Friday, November 28, 2014


Black Friday
Small Business Saturday (shop at your local indie bookstore!)
Cyber Monday
And a new tradition: 
#Giving Tuesday

Two years ago, a movement was born to kick off the holiday giving season. December 2, 2014 is #Giving Tuesday, an initiative that celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support non-profit organizations. 

Giving can be as simple as dropping coins in a can or donating a toy, but to have a bigger impact, it helps to do your research. Charity Navigator is one place to start. For tips on giving, read their guide.

Prefer to give a hand up over a handout?
Microloans are one way you can have an impact. You choose an endeavor to support, you make a loan, you get updates on the progress, you get paid back, and you repeat the process again with a new project.  Kiva is a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty, and you can lend as little as $25. If you're a YA reader/writer, you can guess which super-star author created the Nerdfighters team on Kiva. “We loan because…we aim to decrease world suck.” 

Want to lend a hand?   
Volunteer Match helps individuals and groups find local non-profits who need your time. 

Charitable giving is something we tend to keep quiet about. 
It doesn’t feel right to say, “Look what I did!” 
But the more people know about your efforts, the more likely they are to join you or support another cause that's important to them. So please, shout out, so others can jump on board.  

The SCBWI community has been rallying around a campaign to increase diversity in children's books. Find out more at:

SCBWI-MI member, Shutta Crum, gives back by giving a scholarship to the annual SCBWI winter conference in NY. The December 10th application deadline is fast approaching. Find out more here.

Since this is a blog about reading and writing for children, I'm shouting out for InsideOut Literary Arts Project in Detroit. IO's Mission and Vision:

"By immersing students in the joy and power of poetry and literary self-expression, InsideOut inspires them to think broadly, create bravely and share their voices with the wider world. Guided by professional writers and celebrated by publications and performances, youth learn that their stories and ideas matter and that their pens can launch them off the page into extraordinary lives."
Now it's your turn. Leave a comment below and shout out for a charity/non-profit organization. Local, national, international, relating to reading, writing, the arts, or any other need you feel passionate about, please share.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Fond Farewell and an Introduction

You may have noticed some new names under our Meet the Editors heading. Before I make the introductions, please join me in sending a huge thank you to Jodie Fletcher who co-edited the SCBWI-MI newsletter for two years and helped with the transition to this blog. 

Jodie is devoting more time to her freelance writing career and is in the midst of a big move downstate to the metro-Detroit area. I heard there's quite a bit of home renovating going on, too - she's digging into all kinds of new projects. I'll miss our monthly editorial phone calls/inspirational chats, but now she'll live close enough to meet up in person! 

Jodie and I found ways to amuse ourselves whenever inevitable newsletter frustrations arose. My favorite was sneaking photos of Jodie's Little Dog into the newsletter stories, because who can resist that cute sweet face?!

Follow Jodie on Twitter @jodellafletch to keep up with her furry friends, writing projects, and much more.

Moving forward, I'm thrilled to introduce two new members to The Mitten blog team: Nina Goebel and Patti Richards!

Nina Goebel is an illustrator and will coordinate our Featured Illustrator content. She has great ideas, and I can't wait to see how the blog design evolves in her artistic hands. Learn more about Nina and see her artwork at her website.

Patti Richards is a children's author and will coordinate our Hugs and Hurrahs and Meet a Member spotlights. Patti and I have cheered for each other through our publishing highs and lows over the years, and I'm looking forward to blogging with her. Learn more about Patti and her various writing projects at her website.

Nina and Patti will share more about themselves in the weeks ahead, and we'll be brainstorming ways to make this blog beneficial to as many of you as possible. As always, we welcome your contributions, and we want to hear your ideas. See the Submissions tab above for information about writing guest posts or email me at

Have a happy Thanksgiving, and check in with us the following day on Friday, Nov. 28th. We'll have a special post to gear up for #Giving Tuesday.

Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, November 14, 2014

THE BIRTH OF BLOBS by Amy Nielander

Back in May, I began the journey of redesigning my website. With the help of an incredible web designer, my task was almost complete, until I was asked, “Do I want a Blog?”

