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Cynsational News


By Cynthia Leitich Smith, Gayleen Rabakukk, Stephani EatonSuma SubramaniamBree Bender and Gail Vannelli for Cynsations

Spotlight Image: Thank You, Neighbor! by Ruth Chan (HarperCollins, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Q&A With Kekla Magoon by Sanina Clark from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[A] lot of us don’t suit up to try to make a difference because we’re worried that our contribution can’t be big enough….My way happens to be writing….The key is to figure out who you are, what your skills are, and how you can use them in small ways every day to work toward change.”

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Malla Nunn: A Story Drawn From Root Memory by Carole V. Bell from BookPage. Peek: “YA stories cover hard topics and still work their way to hope….The path to the future is still being built, and that gives teenagers a special power. Crafting a story with struggle and hope at its heart is deeply satisfying. I love that teenagers are on the cusp of making discoveries about…what the future might hold.”

Q&A With De Nichols, Art of Protest by Michele Kirichanskaya from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “The arts provide another language by which to communicate. Sometimes it’s hard to write, speak, shout, or discuss the injustices…Through art, we can explore a whole world of expression whereby we dance out our pain, sing the gospel of liberation, paint the future we desire, perform what justice looks like, and create change.”

Alissa Sallah on Her New Comic Weeaboo…. by Joseph Luster from Otaku USA Magazine. Peek: “[B]acklash against who you are is a part of adolescence that all kids growing up who defy any roles or categories they’re placed into experience. While backlash can often be from a place of othering or bullying, it isn’t always a bad thing….[A] clashing of other people’s ideas can be a needed part of growth.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Sophia Glock’s Debut Graphic Memoir Is About Family Secrets by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[P]eople get very frustrated ‘cause sometimes it might feel like you’re screaming into the void…[T]he only difference between the people who make art or write books or comics and the people who don’t is that the people who do it—do it…There’s so much out of your control….You can control sitting down and doing it.”

Debut You: A 2021 Debut Author Series: Anne Wynter from Black Children’s Books and Authors. Peek: [About the audience you’re writing for:] “When it comes to the parents and caregivers of young kids—who are…an important part of the picture book audience—I know they’re probably pretty tired! As a tired parent myself, I’ve always loved picture books that give my kids and me a sense of comfort.”

Equity & Inclusion

Q&A With Karen Chan, What’s That? by Sara Conway from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[T]hough the book talks about the experience of feeling marginalized…I wanted the focus of the story to be about the celebratory nature of eating food, which is a very universal and relatable experience….I wanted a book that talks about Asian American identity [that’s] imbued with that sense of joy in both the visual and text.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Martha Brockenbrough, Grace Lin, and Julia Kuo, I Am an American by Edie Ching from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Asian Americans have always been seen as foreigners, regardless of how ‘well’ they assimilated. This is particularly dangerous as it is a miniscule step from foreigner to the dehumanizing ‘other’….All of my books, from the ones with magical adventures to the ones about growing vegetables, have…been about making readers acknowledge Asians as fellow humans.”

…Debut PB Author Darshana Khiani on Writing and How To Wear a Sari by Sara Truuvert from Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Peek: “I like the diversity that is happening in children’s literature and by that, I not only mean having diverse characters but also having diverse characters in a variety of stories. Every child should be able to see themselves in a realistic story, a joyful story, as a hero…[It’s] easy to stereotype…[L]et’s keep that from happening.”

Author Interview: Soman Chainani from Reads Rainbow. Peek: “[T]he LGBT experience is so specific to those who’ve lived it, because from the outside—especially these days—it can look like rainbows and butterflies. But every LGBT person knows that being gay creates this extra level of self-consciousness…[You] have to battle that layer of feeling different…[W]hen LGBT writers write…that’s part of having lived the experience.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

George M. Johnson Wants Young People To Know They Are Enough by Nylah Burton from shondaland. Peek: “The main thing that I want nonbinary kids to receive from this book is the fact that we exist as children…[and] the things they are feeling internally, someone before them also felt those very same feelings….[T]hey deserve protection and love, the same way that any other child gets it, the same way I got it.”

No One Is Born Wise. An African Proverbs Interview With Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole and Nelda LaTeef by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: [Johnnetta Betsch Cole:] “I hope our book will be widely used in diverse settings: in classrooms, in conversations among family members and…friends, and in formal settings…The more widely African proverbs are used, the more the diverse people in my country, and…in the world, will come to know about the continent that is the cradle of all of humanity.”

Writing Craft

Evicted: An Interview on a Timely Topic With Alice Faye Duncan by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “I made the list of character profiles as a type of ‘map legend.’ The profiles can also help readers forecast the story. And if they fail to remember the relationship of the characters, they can always turn back to the list. I have more forthcoming books organized in a similar way. Not only does this format help the reader, but as a writer, starting with the character profiles helps me outline the arc of the story.”

Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

From Out of My Mind to Out of My Heart: An Interview With Sharon Draper by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “I make a plan, an outline, a list of characters, a general plot…[T]hen I start to write. Very little of the original plan remains, but the essence shines through. I do numerous revisions—maybe forty or fifty or more. Each version is a little better than the one before. It’s a long, tedious, glorious process!”

Guest Post: Writing in Ida’s Footsteps by Anastasia Magloire Williams from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: “I did my best to visualize scenes as I wrote the dialogue, thinking about speech bubbles and paneling as I went. I paired all of my dialogue with caption, narrative text and brief illustration descriptions for the artist to use. It is certainly not your standard writing process, especially in non-fiction.”

Meet Rafael López, Illustrator…. by Tatiana Florival from Judy Newman at Scholastic. Peek: “I put all my drawings [on a wall]. I see if there’s any gaps in between, if there’s things that don’t make any sense. I go back and forth and I paste things around….I find the continuity, and there has to be some congruency with the whole story. Once that’s approved, I start having fun.”

Greenwillow Books

When I Wake Up: An Interview With Seth Fishman and Jessixa Bagley by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: [Jessixa Bagley:] “[I] love the way watercolors feel and move when I use them. I work traditionally because I get a lot out of the process…when I have a tactile relationship with my materials….[Watercolors] have a bit of mystery and moodiness that comes out in the unevenness and textures that the viewer connects with on an unconscious level.”


Twin Cities Booksellers Bounce Back by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Midwest Independent Booksellers Association executive director Carrie Obry [says], ‘We’ve taken that whole Midwestern ethos of helping one another out…and we’re building it into our long-term strategic planning.’ Plans include creating more detailed directories, so…booksellers [are] comfortable asking one another for advice, sharing tips, or just checking in to see how things are going.”


I Was a Middle School Library Volunteer by Melissa Baron from Book Riot. Peek: “I was an extraordinarily shy, anxious preteen sliding into depression. I was bullied often….But not in that library. In that library I was an integral, important member who kept it functioning during my little slice of time there….I became more myself there than anywhere else….Never underestimate the value of a library to a child.”

American Girl

New York City Reads in Color With Little Free Libraries by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The Little Free Library organization has installed special ‘Read in Color’ book-sharing boxes in New York City as part of its effort to reach underserved communities…[T]he literary nonprofit organization is…filling them with books that address racism and social justice and that amplify BIPOC and LGBTQ voices with their diverse content and characters.”


The Heart of the Matter: Exploring Heartland Publishing 2021 by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “America’s Heartland has sometimes been dismissed as ‘flyover country,’ and its publishing activity is often overlooked…Midwestern publishers pride themselves on their entrepreneurial spirit and connections to their communities….While [they] remain fiercely proud of their status as publishing outliers,…technology has demonstrated that physical location does not matter as much as it once did in the industry.”

Agent Interview: Saba Sulaiman…. by Ryan G. Van Cleave from Only Picture Books. Peek: “Writers should absolutely pay attention to trends—knowing what kinds of stories the market is responding to at any given point is important because books aren’t published in a vacuum. Writers can…choose not to respond to or write to these trends, but…they should know what kinds of books are selling if they’re seriously pursuing publication.”


How to Track Book Marketing Activity and Results by Sandra Beckwith from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “The first step in figuring out what’s going on with your book marketing is understanding what you’re doing that works and what you’re doing that doesn’t….Do this by tracking your marketing activities and the results….Tracking is easy. You might even find it rewarding. Just follow a four-step process. Execute one marketing activity at a time.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Bid on the “Cynthia Leitich Smith Bundle” and support We Need Diverse Books.

We Need Diverse Books Holiday Auction 2021 is taking place now until Dec. 6. Bid on critiques, signed books, and more. Proceeds go to WNDB’s many programs intended “to celebrate diverse books, to mentor diverse writers and illustrators, to support diverse publishing professionals, and to provide books to classrooms nationwide.”

Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Heartdrum, 2021) is being featured in Parents’ Magazine Raising the Future Book Club. Cynthia will read a chapter from the book and answer questions from Sandhya Nankani from Literary Safari on @Parents Instagram Live on Dec. 4 at 11 a.m. pacific, 1 p.m. central, 2 p.m. eastern.

Latinx Kidlit Book Festival, to be held Dec. 9 to Dec. 10, is a free virtual celebration of Latinx KidLit authors, illustrators, and books for all readers and educators. Enjoy keynotes, panels, craft sessions, illustrator draw-offs, and more with Latinx authors and illustrators of picture books, middle grade, young adult, graphic novels, and poetry. The event takes place on the festival’s YouTube channel. View the schedule here.

