Friday, December 16, 2016

Hugs and Hurrahs and Happy Holidays from The Mitten!

As the end of the year quickly approaches, our thoughts turn to celebrations. Whether you wish your friends and neighbors a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa or other holiday greeting, December is all about gathering together with those we love and being thankful for the year’s blessings. And in 2016, we SCBWI Mitten-folk had lots to celebrate! So, before I tell you all our recent happy publishing news, here are the 2016 good news tallies I’ve collected from all of you talented Michkids throughout the year:

  • YA Contracts/Releases- 5

  • Magazine Pieces, Short Stories, Poems, Cartoons, Testing Pieces, etc.- 39

  • Speaking Engagements/Blog Tours-  11

  • Agent Signings- 3

  • Picture Book Contracts/Releases- 51

  • Middle Grade Contracts- 2

  • Awards/Degree Completion- 32

  • Illustration Contracts/Releases- 3

Those are some pretty impressive numbers kidlit friends, and that doesn’t begin to count all the manuscripts submitted, classes taken and conferences attended. You all deserve a massive pat on the back and extra piece of cake for all of your hard work this year!

And now, let’s end this year with a bang. . . here’s all of your good news from October through December!

Congratulations to Barbara Rebbeck whose novel, NOLA GALS, won a bronze medal in the Moonbeam Children's Book Awards in the Young Adult historical/cultural category. The awards ceremony took place in Traverse City on Nov.12 during the annual Children's Book Festival. This award makes five competitions where NOLA GALS has won recognition.

So proud of you Barbara!

Hats off to Leslie Helakoski! Her picture book, WOOBUR, was recently featured on Princeton University’s creative literacy blog with a fun activity for kids. Here’s the direct link:

You’re awesome Leslie!

Neal Levin’s poem "Owl-oween" was published in the October 2016 issue of Highlights For Children, and his poem "Won't You Be My Frankenstein?" was published in the October 2016 issue of Spider. Neal’s poem "Moon Mice" has been published in the poetry anthology One Minute Till Bedtime, edited by former US Children's Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt (Little Brown).

Way to go Neal!

Congratulations to Jennifer Burd for winning Michigan SCBWI’s year-long mentorship with Deborah Diesen. Jennifer's manuscript is called WHEN YOU SIT IN ONE PLACE.

The runners- up were: Sue Agauas with HOW TO WASH YOUR ELEPHANT
And Jayne Economos with NAN'S MAGIC CARPET. 

Congratulations to all of you!

Hats off to Nick Adkins and the MSUWriting Center/Red Cedar Writing Project. Nick's day job is working for the MSU Writing Center and the Red Cedar Writing Project and with the help of his colleagues they received a grant from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing! This grant will create scholarships for several low income children to attend Writing Camp next summer.

Way to go Nick!

Three cheers for Rhonda Gowler Green who celebrated the launch of her latest picture book, PUSH, DIG, SCOOP, A CONSTRUCTION COUNTING RHYME, at the Huntington Woods Library on November 5th. The Book Beat in Oak Park was on hand to sponsor Rhonda’s launch. Rhonda is also happy to announce that Push! Dig! Scoop! is now in a Finnish edition. Weston Woods Studios has also made a video of her book, The Very First Thanksgiving Day.

Congratulations Rhonda!

Teresa Crumpton is happy to announce that, as of November 1, she has completed her editing mentorship with Inspirare LLC. And her new manuscript-editing company, Author Spark, Inc. has officially opened its cyber-doors.

So excited for you Teresa! 

Husband and wife author-illustrator team, Darrin and Karen Brege are happy to announce the release of two new books- their first picture book, MONSTERS FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL, and the third installment in their GHOST BOARD POSSE series, GHOST BOARD POSSE #3, ICE CAVERN CADAVERS. You can learn more about them at

So excited for you Darrin and Karen!