A blog. That means I need to... open my world up. Share thoughts and comments
with people I can’t even see, don’t even know, and may... not like my work. 
This was already tough to do - with an actual person.

Writing in an unedited kind of way, under a cyber-spotlight, felt out of my comfort zone. It was just not easy -  due mostly to a design background that earned me a highly critical eye, a music background that rewarded me with a highly critical ear, and a brain that doesn’t know any better but… to follow suit with general criticalness in everything else. This art for fine tuning serves my picture book drafts very well, but pains any off-the-cuff kind of writing that comes out of me (you’re reading the 8th version of this piece).  

How do I warm up to being a blogger? For a person who is wired to DO versus have to TALK about what I'm doing, I decided maybe I need to put a spin on the traditional blog. Get to know my audience, just as they are getting to know me. Then I can ease into the-sharing-thoughts-with-strangers platform better.

As word play often happens with us crafty book people, I started dallying around with the word, BLOG. BLOB BLOG struck a chord. Then, more questions. What IS that? What could a BLOB be?

Fast forward to some idea testing, my website launch, then making the final decision to use BLOBS as a tool. They would help me accomplish what my hopes as an author/illustrator were: 

Encourage and support creativity
Provide an activity families could enjoy together (a little like…reading?)
Set the stage for laughter    
And even go beyond what a picture book could do -
Build confidence in kids to problem solve on their feet

All of these wrapped up had the power to deliver a child or family, JOY.

BLOBS would be a playground for building and extending imaginations. Giving those far-fetched ideas, a place to live, for the simple fun of it. But, how? Tapping back into my memories of SCBWI conferences, the common request from editors and agents sprung to mind. Give me VOICE. Give me CHARACTER. 

There was my challenge. Turn a BLOB into a character.

So how does THE BLOB BLOG work? I create 4 random shapes on an activity sheet every Monday. Families/kids can download them and share their designs with me over the week (the first person to do so – will get posted!), or just check results on Friday. I post my own designs along with my kids.  As THE BLOB BLOG extends its audience, various artists/designers will be featured.

After getting excellent support and interest from a couple of our very own Michigan author/illustrators, Heidi Woodward Sheffield and Virginia Rinkel (plus family!), I received confirmation. BLOBS work - YES! We weren’t the only ones having fun. 

What have I learned so far?  

#1  BLOBS challenge me too! Turning nothing into something every week, and then sharing (even if I don’t LOVE what I did) is tough. The self-imposed posting schedule holds me accountable.  Sometimes I don’t even get to finishing them until late on Thursday nights (when I’d rather be bundled under covers) but have to deliver on my word. Not knowing if anyone is planning on checking in, I still push myself to stick to my creative duties.

#2  I have loosened up. Because of the tight turnaround and producing separate work at the same time, I can’t get hung up on details. The big picture has to reign. This is not about perfection, only ideas.

#3  BLOBS create connections. The room booms with laughter when my kids and I are designing characters together. We have a blast every Monday morning doing these after breakfast. It’s a routine we look forward to now. BLOBS have that MadLibs kind of effect. They are unexpected and silly.  They open doors to communicating with one another in a different way. After our sheets are finished, we share and talk about what our characters are, how we were inspired, where they came from and names. BLOBS are quick, but rich on return.

Here are a few of my favorites from us…

What are the future of BLOBS? Keep doing them and create occasional product! I gave it a try with HUNGRY HALLOWEEN BLOB cards for kids in October:

I opened an Etsy shop (lean - but filled with love) and have a Holiday line in the works. Here’s a rough glimpse of a deer inspired BLOB…

While story making is still first and foremost (THE LADYBUG RACE will be released 2015, PomegranateKids), BLOBS are a great exercise in character/story building and creativity. 

Check in at on Mondays and Fridays to test The BLOB BLOG out for yourself!  You can also find me on Facebook for other news and work.

Thanks so much for having me SCBWI-MICHIGAN!  I am honored to be part of The Mitten! Wishing everyone warm and wonderful holidays! Thanks for reading : ) 

Thanks for sharing your fun project with us, Amy! We hope your Blob Blog gets shared far and wide with children, parents, writers, artists, and teachers joining you in creating new Blob characters. (Try saying Blob Blog fast three times!)

