Monday, January 17, 2022

The Dream Had Intention

By Tara Michener

Around our globe, the world is looking at our incredible leader... Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I have been thinking very intentionally about Dr. King's work, his life, and his legacy as of late. I have been following his daughter, Bernice King, who leads the King Center and does amazing work on Twitter. Her efforts to uphold and preserve who her dad was and his vision is inspiring. One of the reoccurring themes that Bernice reminds often of in her tweets is that those who invoke King's name should do it respectfully. She is clear that he would not be pleased with watered-down perspectives of his message, his heart towards change and equity, and the fact that he was killed because of his work. When we talk to young people and use children's books to paint a picture of who Dr. King was, it is important not to take away from the fact that his legacy is still in need of protection but also the fact that we all can make a change in small or larger ways towards the footprint that was left for us by Dr. King. As creators, we can ask ourselves if we help with equity and inclusion in our own ways. Do we take opportunities to stand up for others? Do we look at how our work can leave a legacy for our readers? Do we think about how our words and images have an impact on readers who may not look like us and try to see things from their lens? We all have work to do and an incredible dreamer and leader set the stage for us to grow...let's do it together. This day is not just for a day off, a sale, or a vacation. It is for us to remember that a caring man died for freedom and that freedom has not yet been realized for all just yet. We have work to do. 

A New Year can be known for bringing forth new goals and challenges. As the E&I Chair, I am inspired to highlight books and authors that are allowing readers to both learn about cultures and people different than them but also to embrace the importance of representation and for each reader to have the opportunity to see themselves showcased in books as well. As leaders in kid lit we get to have a lasting impact on kids' impressions of themselves and others. I want to begin a new corner where we highlight and embrace what is on my bookshelf. I am calling this feature “On the Shelf.” If you want your book highlighted please let us know! Please be sure to look out for reviews and also for ideas that can allow you and your network to embrace and encourage the beauty of children’s books. The writers and illustrators creating bridges to empathy, understanding and equity are worthy of being acknowledged but they do not always get the author visits, the reviews or the positive feedback…I plan on using my 2022 to help to make that a goal.


Read Something Great!

Tara Michener is the author of six children's books that focus on self-esteem, diversity and anti-bullying. She is a TEDx speaker, therapist and owns her own private practice in Novi, MI. Tara has been recognized in publications such as Prevention Magazine, Essence Magazine, FREEP and more! She is the Committee Chair of E&I at SCBWI-MI. Her favorite days usually include spending time with her hubistrator, Jason, her son Cannon and her favorite snack Twizzlers and Diet Coke. You can follow her on Twitter @Taramichener.  

Friday, January 14, 2022

Critique Groups: The How and the Why


How to Find a Critique Group. And Why You Should Go to the Trouble to Do It.

by Charlie Barshaw

When I was asked by a friend how to find a critique group, I was stumped. I’d managed through good fortune to find several groups of writers who agreed to let me be a part of their group. But how to start from scratch?

Luckily, our chapter is populated with knowledgeable and helpful members, especially our Co-Regional Advisors Carrie Pearson and Jodi McKay. Carrie replied to my friend and me, and her answer, on how to find (or form) your own critique group, is just too good not to share.

Carrie writes:

Thanks so much for reaching out. We're happy you are part of SCBWI and SCBWI-Michigan and would love to help you find a critique group! At this time, we don't have a mechanism to directly connect people who want to form a critique group or enter into an established group. However, we do have some good suggestions for how you can accomplish this in the Michigan chapter:

1. Write a request to join a critique group (or start one) and post it on the MichKids listserv.  Be sure to say in what age category (picture book, chapter book, middle grade, young adult) you write and if you'd like to meet in person (when we can) or just want to meet online.  Both types of critique groups are an option. If in-person, ask for people to contact you directly to sort that out. You may need to post this a couple of times as newer members join MichKids and are also looking for critique groups. 