Monica Harris has been very busy since our last Hugs and Hurrahs! She sold one testing piece to DRC Nebraska and three testing pieces to DRC Wisconsin. 
Monica's 16 Korean leveled reader books are also out. HOP AND BOP and I LOVE MY FAMILY are just two of her 16 titles! You can see the rest of the lovely cover images on Monica's website.  

Happy dancing for you Monica!

Jacquie Sewell is happy to share that she recently signed a contract with Peninsulam Publishing for her picture book about the Mackinac Bridge, tentatively titled MIGHTY MAC, THE BRIDGE THAT MICHIGAN BUILT. This project has been over ten years in the works from idea to contract signing, and if all goes as planned the book should be out by the end of next year. So very happy for you Jacquie!

In October, Lori McElrath-Eslick was a speaker for the TEDxMuskegon.
Lori titled the talk, ART: Make It Your 'Favorite Inch' of the Day! Before and after two major surgeries, Lori talked about her focus on the joy of painting a day, and making it, in her words,"my favorite inch of my day, and wish to encourage all creatives to use your creative gifts, even if it is as small as one inch...each day. For joy. For your heart.”

The TEDxTalk is available at this link:

So proud of you Lori!

My fellow authors Ruth McNally Barshaw, Charlie Barshaw, Lisa Rose and I are happy to announce (now that we can) the launch of the new Amazon App, AMAZON RAPIDS. AMAZON RAPIDS features short stories for kids ages 7-12 written completely in text-message format. These illustrated “conversations” between characters hope to encourage young readers by presenting stories in a comfortable and familiar format. Our current stories are (with more to come):  

Throw Me A Bone
Unfair-y Tale
Zombie's Plot
Not-So-Bad Guys

If Wishes Were Unicorns
Clothes Call

Venus Flytrap vs. Bee
The Best Christmas Tree Ever
Worm vs. Early Bird

Captain Pete and Tweet

It’s been a challenging and fun project that’s for sure, and the final product looks amazing!

Buffy Silverman is happy to announce that a recent monarch butterfly obsession has become a photo essay for Ask Magazine. The photo-essay called, “Magical Monarchs,” chronicled the lives of monarchs that Buffy raised in 2015, and appeared in the magazine’s October issue. Buffy is also excited that her poems, "Life of a Leaf" and "Five Little Bandits" also appeared in the October, 2016 issues of Cricket and Ladybug. 

So happy for you Buffy!

Erin Brown Conroy is excited that her new book, Basic Code Sound SignS, comes out this month (December 2016). Basic Code Sound Signs is a photo book with hand signs to help young children learn the sounds and letters of the alphabet or the "Basic Code" using a special arrangement of the alphabet and hand positions that help children understand how reading English works. 

Three cheers Erin!

Kristin Lenz, Lisa Wheeler, Brynne Barnes, Debbie Diesen, Rhonda Gowler Greene, Patricia Polacco, and Janice Broyles all had books on the MI bestseller top 10 list for November 2016. Read the full story here:

Huge congratulations to all of you!

And last but certainly not least, we’d like to offer a special “Thank You” to the Orion Township Library for organizing an Author Fair with 26 Michigan authors and illustrators! SCBWI-MI members gathered for a group photo. Pictured from left to right are, Kathryn Allen, Amy Nielander, Kristin Lenz, Kris Remenar, Matt Faulkner, Ruth and Charlie Barshaw, Heather Meloche, Alison DeCamp, and Jean Alicia Elster.

What an awesome group!

Well, that’s it for this year ladies and gentlemen. I know I’ve said it many times before, but I’m so proud to be part of this incredibly talented group. Thank you so much for sharing your fabulous and inspiring news!   

And now from all of us at The Mitten- may your holidays be happy, your celebrations cheery and may 2017 bring more wonderful, life-affirming and light-giving stories to life through each of us for the most important people of all- the children.