Exciting changes are brewing here at The Mitten. You may have noticed some new names under the Meet the Editors section on the sidebar. I'll fill you in next Friday.

Have a great weekend,

Friday, November 7, 2014

Got Indie Bookstore?

The We Need Diverse Books campaign continues to build steam, and last month Lisa Rose introduced our blog readers to The Missing Voice project to promote diversity in children's literature. Now she's discovered a wonderful gem of a bookstore in her hometown of Farmington, Michigan. The owner hopes to connect with the kid-lit community and expand her children's section. Lisa gives us the scoop:

Ever since Salathiel Palland saw the movie The Neverending Story she wanted to own a bookstore. But then life happened, and Palland studied teaching, musical theater, worked for Detroit Energy and General Motors. Finally, in 2010, she made a New Year’s Resolution to live her childhood dream.  By 2012, she was one of only 200 independent African-American owned bookstores in the United States. By 2014, that number dwindled to just over 50.

Her bookstore is called Off the Beaten Path Books and lives up to its name. It specializes in Steampunk which Palland describes as “Victorian Sci-Fi.” It's an area of literature with very few African-American writers and readers. It’s like the hockey game of literature for people of color, but Palland doesn’t mind. “I always did what interested me. I liked sci-fi, Harry Potter, and all that nerdy stuff. Diversity is about having the freedom to do what you want without judgment or stereotypes. Why can’t a black woman own a Steampunk Bookstore?”

Palland explained how she had all the stigma of growing up as a black woman, but because of the way she spoke and her interests, she was told she was “not black enough.” Her community thought she was “too white.” However, she was also told by black men she was “too dark” to date. Palland explained how sometimes it is our own community that “confines people of color.” Palland explained, “We must stop our own racism before we can expect others to stop theirs.”

Off the Beaten Path Books is much more than a bookstore. It also has a little café counter, Steampunk costumes, and room in the back for gatherings with a stage. Palland hosts anything from 80’s dance parties, to Harry Potter Night, to a Steampunk band concert.  The intention is to use this space for people to connect, create, and explore.

Even though Palland has young children, she admits she has a lot to learn when it comes to children’s literature. However, she can’t wait to meet the kid-lit community and is eager to expand her children’s section. The space in the back is ideal for author events with children’s crafts. Also, unlike the large chain bookstores, the store is very cozy and self-contained. A parent feels his/her child is very safe in this store. So MI authors if you are interested in holding an event at her amazing store, please contact her.

Salathiel Palland
33314 Grand River Ave, Farmington, MI 48336
(248) 987-6055

Lisa Rose lives near Detroit, Michigan with her husband and daughter. She likes to swim, practice yoga, and eat ice cream, but not at the same time.

She has two e-books published with MeeGenius OH NO! THE EASTER BUNNY IS ALLERGIC TO EGGS! and THE TOOTH FAIRY BROKE HER WING!

In 2016, the picture books SHUMLIK PAINTS THE TOWN and THE HUNGRY LATKE MONSTER will be published by Kar-Ben Publishing.

You can learn more about her and her work by following Lisa’s blog and follow her on twitter @lisarosewrites.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

SCBWI-MI Fall Conference Wrap-up: Christy Ottaviano, Candace Fleming, and Eric Rohmann

The conference on Mackinac Island last month featured a stellar line-up of speakers. Yesterday, Charlie Barshaw gave us an overview from his perspective as conference co-chair. We continue today with a sampling of a few of the sessions. Thanks to Lisa Healy, Catherine Bieberich, and Diana Magnuson for sharing their experiences.


I was a shadow. Well, not really. I didn't cast a gray pool on the carpeting behind Christy Ottaviano but I did assist the editor of Christy Ottaviano Books at the fall conference. Imagine what it must be like to have your own imprint! Until then, I’ll commit her submission guidelines to memory and prepare to submit, grabbing the reins of my work as the title of her Saturday session so aptly suggested.

Christy Ottaviano
Ottaviano is looking for a well-written manuscript with a strong voice. “I look at things faster when they have a familiar hook,” she said. “Are you telling me your book is To Kill a Mockingbird meets Charlie & the Chocolate Factory?”