* If you aren't yet familiar with listservs, it's a way of grouping people who have a common goal. In our case, the MichKids Listserv connects all of the SCBWI-Michigan members who choose to join the listserv. When someone posts, that post is delivered to your email inbox. Click HERE for easy directions to join. It's always free and you can set it up so you get posts from MichKids as they come in, or once a day or even once a week so your inbox doesn't get too full for your liking. You'll find that MichKids is a welcoming and helpful place.

2. If you haven't already, get involved in your local Shop Talk. Our Shop Talks meet in person and now online. There are often critique opportunities here and/or people looking to form a group. Click HERE for Shop Talk information.

3. Post your request on our Facebook page. Click HERE for information about our Facebook group page and other social media feeds we host. 

4. Use the SCBWI Blueboard to search for a critique group. This is a perk of your membership and is a vast resource. Remember that you'll be connecting with people from all regions of SCBWI, not just Michigan, but that is great, too.

* If you don't get responses to your reach outs right away, remember to re-post after some time has passed because new members are always joining. Sometimes a critique group loses a member or wants to add a new member. Timing is everything!

5. Check with your local children's librarian. They are often asked about critique groups and may have a mechanism for people to connect. 

I hope this helps. Feel free to connect with any further questions or concerns. Watch for the monthly newsletters from SCBWI-Michigan that share information about upcoming events and helpful information. Keep creating and building your community. We are here and want to help you succeed!

Thanks, Carrie.

So now you know the HOW. But WHY

Friday, January 7, 2022

Interview with Kristen Uroda, BIPOC Scholarship Awardee and Featured Illustrator

In a series of quarterly interviews, we’ll introduce you to the four new members who were awarded the 2021 BIPOC scholarships. We begin with Kristen Uroda, an illustrator who harkens from Detroit, MI. Welcome to SCBWI-MI, Kristen!

Kristen Uroda's Winter 2022 Mitten Banner

How will the SCBWI membership be useful to you?


Even in the short time since I received the SCBWI membership, it’s been an incredible resource to learn about the children's book industry, different ways to level up my skills, and discover other illustrators in my own backyard. There’s such a wealth of information and opportunities to connect with the larger community that is rare to find if you’re doing this all on your own. I’ve learned so much already from the digital workshops, I wish I could have joined sooner!


Southern Poverty Law Center
2022 Calendar
We’d like to get to know you! Tell us about your past creative work in the area of children’s literature or related areas of interest or expertise.


I am a Michigan native, born in Detroit. I like to say that I’m a creator, innovator, and storyteller passionate about art and design that makes a difference and makes the world a more beautiful place. I love turning problems, stories, and abstract concepts into illustrations that inspire reflection, action, and social and civic change.


The Skillman Foundation Annual Report:
Celebrating 60 Years of Service (cover)

For the last decade, my sweet spot has been in editorial illustration, mainly for news sites and publications, but I originally went to art school (Massachusetts College of Art and Design) with the intention of focusing on children’s books, comics, and narrative illustration. While I do love the editorial world because I come across a lot of unique stories that I have the honor of visualizing, I’ve been waiting for the right time and opportunity to jump into the children's book industry. I recently got my chance with my first picture book deal that should be completed this coming year. 


What in your childhood or youth piqued your interest in writing or illustrating? What were some of the major influences that led you to this road?


Short Wave Celebrates Black Excellence
In Scienc
The first time I can remember really being in awe of what hands could create with a simple crayon and paper happened one day when I was practicing drawing stars. I was young, maybe 5, and at the time, the best I could do was drag the crayon across the page to make messy lines-criss-crossing stars. And I clearly remember at one point, asking my mom if she could draw stars with me, so she sits down, grabs a crayon and then draws this perfect, no crisscrossed lined star flawlessly and that absolutely blew my mind.


