Friday, December 4, 2015

The Value of Mentorships, Three Experiences

SCBWI-MI offers an annual yearlong mentorship program, which varies to include picture book manuscripts, novels, and illustration. In an effort to increase the number of children's books with diverse themes and/or characters, this year's mentorship competition focused on entries that included multicultural characters and/or topics. 

We caught up with a few of our recent mentorship winners to learn more about their experiences. Wendy Sherrill won the novel mentorship with Edie Hemingway in 2014-2015.
Dan Burns was the most recent mentorship winner for a multicultural project, 2015-2016, with mentor Patricia Hruby Powell. And Jeff Morrissey was the lucky winner of a bonus opportunity: a 16 week mentorship with illustrator E.B. Lewis.

Here's more from our mentees, in their own words:

Tell us about your story or illustration that won the mentorship competition.

Wendy: My middle grade novel, Playing Dead, is about Erin, a reclusive, 12-year-old whose favorite part of summer is avoiding everyone else, especially school bullies. When she starts spending time with a quirky new neighbor named Ginny, she meets her biggest intimidator yet, a young horse that desperately needs a rider. While friendships with Ginny and the horse grow, Erin discovers self-confidence, an invaluable back-to-school supply.

Dan: Set in 1970, Out of the Shadows is a story about Kyle, an eleven year old boy, who is befriended by William, the only African-American boy in his school. The two are drawn together through books, music, and the unstoppable passion with which William lives. Together they learn that friendship is a whole lot more important than the color of their skin.

What made you decide to enter the competition?

Wendy: I try to take advantage of all the great opportunities and resources that SCBWI-MI provides for members. I had just attended a whole novel writing workshop at Highlights with this manuscript and felt it was in good enough shape to submit. I was thrilled to get the news that I had been chosen!

Dan:  I was encouraged to enter the contest by members of my critique group. That encouragement, along with a strong desire to constantly improve my writing, motivated me to enter.

Jeff: While I did win a 16 week mentorship with EB Lewis, it wasn’t based upon my ability as an artist. Back in May, I attended my first SCBWI event, The Hook of the Book. The seminar was wonderful! But the visual mentor program was a prize, not an award. I happened to be the lucky one whose name was drawn.

Tell us about your mentorship experience. What did you learn or how did it help your career? What was challenging or surprising?

Wendy: Edie Hemingway has been wonderful to work with, providing very timely feedback on my bimonthly submissions and concrete suggestions of how to strengthen, expand and revise my manuscript. Her encouragement has been motivating and uplifting. The most challenging aspect has been devoting the time needed to do the work on a consistent basis.

Dan: I'm excited to work with Patricia Hurby Powell, a gifted writer. Under her mentorship, I hope to grow as a writer, to improve my story, and to share this experience with my fifth grade students.

Jeff: My last session with EB is coming up and I wish it didn’t have to end. To watch an idea evolve under the guidance of an award winning illustrator has been remarkable. EB’s sense of composition is so keen, he can immediately identify what’s missing or out of place. But it’s more than just balancing visual elements, there’s character and setting. EB’s most profound advice to me has been this, “Stop illustrating, start storytelling!”

Here's a work in progress that EB's been helping me with...

What's next for you?

Jeff: Start storytelling!

Wendy: I plan on submitting this novel to agents and editors.

Dan: I'll keep working on my writing, listening to my mentor's advice, and encouraging others to become the best writers they can be.

Thank you for sharing your experiences, and best of luck to each of you!

Coming up on the Mitten blog: 30 Days of Picture Book Ideas and Hugs and Hurrahs! Have you sent your good news to Patti Richards? Email her at by Monday, December 14th. We're looking forward to celebrating with you.

Have a great weekend!

Kristin Lenz


  1. Thanks to the mentees for this glimpse into their experiences and to the Mitten for sharing it with us!

  2. Love hearing how some of our members have benefited from the wonderful mentorship program. Good luck to you all as you go through your publishing journey.

  3. I was never entirely sure what a mentorship included. Now I know. Sounds like a great experience.