Janet Tashjian, author of My Life as a Book, worked with Ottaviano to produce the series that was a reflection of Tashjian’s son who struggled with attention and reading issues. He used to illustrate his vocabulary words as a visual learning tool, and channeled his talents into the My Life as a Book series. Ottaviano was drawn to the author’s fictional translation of a real world issue.

Elise Broach, another client of Ottaviano’s, is the creator of Masterpiece, a modern day version of The Littles, one of the editor’s childhood favorites. “This book, coming out as a movie in 2016, introduces James, a loner who befriends a beetle,” said Ottaviano, a fan of the arts. “His mother is a socialite and never has time for him. The boy and the beetle get involved in an art heist at the museum.”

This session was further reinforcement that learning more about the person you plan to submit to is a good idea before you send off your manuscript. Does the agent or editor have special interests that are evident in the type of books on his or her list? At the end of the day, I walked away excited to read a wealth of new titles.

Lisa Healy is a writer who has worn many hats, including those of news reporter, newspaper columnist, author, and vineyard owner.  She enjoys Michigan lake life with her husband and daughter, and takes every opportunity to visit her two college sons in Grand Rapids or spoil them with home cooking on their breaks.  She is currently volunteering on the SCBWI-MI advisory committee.  Her writing has been published in numerous local and regional newspapers, A Century of Voices, BLUE Magazine, and MANITOU, and she's photographed both local and national celebrities, including Alan Mulally and Betty White, for TIME Magazine's TIME for Kids. 

CANDACE FLEMING by Catherine Bieberich

Candace Fleming
Candace Fleming was not only brilliant and informative, she was easily one of the most charming presenters I’ve ever had the pleasure of shadowing. Although she knew how to kick back and have fun, she was very serious about history. She made it very clear that, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, accuracy is the most important element. Too often, authors will sacrifice accuracy for the sake of story. Candace stressed that any text dealing with history should be well researched and documented. As authors, we are the caretakers of our nation’s stories, as well as our nation’s children. Both fiction and nonfiction consist of telling a good tale, but there is no reason to fill our tales with fallacies. After all, truth is more often than not stranger than fiction.

Catherine Bieberich lives in Battle Creek, Michigan with her husband, Kent, and her mutt dog, Chloe. She teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grade at a local charter school during the fall and uses her summers to work on Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction novels.

Cathy also coordinated the SCBWI-MI Mentorship competition, and the winners and finalists were announced at the fall conference:

Thanks to everyone who entered the 2014-15 Novel Mentorship competition. It was very exciting to have our mentor, Edie Hemingway, on Mackinac Island with us. She traveled from Frederick, Maryland to enjoy the fudge and our wonderful company. She was glad to meet everyone, especially the contestants who were in attendance.
This year's winners were:
1st place (and a mentorship with Edie Hemingway): Wendy Sherrill "Playing Dead"
2nd place: Ann Finkelstein "The Wind Djin"
3nd place: Magdalena Roddy "Certain Exceptions"

ERIC ROHMANN by Diana Magnuson

Message: STORY is all that matters. Create your illustrations to form a sequence that makes sense all together. Finished art shows how your brain works during the creating process.

Eric Rohman
Eric’s steps to achieve STORY:

1.  He stands, using his whole body to work up big, very, very rough sketches on his ‘least precious materials’ creating up to forty 18” by 24” ‘thumbnails’.

2.  A SKETCHBOOK of drawings, notes, references and color sketches is produced for each book. These first two steps take 95% of his time. “95% of everything we do on a project is ‘crap’.”

3.  Next, a STORYBOARD is created.

4.  Lastly: a BOOK DUMMY to show the ‘page turns’ (to get the reader to want to turn each page).

 Diana Magnuson: 97 books, MFA, now working on her own books and very involved in environment art and writing. She was much relieved to hear about the 95% and the process.

SCBWI-MI website
For more information on upcoming conferences including webinars, go to the SCBWI-MI website. And if you've been dreaming about attending one of the SCBWI international conferences, see yesterday's post for information about Shutta's Scholarship to the 2015 winter conference in New York.

Come back next Friday to learn about an indie bookstore gem in suburban Detroit. Hope you're having a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz