Friday, September 14, 2018

Writer Spotlight: Fatma Al Lawati

Writer Spotlight: Fatma Al Lawati

How did your early life shape your present-day writing?

Early childhood experiences have a considerable impact in shaping our lives, and I believe my father greatly influenced mine. The education system was officially introduced to Oman in 1970. Most did not have the opportunity to receive a formal education prior to that year. 

However, a few people had the chance to receive a limited education through either private schools in the capital of Oman or Quranic schools across the country. Unlike the fathers of most of my friends, my father was among the few who was educated in a private school. We had a modest library in our house, with books written by well-known authors. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to explore them from a very early age. 

As we did not have access to any children’s books, my father resorted to telling us stories about history and historical/religious figures. Storytelling played a substantial role in my upbringing. It was the late seventies before there were any bookstores Muttrah (the city I grew up in) and we started receiving children books from Egypt and Lebanon. 

Being the first child, I received a considerable amount of attention from my father. He was always reading to me and encouraging me. All of my books were part of his library. After he passed away, I found out that he was collecting all my published newspaper articles.

What obstacles did you face in the pursuit of your doctorate?

This is a hard question to answer now. Coming to the United States with four children, my husband and I were both looking to earn our higher education degrees. It was really a big challenge. All the obstacles that we faced, either social, cultural, financial and linguistic, are now good memories that we cherish. Weighing the obstacles at that time, many of our friends thought that it was not a wise decision to make this move. But now, we have many stories to tell. We are glad that we all overcame all those obstacles and are also happy that a new member was added to our family! So instead of four children, we now have a fifth child who joined us while I was finishing the first year of my Ph.D. He is now in a college student!

You’ve published a number of educational studies on gifted students in Islamic-American schools. What attracted you to that subject?

My adviser, Dr. Scott Hunsaker, at Utah State University suggested that I explore the field of gifted education in the Islamic-American schools. He was a great help to me, and he told me once that he is now considered an expert in the Islamic Education field and is often approached by colleagues.

There are a limited number of people who specialize in the area of gifted education in the Arab World; as far as I know, I am the only Omani. It is important to have people in this field as there are gifted students in every country and every culture who deserve our attention. Also, the field of gifted education from the Islamic perspective had not been explored much at that time. Despite the limited research in this field, I think I came up with quite unique Islamic theories; however we need to continue focusing on it as it continues to require ongoing research and attention.

Cover art for "Does the Moon Still Play with Children?"

In your blog you’ve also written numerous articles about children’s literature, Oman and cancer (?) How do all of these various topics intersect in you?

I used to write a column on different topics related to social, educational, and national matters in a few Omani and international papers. I recently wrote about children who suffer from cancer. This two-part article was the outcome of my visit to the children’s cancer ward in a governmental hospital in Oman. In the column, I focused on the social and educational needs of children suffering from cancer in Oman. 

To answer your question, I feel I have an obligation to write about hope, and to spread awareness about any matter related to the suffering of children.  My blog contains a collection of my written work and includes the titles of my children’s books, with the exception of recent publications.    

Your first picture book featuring Majid (Majid’s Teeth) was published in 2013. You followed that up with 2015’s Majid Goes to the Beach and 2017’s Majid Doesn’t Like Waiting. What do you find so compelling about your character, Majid?
Cover for "Majid's Teeth"

I chose the name “Majid” because it means “glorious” in Arabic. It is also a name that  is easy for Arab children of different age groups to pronounce. The character Majid in my books enjoys exploring things around him which lead him to learn new things.

In 2016, you started publishing numerous picture books. That year saw the birth of Layan Plants a School, Ola Wonders, and Why Did the Birds Fly Away? In 2017, five new titles were published! What caused the explosion of creativity?