Chemistry textbooks still lack gender and racial representation
At that point, I was forever hooked to the pursuit of understanding the connection between the mind, the mind's eye, and mark making. Every time I came across someone who could draw well, I thought, “I want to do this too.” I think that desire also helped open my eyes to the artists that were around me, mainly in my picture books, which I had a ton of. My favorites were Eric Carle, Don Freeman, Ezra Jack Keates, Dr. Seuss, Marcus Pfister, Ludwig Bemelmans, Tomie de Paola, Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, E. H. Shepard, the incredible duo Leo and Diane Dillon, and many more. A lot of these illustrators inspired me to read, write, and draw stories.


If You Feel Thankful, Write It Down.
It's Good For Your Health
Even today, I’m still a pretty big nerd for picture books, comics, and animated films. I can’t go into a bookstore or library without stopping by the children’s section and being in awe at the number of amazing artists and storytellers out there. And it’s great seeing such a diversity of artists these days too. Throughout childhood and even college, it was rare to see female illustrators and illustrators of color in the spotlight. It’s only within the last decade that I’ve seen illustrators like myself becoming more visible.


Please share anything about your current projects or what’s ahead in your creative work? We’d love to hear about it!


Stop being so mean to yourself.
Here are 5 tips to help you break the cycle
I’m not sure how much I can share as the official press release hasn’t come out yet, but I am currently working on illustrating my first picture book that should be coming out in the next year or so. It’s based on a poem written by a Black artist and activist. It was a product of the grief she felt after Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in 2014 but it’s a really joyful and playful vision of community-building and healing. 


As it’s my first picture book, there’s been a lot of learnings gained, but I’ve had so much fun and the team I’m working with have been great! I’m excited for it to enter into the world and excited for whatever stories I get to illustrate next. 


Thank you, Kristen, for sharing your story and illustrations with our SCBWI-MI community. We look forward to seeing more of your creative work!


 --Isabel Estrada O’Hagin, 

SCBWI-MI Outreach Coordinator


Friday, December 31, 2021

Resolutions Anyone? by Ann Finkelstein

Hi novelists! Once again, SCBWI-MI is here to help you with your New Year’s Resolutions.

Resolution #1: Finish the draft of your novel.

If that seems daunting, check out these posts by Kristin Wolden Nitz on the Institute of Children’s Literature blog:

How to write a Novel in Only 15 minutes a Day

The Energy of Groups

Wooing the Muse

Resolution #2: Write a synopsis.

No one said this was easy. Consider directing your synopsis to answer these questions:

What does the main character want?

Why can’t the main character achieve this goal?

How does the main character change in the attempt?

Resolution #3: Apply for one of the novel mentorships.

And now, the fun part! SCBWI-MI is offering mentorships with Patrick Flores-Scott and Kelly J. Baptist.

The submission window for both mentorships opens April 25, 2022 and closes on May 16, or when we receive 30 applications, whichever comes first.

All entrants receive constructive comments from three superstar judges.

Everything you need to know can be found on the mentorship page of the SCBWI-MI website.


Still have questions? Email Ann Finkelstein, SCBWI-MI mentorship coordinator.

Ann Finkelstein is a former scientist who discovered that writing novels is more fun than wrangling test tubes. She coordinates the SCBWI-MI mentorship program.

Friday, December 17, 2021

7 Things to Include on Your Author Website by Lauren Ranalli

As an aspiring or self-published author, having your own website is incredibly important. But there’s a big difference between having a site that simply exists to “check a box” and having an author website that is engaging, intentional, up-to-date, and designed to connect with readers.

Looking to create or improve your author website? Here are some must-add features. Need some real-life examples? I’ve included links to my own website so you can see how I’ve put these tips into action.

7 Things to Include on Your Author Website

1.  About the Author- this may be your reader’s first introduction to you and your work. So, take a moment to tell them your story! It’s great to include details about what inspired your books, why you chose to become an author, or link to additional features they can find on your site.