Gwinnett County Public Library presents “Voices from the Latinx Diaspora” with Saraciea Fennell and Mark Oshiro in conversation about Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed: 15 Voices from the Latinx Diaspora, edited by Fennell (Flatiron Books, 2021). The book “is a ground-breaking anthology that will spark dialogue and inspire hope. [It] features…an all-star cast of Latinx contributors…[who] interrogate the different myths and stereotypes about the Latinx diaspora.” This free virtual event takes place Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Roaring Brook Press

Vroman’s Bookstore presents middle grade fantasy novelist Van Hoang in conversation with Katie Zhao, as they discuss Hoang’s newest book Girl Giant and the Jade War (Roaring Brook Press, 2021), which is the sequel to Girl Giant and the Monkey King (Roaring Book Press, 2020). This free virtual event takes place Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. pacific, 7 p.m. central, 8 p.m. eastern. Register here.


Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the American Indians in Children’s Literature Best Books of 2021 list. The award categories included Comics and Graphic Novels, Board Books, Picture Books, Early Chapter Books, Middle Grade, High School, Cross-Over Books (written for adults; appeal to young adults), and Books Written/Illustrated by Non-Native Writers.

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made Kirkus Review’s Best Picture Books of 2021 list. The award categories included Celebrating Family, Bedtime Books, Funniest Books, Celebrating Community, Book Biographies, Most Joyous Books, About Crossing Borders, Starting Conversations, Informational Books, Board Books, Most Affirming Books, and Wordless Books. The 2021 lists of Best Middle-Grade Books and Best Young Adult Books will released on Dec. 6 and Dec. 13, respectively.

Holiday House

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the Chicago Public Library’s 2021 Kids Best of the Best Books list.The award categories included Board Books, Picture Books, Fiction for Younger Readers, Informational Books for Younger Readers, Libros en español, Fiction for Older Readers, and Informational Books for Older Readers.

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the New York Public Library’s Best Books of 2021 list, especially in the categories of Kids and Teens. The library’s annual recommendations are curated by the library’s expert librarians and staff.

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made Shelf Awareness’s 2021 Best Children’s & YA Books of the Year list. Shelf Awareness publishes two newsletters, one for readers and one for pros (booksellers, librarians). Shelf Awareness for Readers helps readers discover best books chosen by booksellers, librarians, and industry experts.


Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the School Library Journal’s Best Books 2021 list. The award categories included Picture Books, Chapter Books, Middle Grade, YA, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Graphic Novels. “[W]e’re deeply committed, more than ever, to uplifting the books that shine a light on injustice and let children know they’re not alone, and that spur readers on to create a better world. After all, books have power.”

Congratulations to the winners of the NCTE Children’s Book and Poetry Awards: Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera (HarperCollins, 2021)(Charlotte Huck Award), Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd, illustrated by Christian Robinson (G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2021)(Orbis Pictus Award), and Janet S. Wong (Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children). Congratulations also to the honor books.

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books of 2021 list. KidsPost also asked Raúl González (known as Raúl the Third) and three Washington Post book reviewers “to pick five new kids books they recommend this holiday season.”

This Week at Cynsations

Author Cory McCarthy and their kiddo!

More Personally – Cynthia

Thank you to Bookshop for featuring my Native American & First Nations Books for Middle Graders List on the home page.

Thank you to Berkeley Public Schools for a wonderful author visit last night! It was an honor to have Sisters of the Neversea (Heartdrum, 2021) celebrated as part of your Mock Newbery program.

I’m grateful and delighted to announce that my 2021 books, Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids and Sisters of the Neversea (both Heartdurm), plus more titles published by the imprint have been named to year-end lists.

Ancestor Approved: Chicago Public Library Best of the Best 2021; New York Public Library Best Books for Kids 2021; and Shelf Awareness Best Children’s-YA Books of 2021.

Sisters of the Neversea: Chicago Public Library Best of the Best 2021; and American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) Best Books of 2021. (Give the Gift of Reading 2021 from the New York Society Library. Features a recommendation of Sisters of the Neversea.)

The Sea in Winter by Christine Day, cover by Michaela Goade: SLJ Best Books of 2021; and American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) Best Books of 2021.

Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend by Dawn Quigley and Tara Audibert: NCTE Charlotte Huck Award Honor Book; American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) Best Books of 2021; SLJ Best Books of 2021; and Chicago Public Library Best of the Best 2021.

Healer of the Water Monster by Brian Young, cover by Shonto Begay: American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) Best Books of 2021.

Thank you, BookPeople of Austin, for this permanent display of Heartdrum books.

More Personally – Gayleen

My 2022 calendar is already filling up! This week I added Jacquetta Nammar Feldman‘s book launch for Wishing Upon the Same Stars (HarperCollins, Feb. 1, 2022). We workshopped opening pages from this story at an MG Intensive at The Writing Barn a few years back and I’m excited to celebrate Jacquetta’s debut novel at a virtual Writing Barn launch party.

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