidating, rowdy, and down right mean if you let them, but they can also be the best possible audience for a writer.”

On Social Media and Not Feeling Social from Lisa Schroeder. Peek: “When all you want to do is sit on the couch and watch Netflix and eat ice cream but you make yourself go to the computer because that is what a writer does for crying out loud? It’s difficult to find anything left after that to put out into the world.”

Taking the Pain Out of Assembly Introductions by Alexis O’Neill, reflecting on advice from Janet Wong at Peek: “…while I’m always happy to listen to a recap of my honors and my literacy committee work, kids might find it a little boring—and long.”

Agents, Submissions & Publishing

Believing After 10+ Rejections by Carmen Oliver from Highlights Foundation. Peek: “I have two controlling beliefs: Every good manuscript finds a home. Writing is a journey.”

Between Offer and Acceptance: A Checklist from Janet Reid, Literary Agent. Peek: “…you should be able to ask questions of any agent making the offer. You can say “hey look, I don’t know much about this, and I want to be careful” and have that respected.”

Querying: What to Leave Out by Rochelle Deans from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: “Let the words of the plot and characters tell us about your theme instead of spelling it out.”

Literary Agent Interview: Linda Camacho by Mary E. Cronin from Project Mayhem. Peek: “Characters have to be sympathetic in some form. They don’t necessarily have to be likable, but there has to be a way for me to connect with them.”

Why Having a Book Go Out of Print Was a Pretty Great Thing After All by Camille DeAngelis from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “At the time, going out of print felt like the most humiliating thing that had ever happened to me, and yet it was, in a very real sense, a privilege. I began to face my sense of entitlement: the idea that because I’d put in the work I deserved to be rewarded for it.”

The Craft of Writing & Illustrating

All the World’s a Book: Acting for Writers by Allie Larkin from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Even if you have no desire to stand in the spotlight, taking a community acting class, or doing some time in summer theatre could be a helpful boost to your writing.” See also The Art of Giving and Accepting Critiques by Kim English from Query Tracker Blog.

Creating Mood in a Scene Using Light and Shadow by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: “…people tend to respond to light in a feral way: well-lit areas are deemed safer, putting us at ease, while darker spots have more weight and feel heavier both on the body and the spirit.”

Setting Up Crossfire Dialogue on Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory from David Macinnis Gill. Peek: “This is how Laurie Halse Anderson handles multiple speakers on in scene.”

Lovingly, Stridently, Unapologetically: The Adverb! by Colin Dickey from Slate. Peek: “It should come as no surprise that
the writers who most strenuously cavil against adverbs are themselves habitual users of them.” See also In Defense of Cliches by Jo Eberhardt and Actively Defending the Passive Voice by Keith Cronin from Writer Unboxed.

Six Tips to Keeping Your Character in Character by Catherine Linka from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “If the character has never left a poor village, they shouldn’t compare the forest to a cathedral.”

Language Roundtable (Part One, Part Two)
by Sarah Hannah Gomez from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I convened
this panel of authors to talk about how they approach language in their
books, and how they approach language in their lives. From growing up
bilingual to holding hybrid languages in your head to using bits and
pieces of other languages in their writing, these writers had a lot to

Dropping Threads in Your Writing by Mary Kole from Peek: “They speak in musical metaphors and seem to see the world through a “Beautiful Mind”-esque musical lens. Until this fades from the manuscript about a third of the way through. And music doesn’t really factor into the plot itself.”

Why Create Picture Books? by Laura McGee Kvasnosky from Books Around the Table. Peek: “They played without amplification. Raw, pure stuff. Heaven should sound so good.” See also Picture Book Thumbnail Templates for Writers and Illustrators from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

Five Things Novels Taught Me About Writing Picture Books by Kell Andrews from Project Mayhem. Peek: “One reason novel writers leave out backstory is that they trust their readers to pick up allusions and make connections. But can you do that when writing for very young children?”

Writing Homeschooling in Middle Grade Books by Joy McCullough-Carranza from Project Mayhem. Peek: “There are many stereotypes and misperceptions about homeschooling that sometimes find their way into published books. Here are a few to avoid….”

Writing Middle Grade Horror Or Why Books Aimed at Children Can’t Be Washed in Blood by David Neilsen from Middle Grade Ninja. Peek: “…they still harbor the slightest belief that there may, in fact, be monsters living under their beds. Not that there aren’t, mind you, but the older kids are armed with much heavier and thicker books and can take out a seven-tentacled-horror at fifteen paces without even bothering to stop and Tweet about it.”