2.  Book Reviews- Do you happen to have any book reviews that live on Amazon and nowhere else? Yep, me too. But don’t forget that your website is one of the primary places you should post your reviews! I like to go in and swap out my reviews every 6 months or so to keep the site feeling fresh.

3. Free Download or Giveaway- having a freebie is a great incentive for people to visit your author website. This could be anything from free coloring or activity pages, discount codes, discussion guides, or other content that is relevant and useful to your readers. One option is to provide a direct link to a free download (check out this example), but you can also create “gated content” where your readers provide you with their email address in order to receive the freebie (like this free social media training). Having gated content on your site is a great way to build your newsletter list! Which leads me to item #4…

4.  Newsletter Sign-Up- you want to have a newsletter. Don’t think you need a newsletter? Let me repeat, you want to have a newsletter. Email marketing is one of the most effective ways that you can reach your readers! So be sure your site has some feature that allows you to capture email addresses. Not sure what you would include in your newsletter? Check out this blog post on 6 Emails Authors Should Send to Readers

5.  Media Links- do you have recent interviews, guest blog posts, or links to media appearances? Be sure to include them on your site! Don’t have any of these yet? Use this as an opportunity to highlight photos from any author readings, book fairs, or other events.

6.  Social Media Links- social media is a great way to build a loyal reader following. So be sure to make it easy for people to find your online!

7.  Contact Me- every author website should have an option for readers, book buyers, media coordinators, or others to get in touch with you. But don’t just have a standard form, give people ideas on WHY they should contact you! Check out this example from my site.

Personally, I love to use my author website as a place to showcase my work. Which means I also make it a priority to keep my site updated, relevant, and useful for my readers. And you can do the same! Start off with these 7 tips and see how it will make a difference for you.


More About Lauren

Lauren Ranalli is an award-winning self-published children’s book author, the Director of Marketing and Communications for an international non-profit, and the mom of two high-spirited children. Visit her on Instagram at @lauren.ranalli_author or at to receive 2 FREE resources, Finding Social Media Success, and Daily Marketing Strategies for Authors



Friday, December 10, 2021

Hugs and Hurrahs

We’ve almost reached the end of another year. It’s been a very difficult one for many people in many ways, which is why I’m so glad to be able to celebrate some good news from some of our members:

Rhonda Gowler Greene had two picture books released this fall. This Magical Musical Night (illustrated by James Rey Sanchez; Little Bee Books) was released on September 7 and selected as a 2021 Best Picture Book by School Library Journal, received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, and rights were sold for a French-Canadian edition.

Her first touch-and-feel book, Christmas in the Stable (illustrated by Virginia Allyn Scholastic/Cartwheel) was published on September 21, 2021.


Wow, Rhonda! That’s fantastic!


Kristin Bartley Lenz's poem "Soccer Rules" was published in the anthology, Rhyme & Rhythm: Poems for Student Athletes


Congratulations, Kristin!


Lisa Wheeler has a new book coming out on February 22, 2022,  Dino-Easter illustrated by Barry Gott (Lerner/Carolrhoda). This is the 4th book in the Dino-Holiday series. This series features the same dinosaurs kids know and love from the Dino-Sport series.


That’s great, Lisa!


Katherine Higgs-Coulthard’s YA book, Junkyard Dogs, was picked up by Jonah Heller at Peachtree Teen. Publication is planned for spring 2023.


How wonderful, Kat!


Neal Levin has had several poems published in magazines recently. “Amazing Pete’s Amazing Feet” and “A Pledge” were published over the summer and “Cinderella a Cappella,” “Nervous Circus,” and “Fireworks” were published in November in The School Magazine, a children’s magazine in Australia. “Night Lights” was published in the August issue of Highlights Hello and “Pumpkins” was in the October 2021 issue of Highlights High Five. “Bee Yourself,” which he wrote and illustrated, was published in the July/August issue of Fun For Kidz.  His feature “10 Smart Facts About Owls” was published in Fun for Kidz. This was his 50th double-spread color cartoon in the “10 Facts” series, featuring a different theme in each issue.