Cover for"Maryam's Journal"

I had stopped writing briefly, then began pursuing my PhD and had no plans of publishing. However, I continued to write on my own periodically. In 2004 I returned to Oman after earning my degree and began writing my first novel, The Call. I noticed then that there was a demand from parents for good children’s books. I also realized that some publishers selected books based on their relationships with the authors rather than the quality of the material.
In 2015, I realized that there was an increasing number of children who were affected by war in our part of the world; the idea of “Project Peace” came to mind. The mission of this project is to provide free books to children with the hopes to plant ideas of peace in their minds through creative, imaginative, and fun ways—ways that bring smiles to those young readers. I found it a challenge to find a publisher who was willing to support this cause as it would result in marginally low profits. 
So, we decided as a family to start our own publishing company- Mayaseen Publishing LLC, in order to create and support “Project Peace”. The company was established in Michigan, USA and all but two of the books were printed in two versions — one for “Project Peace” and the other for sale. The large number of recent books was motivated mainly by this project that enabled me to provide good quality books for children in need and has resulted in continuous efforts to publish books. Recently, we published our first English book written by an American author.

You’ve had a different illustrator for each picture book. Which artists came closest to capturing your vision?
Cover art for "The Bubble"
I believe each book has its own uniqueness. I am also of the opinion that we need to give children opportunities to experience different illustrations. Therefore, I try to involve several illustrators, while making sure that their style flows with the type of story.   

2017’s The Obtuse Angle was edited by Husain Al Lawati. Any relation?

“The Obtuse Angle” is based on the life of my second cousin who suffered from diabetes at a young age. Husain Al-Lawati, my husband, has always been my number one supporter. He is always the first to read and edit any book/chapter/article that I write, and this book is no exception. He always provides me with valuable feedback and has invested greatly in editing this book. We also hired both a professional editor and designer, with whom my husband worked closely, to oversee anything that he may have overlooked. I could not have done all of this without my husband’s support, dedication, and continuous help.

These picture books are published by Mayaseen Publishing and are available on Kindle. What have been the challenges and rewards of publishing on Kindle?

The picture books have all been published on paper in Arabic. However, I wanted these books to reach out to a wider audience. They have since then been translated to English and published on Kindle. This is a completely new experience for me and allows English readers the ability to explore books originally published in Arabic.

Mayaseen Publishing participates in what it calls Project Peace. “Our mission is to provide free books to children who have been affected by war. We wish to provide a sense of hope through these books, a hope that could allow these children to grow up carefree, in a world they deserve to grow up in.” Are you or your books part of this humanitarian action?

Mayaseen Publishing was formed with the idea of “Project Peace”. With the start of wars and instability in the Arab world, I wanted to be able to provide children with creative and educational books. After numerous attempts to work with various publishing companies to make this happen, I realized that I would be charged unreasonable prices. I therefore decided to start Mayaseen Publishing and have since been able to distribute more than 8,000 books to children in affected areas within one year.

You’re featured in a 2016 YouTube video of a conference with photos featuring some of your books. What conference was this, and what part did you play in it?

The You Tube video was created for a 4-day workshop that I conducted through Abjad Center covering the most important elements in writing for children. This workshop was supported by a few local businesses. As a part of this workshop, a total of three children books written during the workshop were selected, edited, and later published. Publication costs were a part of the workshop budget.

In the midst of these multiple picture books is one novel, titled The Call. According to the description, it appears to be a supernatural thriller featuring Ahmad and Lamya, two university students transplanted to the United States with their family, who hear a strange voice which changes their lives.

Published in 2012 by Dar al-Fikr, this seems to be your first published work. Was this a one-and-done, or might you write other novels in the future?

Yes, this is my first and only novel for young adults. I currently have no intention of writing any novels catered for adults. However, I have in mind another novel for teens and plan to begin writing soon.

When and where did you find SCBWI?

I became acquainted with SCBWI in 2009. At the time, I was at the University of Virginia as a Fulbright scholar and had hopes of meeting authors of children’s books. I contacted some and became aware of SCBWI. Unfortunately, this happened only shortly prior to my departure. After a number of attempts to attend SCBWI conferences, I finally joined SCBWI last year and attended the conference in Los Angeles earlier this month. I had a spectacular time and am truly grateful for becoming a part of this community.

What’s next for you?

In addition to writing books for children and youth, I plan on working to increase Mayaseen
Mayaseen logo: Salam in Arabic and Peace in English
Publishing LLC book sales by focusing on our marketing strategies to ensure that we can continue supporting “Project Peace.” Secondly, we are working on expanding outside of the Arab World. We have decided to open our doors to two children or youth stories in English every year through Mayaseen Publishing LLC. 

Fatma Al Lawati has a PhD in  Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Gifted Education. 

Of Mayaseen Publishing LLC and "Project Peace," she writes:

We do not  accept any direct money, however we welcome any help with distribution of books to children in affected countries, or help with the illustrating, designing, writing, editing of books; and of course the purchase of books is always welcome! All of this will ultimately support Project Peace.

The best way to reach us will be by email: 

Charlie Barshaw is proud to be an editor for The Mitten, a member of the SCBWI-MI Advisory Committee, a PAL, and part of the Michigan Reading Association Board. Yes, he's still revising  the YA novel, "Aunt Agnes."

Friday, September 7, 2018

From Sting to Success: Using Rejection to Improve our Writing by Janice Broyles

We hit the send button, then sit back and wait and fret and wait and check our inbox and wait some more. After weeks or even months of waiting in anticipation of the golden words “Send me more” or “I’d love to talk to you about representation,” we hear the ding of new mail. Unfortunately, more often than not, we open the email to read something along the lines of, “Thanks. It’s not for me.”

Rejection is a part of the publishing world as much as inspiration is a part of writing. There are some of us who write simply for the joy of it and are content to have our close circle of family and friends read our work. Many of us, however, write not only for the joy of the practice, but we write to share our stories with the everyday reader, the stranger, the person whose life will be more complete by reading our work. We write so that many more can share in our worlds and imaginary tales.

Grandiose? Maybe.
Probable? Maybe not.
Worth a shot? You betcha.

The sting of rejection may hurt initially, but with the right mindset and the proper motivation, that sting can lead to success.

Rejection leads to reflection.
Agents and editors oftentimes receive hundreds of queries on a weekly basis. Those boutique agencies or smaller publishing houses may receive hundreds of submissions on a monthly basis. Regardless, most of these professionals, even those on the look-out for the next big thing, will have a narrow window of how many new clients or new books to take on. That means that out of hundreds monthly, maybe one or two will be selected. That’s a lot of submissions left over! Many of these submissions are good, but lacked that “something” the agent or editor was looking for. Being objective can be difficult, especially pertaining to our own work. However, if you have received several rejections in a row, it’s time to consider the strength of your query/synopsis/sample chapter.

Rejection leads to practice. 
I’ve been rejected well over 200 times. I actually stopped counting when I reached 200 because it got depressing. That was years ago. Each of the rejections stung. Even though I’ve endured many rejections, I have to admit that I’ve also gotten better at writing. From start to today is thirteen years. But I never quit. I kept writing, and then I wrote some more. Now I have two traditionally published books: NO LONGER REJECTED (an inspirational nonfiction book) and THE SECRET HEIR (a YA historical fiction book).

Rejection leads to connection. 
Who better to understand writer’s woes than other writers? One thing about rejection is that all writers have experienced it. And, yes, I mean all. Even the heavyweights have been rejected. And if for some crazy reason an author hasn’t ever been rejected, then they haven’t started querying yet. Some of my greatest connections have come through fellow writers. Writers who understood what I was going through. It’s a support network and keeps you going. So, if you have yet to connect with fellow writers, it’s time you do. Attend an SCBWI conference (or another writer’s conference) and start a local writer’s group. Lean on each other. Because this same group of people will also be your biggest supporters when your book sees the light of day (and yes, I’m looking at you, my kindred spirits).

Rejection leads to revision. 
It’s hard to admit this, but our writing is not perfect. Ouch. Sorry. I realize that a finished book is like our baby, and we all know that babies are perfect little angels from on-high (insert eye-roll). In all seriousness, our books need revision. Lots of it. Never, ever send your book to an agent or editor without reworking and revising the entire manuscript. If you feel that it’s ready, yet you keep receiving those pesky rejections, then it’s time to take an honest look at that precious book baby. Revision is in order. I’ve rewritten entire manuscripts. Then rewrote it again.

Rejection leads to growth.
This is so important. We should want to grow as writers. We should want to improve our craft. Even though rejection feels worse than stubbing your toe and stepping on Legos at the same time, it is best used as a refining tool. True growth means tackling writing daily. It means making writing a habit. The best way to grow from rejection is to examine your writing with a fresh perspective and a critical eye. And keep writing because success will never happen if you let rejections get the best of you.
I may have dealt with over 200 rejections, but I am better as a writer because of it. Not only am I better writer, but I am also a published author. And it doesn’t get sweeter than that.