Master Teacher Liz Garton Scanlon on Writing

Writing With All the Feelings by Liz Garton Scanlon from Two Writing Teachers. Peek: “These are not easy-to-embrace emotions we’re talking about, especially if they roll out in the form of a four-year-old having a total conniption in the paint aisle at the Home Depot. And I’m speaking from experience here.” See also Liz  on Say More With Metaphors from Teachers Write and Mining The Setting: In the Canyon: How Setting Became Story from Beth Anderson, Children’s Writer.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

See Christina Soontornvat at 3 p.m. Saturday & Bethany Hegedus at 2 p.m. Sunday. at BookPeople in Austin.

The biggest news at Cynsations is new intern Gayleen Rabakukk! Welcome, Gayleen!

I’m writing, writing, writing–today with Jennifer Ziegler and Sean Petrie in my living room. That happens a lot here, writer friends coming over to work on manuscripts, side by side. It’s a way of navigating the writing life that Gayleen talks about in her post on writing communities.

As for the larger world, please see Three Things You Need to Know About Indigenous Efforts Against the Dakota Access Pipeline by Taté Walker from Everyday Feminism. Peek: “If you’re into solidarity—or clean drinking water, at the bare minimum—the Native nations in Standing Rock need your body, and/or your dollars, and/or your platform to uplift our efforts and our messaging.”

See also 59 Books by Native Writers in 59 Minutes for #OwnVoices One-Year Anniversary by Debbie Reese from Storify.

“The Joke’s on You!” Join me, Uma Krishnaswami and Sean Petrie from Oct. 12, 2017 to Oct. 15, 2017 at The Highlights Foundation workshop on writing middle grade and YA humor. Peek: “In this hands-on workshop designed for intermediate-level writers of middle grade through young adult, participants will use a range of classic and contemporary published work as well as workshop manuscripts to study the many ways in which humor operates in the form of the novel.”

Personal Links

See Harold Underdown’s Review

Cynsations Intern: Gayleen Rabakukk on Writing Communities

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

I’m honored to announce that Gayleen Rabakukk has been chosen as the summer-fall 2016 Cynsations intern. Thanks to all who applied!

Here’s more from Gayleen:

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

“You mean you both just sit there and write? On different things? And don’t talk?”

“Yes,” I tell my non-writing friends.

I realize how odd that may sound. There was a time when I would have thought it was strange, too. For many years, I’d done all my writing alone. I’d published lots of newspaper and magazine articles, exploring topics ranging from exotic pets to forensic science.

Eventually, I felt the pull to make something that would last longer than the weeks a magazine article is around, so I tried my hand at adult mysteries, (one of my favorite genres) and eventually young adult novels.

Looking for help with the transition from journalist to novelist, I became active with the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. (OWFI), volunteering at their annual conference and serving on the board as a grant writer. After a few rejections, I decided instead of guessing what “narrative voice” and “connecting with the character” meant, I would go back to school and really learn how to write for children and young adults.


I applied to Vermont College of Fine Arts, doubting that this Oklahoma journalist would be accepted.

When I got a call from Sharon Darrow one afternoon welcoming me to the program, I couldn’t believe it!

My initial residency was filled with firsts: first time in New England, first time my nostrils froze, and the first time I really had deep, serious conversations about writing.

Rita & Gayleen

I ended up in a small workshop led by Tim Wynne-Jones where I learned about objective correlatives and adding layers of meaning to your writing. I learned so much I thought my head would explode.

That feeling continued, to varying degrees, throughout my four semesters. The more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know.

Each semester I had a new advisor. Jane Kurtz, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Rita Williams-Garcia and Franny Billingsley taught me how to write, how to read, and how to apply what I learned to my own work.

I squeezed writing and reading children’s literature into every spare moment I could find: audio books during my daily commute, writing on lunch breaks and in the evenings, reading on the treadmill. Fortunately, my youngest learned how to cook, otherwise my family might have starved while I was a grad student.

After graduation, I tried to stay on track, but the writing demands of my day job had increased and I didn’t have as much time for children’s books. The Supreme Court of Oklahoma wanted me to write a book about the art collection at the Oklahoma Judicial Center. It would definitely be published, and in a format that would be around for a long time. This was what I had set out to do so many years ago: create work that would last longer than a magazine article.

Almost immediately after that project ended, another one came along: the Oklahoma County Medical Society was looking for a writer to document their history. Once again, it was a book that would definitely be published, with guaranteed monetary compensation.

It wasn’t children’s literature, but it would prove that I could generate steady income as a writer (at least during that year-long project.)

I learned so much writing those books: from research techniques to the dynamics of working with a collaborator, yet something was missing. I wanted to recapture that sense of camaraderie I’d felt in Vermont.

Most of my writing efforts up to that time had been solitary. Sure, I had writer friends and occasionally exchanged manuscripts with several of them.