Good for you, Neal!


Tammy Layman Hall sold her first kid lit story,  “Outside with Hippo” to Highlights High Five Magazine.


How exciting, Tammy!


Monica A. Harris has sold eight informational passages to Data Recognition Corp. and their work with South Carolina and Alabama assessment. Topics include: biographies, art therapy, organism relationships, dietary patterns, and the evolution of fashionable items in society.  


Yay, Monica!


Joe Kimble’s book, Mr. Mouthful Learns His Lesson, got an honorable mention from the podcast Science Direction, a spinoff of NPR’s Science Friday (listen at 9:20 of the November 2 podcast). 


Excellent, Joe!


Amy Leskowski signed with her agent, Keely Boeving at WordServe Literary, in November.


That’s fabulous, Amy!


On Giving Tuesday, Paulette Sharkey took part in an Amazon Live event featuring fifteen members of AlzAuthors, a community of 300+ authors who write about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. Paulette talked about the experiences that inspired her picture book, A Doll for Grandma (Beaming Books, 2020).


What important work, Paulette!


That’s our last Hugs and Hurrahs post of 2021. Congratulations to all of you! Have a good rest of the year! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to those of you celebrating! Happy New Year, everyone! We are looking for someone else to take over the Hugs and Hurrahs posts in 2022. It’s been my honor and pleasure to hear everyone’s good news and celebrate with you. Now that I’ve taken on more editing responsibilities for The Mitten, it would be great to have someone else join the team to do the Hugs and Hurrahs posts. If you are interested in this role or you have news for the next Hugs and Hurrahs, please email me at


Sunday, December 5, 2021

Featured Illustrator Brianne Farley

Can you tell us about the process of designing the new banner for the SCBWI-MI website? What was your inspiration? Can you share any early sketches?

Sure! Rebecca and Katie reached out to me about creating a new logo and banner. They were so nice to work with, and gave me a ton of creative leeway. I wanted to draw something to represent the entire state of Michigan and all the creative members of SCBWI MI, which felt pretty intimidating. Sometimes, when I have SO MANY options, my mind goes totally blank. 
So I started listing things associated with Michigan--the state bird, state flower, state reptile (the painted turtle!), Motown, cars, the Great Lakes--and things I love about Michigan. Living in Traverse City, I am always inspired by the water and the dunes. I tried a bunch of different directions for this logo, but ultimately decided to draw what I know and love.

You were also the featured illustrator in The Mitten in 2017. What’s changed for you between then and now? (Feel free to include anything, professionally or personally, including the books you’ve had published.)
Yes, thank you! That was a fun project too. Since then, a couple books I've illustrated have come out, I've done some murals, and I got married! Getting married came with a very nice guy, a move across town, and a cute dog. I made a mural for my favorite bar and food
truck spot, Little Fleet, a lovely chocolate shop called Grocer's Daughter, and the new climbing gym, Elev8. The books I've illustrated since then include Charlotte the Scientist is Squished and Charlotte the Scientist Finds a Cure, both by Camille Andros; Building Books by Megan Wagner Lloyd; Dozens of Donuts by Carrie Finison; and No Buddy Like a Book by Allan Wolf. Right now I'm working on writing and illustrating a book. I haven't sent the manuscript and dummy off to my agent yet, but I have my fingers crossed it works out.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? I'm not sure about anyone else, but the pandemic was pretty rough on me creatively. This book I'm working on has been VERY slow going, but it's nearly ready to send out. I think some people go through stressful times and are inspired by it (see: the blues and heartbreak ballads), and others are impeded. If you felt laid low or slowed down in your creative work, you're not alone!

Website and social media links? My website is Twitter is @briannefarley and Instagram is @briannehfarley (my middle initial is "H").