Janice Broyles’ novel, THE SECRET HEIR, was released through Heritage Beacon Press in July of 2018. Her inspirational book, NO LONGER REJECTED, hit shelves in September of 2016. Visit her at

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: Next Friday, Charlie Barshaw is back with our quarterly Writer Spotlight feature where he interviews SCBWI-MI members from around the state - it could be you! In October, Patti Richards will trumpet your success in our quarterly Hugs and Hurrahs feature. Please email Patti your good news about writing, illustrating, and publishing by October 9th to be included. And our blog will soon have a new fall-themed banner. Nina Goebel will interview and introduce our new Featured Illustrator in a few weeks.

Happy back-to-school!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, August 31, 2018

Book Birthday Blog

Welcome to SCBWI-MI's NEW Book Birthday Blog! 
Where we celebrate new books by Michigan's children's book authors and illustrators

BIG congratulations to Lisa Wheeler on the newest book in her Dino series,

Q#1: How did you come up with the idea for your book?

LW: Actually, Dino-Christmas is the 11th book in my Dino series. My publisher decided that we should explore how these sports -loving dinosaurs celebrate the Holidays. We decided that Christmas would be the perfect kick-off to this 4 book series within a series.

Q#2: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

LW: It's always tricky to make the rhyme and meter work with difficult dinosaur names. Also, I wanted to honor some old traditions but make them dino-friendly. That was fun and complicated at the same time.

Q#3: In the voice of your main character, tell us what you hope readers will experience or learn while reading your book. (I love your character voices!!)

LW: There are a cast of characters in these books, so not really a "main character".  But if the troublesome Ptero Twins were to introduce the book, it might sound like this:

Ptero One: "Hey you, knuckleheads!"
Ptero Two: "Don't believe everything you see."
Ptero One: "Or read!"
Ptero Two: "We didn't really cause problems at the ice skating park. . .
Ptero One: ". . .or while decorating Main Street. . ."
Ptero Two: ". . .and definitely NOT at the Christmas Parade!"
Ptero One: "If you don't believe us, ask Santa Claws."
Ptero Two: "Yeah, he was totally there!"

Q#4: Who is your author idol and how have they influenced your work?

LW: I can't pick just one! I was brought up on Dr. Seuss, who I loved for rhyme and word play.  But I also loved the work of Ezra jack Keats, who created a cast of neighborhood kids that looked like the kids I grew up with. I also idolized Mr. Rogers, because he was the calm in the storm when I needed him.

So I guess they all influenced me to write mostly rhyming books that incorporate lots of wordplay, that are all inclusive (even when the characters are anthropomorphic) and speak to the child. At least, that is what I strive for.

Q#5: What are your marketing plans for your book? Where can we find it?

LW: What are marketing plans? LOL. Seriously, I am the worst. I am thrilled that you asked me to do this because I never would have thought of it on my own. I am doing a book signing in conjunction with SCBWI-MI at Barnes and Noble in Brighton on August 25th. Also, I will be signing at the September 8th Thomson-Shore Event in Dexter.
Oh, and I will be doing a children's program and signing books at the Read in the Park event at Beverly Park in Beverly Hills, MI on September 22.

You can order any of my books from your local independent book store. All my books are also for sale on and any online book seller.
My website is

A little bit about the book: Have yourself a merry Dino-Christmas! Dinos big and small deck the halls and enjoy snowball fights, hot cocoa, a parade, and more. Share in the dinosaurs' delight as they eagerly await the arrival of everyone's favorite . . . Santa Claws!

A little bit about the author: Lisa Wheeler has written many books for children, including The Pet Project, illustrated by Zachariah OHora; Spinster Goose, illustrated by Sophie Blackall; and People Don’t Bite People, illustrated by Molly Idle. She lives with her family in Addison, Michigan. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Ten Year Short Story by Julie Angeli

I recently had a serialized short story published in Cricket Magazine. A short story shouldn’t take long to write. Right? Mine took ten years.

It started out late one night while watching a bad movie that featured competitive free divers – individuals who dive ridiculously deep without a scuba tank, using a weighted sled to take them down and a buoyancy bag that shoots them to the surface before they run out of air – assuming it works.