I paid my membership fees to OWFI and SCBWI, but I had never really embraced the idea of being part of the “writing community.”

After all, I told myself, writing is a solitary pursuit – I’m the one putting words on the page, no one can really help me with that. Vermont was a magical Brigadoon: like-minded writers all gathered on a hilltop for a fortnight. That sort of thing just didn’t happen in the real world.

Meredith & Gayleen

Then a geographical shift led me to a paradigm shift. Last July, my family and I moved to Austin, Texas and I quit my day job. This put me in close proximity to Meredith Davis, a fellow VCFA classmate and other alums. The first time she suggested we get together to write, I was a little skeptical, but I gave it a shot. I said “yes” and apparently, that’s all it took for me to realize the benefits of writing in a community.

Now these group writing times take precedent on my weekly calendar. Sometimes it’s just Meredith and me meeting at a coffee shop, other times it’s an organized potluck retreat with half a dozen writers.
At the end of the day, it’s still just me putting those words on the page, but I’m learning that spending time with other children’s writers provides a creative energy that recharges my batteries and keeps me coming back to the page, day after day – long after I’ve left the coffee shop.

It’s enormously increased my productivity: in the last year, I’ve worked through two complete revisions of a middle grade steampunk manuscript, drafted a new middle grade mystery, started a new historical manuscript and finished a nonfiction picture book.

In an effort to draw others into this awesome community, I recently began co-moderating the middle grade book club for our SCBWI chapter. Our goal is “reading for writing,” so we analyze and discuss character motivations, plot and point of view in depth. It all takes place on Facebook, which means I get to work it into my schedule wherever it fits, instead of trying to make it to a meeting at a certain time.

There are several book club members I’ve never met in person, but we’re connected through our book discussions, and I continue to grow in both my knowledge and passion for children’s literature.

Some days I’m still trying to figure out how to connect with readers, but I’ve learned a lot about the importance of connecting with a community. Writing discussions aren’t just reserved for snowy hilltops, they can happen in coffee shops, libraries and even on Facebook.

You just have to say “yes.”

Summer Children’s-YA Lit Diversity Conversations

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Over the summer, the children’s-YA book community has continued discussing diversity, decolonization, authenticity and representation both throughout the body of literature and the industry. Here are highlights; look for more in quickly upcoming, additional update posts.

Mirrors? Windows? How about Prisms? from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: “…cultural content in children’s books needs to be woven into the story so the authors intention is not stamped all over it.” See also Uma on Tolstoy Was Not Writing for Me.

Twelve Fundamentals of Writing The “Other” and The Self by Daniel Jose Older from Buzzfeed Books. Peek: “Every character has a relationship to power. This includes institutional, interpersonal, historical, cultural. It plays out in the micro-aggressions and hate crimes, sex, body image, life-changing decisions, everyday annoyances and the depth of historical community trauma.”

Diversity in Book Publishing Isn’t Just About Writers — Marketing Matters, Too by Jean Ho from NPR. Peek: “For past projects, she has researched segmented audiences ranging from retired African-American women’s books clubs, South Asian soccer organizations, Trinidadian-interest media outlets both stateside and abroad, to extracurricular programs geared toward South Bronx teens.”

Looking Back: Diversity in Board Books by Joanna Marple from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “…that children as young as six months can judge others by the color of their skin. Even if a caregiver never mentions race, children may well use skin color on their own, along with other differences, to judge themselves and others.”

Drilling Down on Diversity in Picture Books from CCBlogC. Peek: “We’re keeping track of the things people want to know. Just how many picture books have animal, rather than human, characters? How many books about African American characters are historical? How many feature LGBTQ families? Or Muslims? Or people with disabilities? How many are by first-time authors or illustrators?”

Children’s Books and the Color of Characters by Kwame Alexander from The New York Times. Peek: “They all believe I am writing about them. Why is this so much harder for the grown-ups? Is race the only lens through which we can read the world?”

On White Fragility in Young Adult Literature by Justine Larbalestier from Reading While White. Peek: “…we white authors can support Indigenous authors and Authors of Color by reading their books, recommending their books, blurbing their books, and recommending them to our agents. When we’re invited to conferences, or festivals, or to be in anthologies, make sure they’re not majority white.”

When Defending Your Writing Becomes Defending Yourself by Matthew Salesses from NPR. Peek: “Here is a not uncommon experience. Writer Emily X.R. Pan was told by the white writers in her workshop that the racism in her story could never happen — though every incident had happened to her.”

There Is No Secret to Writing About People Who Don’t Look Like You: The Importance of Empathy as Craft by Brandon Taylor from LitHub. Peek: “The best writing, the writing most alive with possibilities, is the writing that at once familiarizes and estranges; it’s writing that divorces us from our same-old contexts and shifts our thinking about ourselves and the world around us.”

How Canada Publishes So Much Diverse Children’s Literature by Ken Setterington from School Library Journal. Peek: “Considering that the entire Canadian market is about the size of the market in California alone (roughly 36 million), publishers must rely on sales
outside of the country.”

Biracial, Bicultural Roundtable (Part One, Part Two) by Cynthia Leitich Smith from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “According to a 2015 Pew study, 6.9 percent of the U.S. population is biracial. According to the 2010 Census, between 2000 and 2010, the number of people identifying themselves with more than one race rose from 6.8 million to 9 million.”

Cynsational Screening Room

Related Links

Cynsational Fall 2016: AFCC & VCFA Reports

En route to the VCFA Steampunk Shakespeare party.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome back to Cynsations!

Now, in its twelfth year, this blog is an upbeat, nurturing source for conversations, for sharing resources and for celebrating literature for young readers.

The big-picture goal is to offer substantial children’s-YA writer, artist, and book-lover takeaway, and for both the heart and mind.

The content encompasses all literary age ranges, genres, and formats for kids and their champions. It advocates diversity, defined broadly, and always has.

Want to join in? Those interested in contributing a New Voices or New Visions interview (for trade published debut authors and illustrators; there are other options for indie authors), a guest post, a book trailer, a resource or news item, should contact me at cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com.

Busy summer?! Not to worry. Over the next couple of weeks, Cynsations will catch you up on summer of children’s-YA literature highlights while also moving forward with the community.

More personally, a major event during my blogging vacation was the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore.  I had the opportunity to speak on writing YA fantasy, participated in several panels (trends, censorship, etc.) and co-taught an all day writing workshop with the delightful and brilliant Gabriela Lee from the English department at the University of the Philippines. I also had a lovely dinner out with the SCBWI international crowd. I learned a great deal about the larger world of youth literature, and Cynsations will certainly include materials to raise awareness of the international world of children’s-YA books, their creators and publishers.

At Singapore National Library: The author in the maroon T-shirt is Cynsations reporter Christopher Cheng!

I also returned to my Vermont College of Fine Arts family. We welcomed new visiting faculty Daniel Jose Older, Liz Garton Scanlon, and Linda Urban. Our visiting authors were Maggie Stiefvater and April Pulley Sayre, and I had the honor of leading a workshop with David Maccins Gill.

Congratulations to the summer 2016 graduating class!

Through all that and beyond, I’ve been working on my upcoming realistic contemporary YA novel, tentatively titled “How to End a Date” and currently scheduled for fall 2017 from Candlewick. It’ll be my first Native point-of-view novel since my debut, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins) back in 2001, though I’ve published Native work for younger children and YA short stories.

It’ll also be my first realistic contemporary novel for upper-level teens. Having written seven prose genre benders (with a multitude of fantastical elements), I tend toward streamlined prose and fast pacing. Because, after all, I’ve usually had all that world building–magic and creatures–to weave in without going heavy on the exposition. So, this has been a very different creative experience and, in many ways, a more personal one, too, as my loose inspiration is quasi autobiographical.

Cynsational Notes

My official author website, including Children’s-YA Literature Resources, was redesigned by Square Bear Studio. Content is being steadily updated. Please see Awards for Children & YA Literature By State and let us know if you can point to any additional listings.

Will with Liz Garton Scanlon & Tim Wynne-Jones

Biracial, Bicultural Roundtable (Part One, Part Two)
by Cynthia Leitich Smith from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “According to a 2015 Pew study, 6.9 percent of the U.S. population is biracial. According to the 2010 Census, between 2000 and 2010, the number of people identifying themselves with more than one race rose from 6.8 million to 9 million.” Contributors: Will Alexander, Crystal Chan, Kekla Magoon, Jo Whittemore, and Yvonne Wakim Dennis.

Back to School: MFA Day One by Rebecca Grabill, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven from The Mitten. Peek: “The biggest reason I felt I needed an MFA program was that I was painfully unaware of gaps in my knowledge. In essence, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” — Anita Pazner (VCFA)

VCFA Graduation Speech from William Alexander. Peek: “Make time. Break time. Punk time. Smash ornate pocket-watches and teach their pieces new rhythms to please the ear.”

VCFA Brings Writing Programs to Underserved Kids by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “…to encourage underserved kids from ages six to 18 to write. VCFA alums will work with existing writing programs like 826 to give them an opportunity to expand their writing workshops. As part of the initiative, alums will also visit the children of migrant farmers and others for whom author visits are rare in order to nurture a greater diversity in potential young writers.”