Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

2020 Conference Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award

Austin SCBWI Writers & Illustrators Working Conference
Cynthia Leitich Smith

Cynthia Leitich Smith

The Austin SCBWI Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award honors one of the long-time members of our chapter.

Cynthia is an inspiration not only as an award-winning and best-selling author, but also as a champion of children’s book writers. She hosts the informative and popular Cynsations blog, which is a must-read for anyone in the children’s book industry. Cynthia also is an extremely generous member of the Austin kidlit community, offering up her time and knowledge to help fellow writers whenever she can. She’s embodies the kind of writer we all try to be.

The award bearing her name will follow her example and give guidance to up-and-coming writers. Inspired by the Houstin SCBWI chapter‘s Joan Lowery Nixon Award, the Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award starts with the critiques at the annual Austin SCBWI conference. Critiquers nominate one of the manuscripts submitted to them for the award, if they feel the manuscript is of a high enough level. The nominated writers will make up the finalists, who will be announced after the Saturday sessions of the conference. The finalists’ work will then be submitted to the mentor, who will choose the winner, announced on our website after the conference.

Our 2020 mentor is the wonderful Liz Garton Scanlon.

Liz Garton Scanlon

Liz Garton Scanlon

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of numerous beloved books for young people, including the highly-acclaimed, Caldecott-honored picture book All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, and the middle grade novel The Great Good Summer, as well Thank You, Garden, One Dark Bird, Kate, Who Tamed the Wind, and many others. Ms. Scanlon serves on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a frequent and popular presenter at schools, libraries and conferences. She lives with her family in Austin, Texas. Read our interview with Liz Garton Scanlon.

We’re lucky to have these brilliant kidlit authors as part of this mentorship:

Bethany Hegedus’ books include the forthcoming picture book biography Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as the award-winning picture book biographies Grandfather Gandhi and the newly released Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story, both co-written with Arun Gandhi, grandson to the Mahatma and illustrated by Evan Turk. The Grandfather Gandhi books join Bethany’s novels Truth with a Capital T and Between us Baxters in gracefully handling race, class and diversity issues. A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults, Bethany is prior editor of the literary journal Hunger Mountain. Bethany is the Owner and Creative Director of The Writing Barn, a writing retreat, workshop and event space in Austin, Texas. Read our interview with Bethany Hegedus.

Varian Johnson is a Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA graduate and faculty member. He is the author of nine novels, including Red Polka Dot in a World of Plaid, My Life as a Rhombus, Saving Maddie, and The Great Greene Heist series. Varian’s latest MG novel, The Parker Inheritance, is a 2019 Coretta Scott King Honor Book and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor winner, as well as being named to ten separate “best of 2018” lists. Read our interview with Varian Johnson.

Christina Soontornvat is a storyteller, engineer, and STEM educator. She is the author of the fantasy middle grade series, The Changelings, and the early chapter book series, Diary of an Ice Princess. Her forthcoming books include the middle grade fantasy, A Wish in the Dark, and All Thirteen, a nonfiction account of the Thai Cave Rescue. Read our interview with Christina

Jennifer Ziegler is the author of the Brewster Triplet Series for Scholastic — Revenge of the Flower Girls, Revenge of the Angels, Revenge of the Happy Campers, and Revenge of the Teacher’s Pets — as well as the young adult novels How Not to Be Popular, Sass & Serendipity, and Alpha Dog. Her books have been featured on the Lone Star List, the International Reading Association’s Young Adults Choice List, recommended on NPR’s “Tell Me More,” and optioned for film and stage. Visit her at Read our interview with Jennifer Ziegler.

Our 2020 mentor will be announced soon.

You can find out more about Cynthia on her website. Her books are:

Picture Books

Jingle Dancer (HarperCollins, 2000)

Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006)

Holler Loudly (Dutton, 2010)

Middle Grade

Rain is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2011)

Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002)

Young Adult

Tantalize Series:

Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007)

Eternal (Candlewick, 2009)

Blessed (Candlewick, 2011)

Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick, 2011)

Diabolical (Candlewick, 2013)

Eternal: Zachary’s Story (Candlewick, 2013)

Feral Series:

Feral Nights (Candlewick, 2013)

Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014)

Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2015)

Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018)