I’m a scuba diver, snorkeler, mermaid enthusiast, and general ocean geek, so this was something I had to check out. While gathering information, I discovered an equally impressive group, the Ama divers of Japan. They are women who dive for shellfish, reaching depths of up to 60 feet on a single breath of air. No sleds for these ladies, they don’t do this for the thrill. They do it for survival.

I thought of them as “Real Mermaids” and decided to write a super short non-fiction piece for young readers. I became obsessed and pored through anything I could find on the internet, magazine articles, a book written in 1962 (the only book I could find about the Ama), a photo essay and pictures of ancient woodblock prints.

My short article morphed into a MG novel, then a YA novel, then back to MG. I started out with a mermaid/underwater theme, but found myself wondering about Japanese culture.

At one point I determined that I shouldn’t be writing this. I don’t have a lick of Japanese blood running through my veins. Surely, someone who is Japanese would do a better job, so I put it away. For years.

No one wrote about it.

I picked it up again.

By this point, both of my kids had decided to study Japanese in school. During conferences with their teachers I brought up the Ama. The teachers would nod their heads, but had little input. This culture keeps to themselves, and little is known about them even in Japan.

I kept plugging away. It seemed too long for a short story, but too short for a novel – a story without a home. I was still nervous about writing something based on a culture that wasn’t mine. But still, I couldn’t let it go.

A writer friend of mine who is Japanese helped me with the details about Japan and encouraged me to keep going. My fate was sealed when I was given the opportunity to travel to Japan with my daughter’s Japanese class. I simply had to finish that story.

The length of my story was still an issue, so I cut my too-short MG novel down to a 6,000 word serialized short story – a painful process, but I had to admit, the shorter version was better. I went to Japan with my daughter’s class and paid attention to how people interacted, how they dressed, what the houses and gardens looked like, and the color of the ocean. Finally, I verified a few last details with our Japanese tour guide.

When I got home, I put the finishing touches on the story, held my breath and submitted. More than ten years after my late-night movie inspiration, part one of THE PEARL INSIDE was published in the May/June 2018 issue of Cricket Magazine, with parts two and three to follow. I’ve learned a great deal over the last several years that never would have made it into that original story. This is the story that was meant to be published, even if it did take ten years. Sometimes even when you give up, the story doesn’t.

Julie Angeli’s first career was as a packaging engineer for IBM where she spent a lot of time dropping printers and copiers to see if they would break. When there was nothing left to break, she moved on to children’s writing. Her short stories have appeared in SPIDER and CRICKET magazines. She has also co-authored two picture books for local Michigan clients. She lives in Bloomfield Township with one husband, two kids, and three cats. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Bringing a Hidden Figure to Life for Children by Sonya Bernard-Hollins

It was the find you dream about. Boxes of photographs, diaries, tickets to historic events, and letters! When I discovered Merze Tate through the archives at Western Michigan University, I was hooked. My discovery of her being the first African American graduate of Oxford University was just the tip of the iceberg.

Born on a farm in Blanchard, Michigan in 1906, she lived a life without boundaries. She was an inventor, an award-winning writer of international history, world traveler, speaker of five languages, millionaire philanthropist…and (no spoiler alert).

What do you do with all that information? And how do you make it relevant to children? Through photographs!

After years of research to write a biography of Merze Tate, those who attended my lectures in libraries across the state wanted to take something home with them. They wanted something to inspire their children and grandchildren..and themselves. Merze and her life in the 20th century was one of phenomenal accomplishments achieved far beyond what the legendary trio (Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Rosa Parks) could have hoped for.

She met with dignitaries around the world and even worked for the State Department. Federal Bureau of Investigations Director J. Edgar Hoover investigated her to learn more about this woman who achieved so much in a time when Jim Crow’s wings cast a dark shadow on the potential of so many African Americans.

The book, Small Beginnings: A Photographic Journey Through the Life of Merze Tate, presents her story in prose and ends with a poem Tate wrote on her way to Oxford University in 1932. Original images from Tate’s own collection bring to life a story told more than 20 years after her death, through the lens of her own camera.

As I continued to work toward the adult biography, my desire for a children’s book seemed necessary. Illustrators (and I) grew frustrated in trying to narrow down such a complex life in 12 spreads or less. I had a traveling exhibition of Tate’s photographs curated through a grant from Grand Valley State University and viewers were captivated by the places she traveled and the people she met. They also found it astounding, that, through it all, she was a history professor at Howard University.

When I learned she never married or had children, I felt a desire to bring her legacy to life in another way. Her scrapbooks showed a Travel Club she founded in 1928 as a high school history professor at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, Ind. That black and white photograph of teenagers dressed in their Sunday best and headed to Washington D.C., struck a cord. In 2008, I started a similar club for girls who have traveled the world; working their way to all the places Tate once ventured decades earlier.

As authors, it is our job to inspire the world through our stories. While fiction has its place, I have discovered other hidden figures in our local archives. These hidden figures have contributed to their communities and beyond; never having received recognition. Now is the time!

Sonya Bernard-Hollins graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in English with an emphasis in Journalism. She has worked as a reporter for various newspapers and magazines and has received recognition for her work by Michigan Press Association and others. Her husband, Sean, uses his talents as a graphic designer to co-produce children’s books on hidden figures in Michigan history through the imprint, Community Voices.

Learn more:
Facebook: Merze Tate Explorers
Twitter: @merzetate
Instagram: merzetate
YouTube: Merze Tate Explorers Channel

Sonya can be reached at:
Books available on Amazon.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Welcome to SCBWI-MI's NEW Book Birthday Blog! 
Where we celebrate new books by Michigan's children's book authors and illustrators

BIG congratulations to Josef Bastian on his newest book, 

Q#1: How did you come up with the idea for your book?

I saw that there was an opportunity to bring folklore back into modern storytelling.

Words have power. Children understand that almost instinctively the first time that they’re insulted by a sibling or on the playground. But something they might not understand quite as well is that stories do too, even (or perhaps especially) the fictional ones. The idea that stories and folktales are powerful inspired me to cofound Folkteller Publishing and to write this series.

Part of my mission is to preserve the craft of storytelling by sharing hidden folktales and stories from around the world. I coin the term for these hidden regional/culture-specific stories: “cryptofolk.” 

Regional folklore can get lost through time. But these folk tales tell a lot about us as humans and who we are in different regions of the world. In Excerpts from an Unknown Guidebook, and in all of my work, I try to resurrect many regional myths and legends from around the globe.” I believe that we have much to learn from one another’s stories. By embracing storytelling, children, with their eternal optimism, can be especially receptive to the lessons therein. 

Q#2: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

There was a lot of research involved. Also, since this is part of series, it was VERY hard to keep continuity throughout the book and the series.

Another difficult task was writing a creation myth that would encompass the entire world of the Folktellers in the first book. That was a real challenge!

Q#3: In the voice of your main character, tell us what you hope readers will experience or learn while reading your book.

Here’s the thing. If you read this book, you may not believe it, but it’s all true. I’m just a regular kid who never did a single extraordinary thing in my life. Then, one day, my whole world turned upside down and none of it was my fault!

If you like a lot of adventure, danger and dark, creepy stuff, you’ll love this book. Trust me, I lived it!

Q#4: Who is your author idol and how have they influenced your work?

My favorite author is John Bellairs. He is a Michigan native and has such a wonderful, magical style of writing. Bellairs has the innate ability to deal with very scary, intense subject matter without any sex or gore. He is just a great storyteller that creates characters that kids can relate to and root for time and again.

I also love how original his subject matter is. Bellairs creates a magical world of fantasy in ordinary places and I really love that and try to emulate in my stories.

 Q#5: What are your marketing plans for your book? Where can we find it?

We have a full-blown marketing campaign, including social media, video and pre-read opportunities on NetGalley and Goodreads.

We’ve partnered with Smith Publicity to get the word out too.

Book is available on Amazon, Seattle Book Company, and all major retailers.

A little bit about the book: 
Like a wheel within the wheel
Spiraling forever
Through the world we see and feel.
There’s a tale within the fable
Like a gear within the gear
Marking time forever
Until the secret is revealed . . .
There’s a story in the story
In every age, across time and space, there have been Folktellers. These are the select few who have been chosen to collect and share the stories that must be told.
Aaron is an average midwestern teen – or so he thinks. When his grandfather disappears under strange circumstances, Aaron’s ordinary existence changes forever. He will soon discover a mysterious world where stories are powerful and dangerous, where deadly enemies and dark forces lurk just out of sight.
Accompanied by his friend Jake and an odd girl from another dimension, Aaron must save his grandfather from the gathering darkness, and the shadowy creatures that thrive within.
In time, Aaron will learn that whoever holds the story, wields the power, and that the choices he makes will change the destiny of the entire universe.

A little bit about the author:  
Josef Bastian is the Young Voices Foundation Award-winning children’s book author of the Nain Rouge Trilogy, and co-founder of Folkteller Publishing. His new middle grade fantasy book series, Excerpts from an Unknown Guidebook, launches in August 2018 with Book I: Phases of the MoonBastian currently lives in Metro Detroit, Michigan.
For more information, visit and connect with Josef Bastian on Twitter @NainRougeProj, Facebook at, and Instagram @folktellerstories. 

Phases of the Moon will be available through all major retailers on August 15, 2018.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Am I Really a March is Reading Month Author? by Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw

You’ve only been on this writing journey for a little over a year.
You’re still tweaking your middle grade fiction book that has morphed into a nonfiction picture book.
You’re unpublished.
And speaking in front of a crowd is way out of your comfort zone.

But the principal at the school you’ve just been transferred to tells you there’s no money in the budget to hire an author to speak during March is Reading Month and asks, “Will you be the author for our assembly?”

You surreptitiously gulp.

You scream “no” in your head knowing this will be a ton of work and your teacher plate is filled beyond capacity.

You start your yoga breathing.
You smile and say,
“Of course.”

And then you panic!

You call the reading consultant at the school you got transferred from for advice.
She suggests you do the assembly there first.
Everyone knows you.
It’ll be good practice.

Then she says,
“Don’t tell anyone. We’ll say a surprise famous author is coming!’

“Famous author— the kids will be so disappointed when they see it’s me!”

“They’ll love it; trust me.”

You reluctantly say yes and agree to be introduced as the “Surprise, Well Known Author”.
Like that’s any better.

That night while you’re supposed to be sleeping, inspiration strikes.
You hobble downstairs to your laptop.
And title your presentation “Am I Really an Author?”

You work feverishly on your PowerPoint and gather all your props.
You take the most recent revision of your WIP and illustrate it with photos and add it to your presentation.

You don’t care anymore that your teacher plate is overflowing.
Somewhere along the way this has become fun!

You arrive at your old school hands trembling.
As a special ed teacher, you’re used to working with small groups of kids.
250 kids and all those adult teacher faces—ACK!

You walk into the multipurpose room where you participated in so many assemblies—as an audience member.
You set up.

Three of your former students are going to introduce you.
They’re in on the “big secret.”

Before the classes file in, you hide.
Remember, you’re the “Surprise, Well Known Author”.

You hear your name introduced.
Then massive cheering.
Your fears diminish.

You enter the room, arms pumping in the air like Rocky!

You stumble here and there.
But overall, your presentation goes smoothly.

Students are raising their hands to share.
They laugh at all the right spots.
You’ve avoided looking at any adults in the room the entire time.

You read your manuscript.
The students are mesmerized by your story.
And then, the applause.

You had a blast and you can’t wait to do it again at your current school!

A few days later, you get emails from two other schools.
They heard about your presentation.
They want to PAY you to speak at their March is Reading Month assemblies.

YES, you really are a March is Reading Month Author!

Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw is a nonfiction picture book author and elementary special education teacher who is passionate about growing young minds through her teaching and writing. The proud momma of two grown boys, Suzanne lives in Waterford, MI with her husband and furry writing companion. When she’s not dreaming up new teaching or writing projects, you can find her kayaking on the lake, hiking a trail, practicing at the yoga studio, or comparing paint swatches at the local Sherwin Williams. Learn more about Suzanne at

Note: A brief version of this post was first published on the TeachWrite blog.

Are you an author looking for resources about school visits? Follow the results of this 2018 survey, Transparency in Pay for Author and Illustrator School Visits, in a four-part series here and here on author Michele Cusolito's blog.

Happening right now: the SCBWI Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles. Follow along on the SCBWI Blog.

Looking for a conference closer to home? Registration is now open for the SCBWI-MI Fall Retreat. This year, we're partnering with the SCBWI-Indiana chapter for a creative weekend at Pokagon State Park, October 5th-7th. Go here to learn more and register online.
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