Blessings friends,

Patti, Kristin and Nina

Friday, December 9, 2016

SCBWI 2016 Magazine Merit Award Winner: an Interview with Neal Levin by Charlie Barshaw

Neal Levin is a freelance children's writer and illustrator in Michigan. As a writer he specializes in poetry and short stories (mostly for magazines and anthologies), and as an illustrator he specializes in cartooning. He has had over 250 stories, poems, articles, puzzles, and cartoons published in a variety of places, ranging from Highlights For Children to The Saturday Evening Post.

Question in rhyme (limerick-style):
There once was a poet named Neal
His limericks were the real deal
He’s published the most
In The Sat. Evening Post
Now tell me, Neal, how does it feel?

Thanks for asking, Charlie. It's a lot of fun! For those who don't know, The Saturday Evening Post has a limerick contest in every issue (six times a year) where you have to write a limerick to go along with a certain picture. I think I won about 15 times so far, although only four were official "winners" and the rest were runners-up. Although this is not actually a children's publication, it's still good writing practice. Anyone who wants to try it can find the contest online:

And, a follow up: do you have a special affinity for limericks?

Not necessarily. I love writing children's poems, but I don't write a lot of limericks, apart from that contest.

Okay, on to normal questions:
Who were your favorite poets when you were young?

Shel Silverstein, of course! But to be honest, I didn't read a lot of poetry as a kid. I did write poems starting at a young age, however.

Tell us more about the SCBWI awards. You won a Merit Plaque for poetry for your poem Cavemanners, which appeared in Spider. You also won (the only name to appear twice in the announcement, congrats!) an Honor Certificate for Messy Messages a poem appearing in Highlights.

SCBWI gives out an annual Merit Award and Honor Award in five different categories for magazine work published during the previous year. The categories are fiction, nonfiction, illustration, poetry, and YA. They also give out a few Letters of Merit. In 2015, I received a Letter of Merit for poetry (and coincidentally, the poem that won the Merit Award that year was one I had illustrated, but didn’t write). Then in 2016, I received the two awards you mentioned above. Any SCBWI member who publishes original magazine work is eligible, and again you can find information online:

Aside from originating from the mind of Neal Levin, how are your cartoons and your poetry related?

That's a good question, because they often aren't. Most of the poems I've had published were illustrated by other people, as assigned by the editors. I always enjoy seeing how other illustrators interpret my writing -- sometimes in ways I didn't anticipate. I also enjoy seeing how different illustrators interpret the same poem when it's republished in more than one place. There have even been times that I've been assigned to illustrate poems other people wrote. I hope to get around to illustrating more of my own poetry one day.

In a Debbie Diesen interview, you mentioned doing cartooning workshops after school for kids. What do kids gain when they learn to cartoon?

The cartooning workshops I teach are usually one-day classes, so they serve as an introduction to drawing and hopefully inspire kids to practice more on their own, which is how I learned to draw. Since many of the students have never drawn cartoons before, I think the biggest thing kids gain is the discovery that cartooning is actually not that difficult to learn, as well as the confidence that they can create finished drawings on their own by the time they leave the class.

You’ve been published in a number of poetry anthologies, especially ones edited by Bruce Lansky. Can you tell us about your working relationship with Bruce?

I have to give credit to Bruce Lansky (and his former poetry editor Angela) for starting my professional poetry career, as they were the first ones to publish my poems and encourage me to keep writing them. This was about 10-15 years ago, when Bruce's company Meadowbrook Press was putting out a number of anthologies and eventually included around 18 of my poems in eight different collections. Some of those poems were also resold through Meadowbrook Press, and through their agreement I retain copyright and also get royalties from resales. Since then I've had poems published in anthologies from other companies, including Disney/Hyperion, Little Brown, Scholastic, Pomelo Books, and Chicken Soup For the Soul.

Have you considered publishing an anthology of your poetry? Possibly interspersed with your cartoons?

I would love to do that! However, selling a poetry collection is a lot harder than selling individual poems.

Tell us about being published in Mad Magazine For Kids. Was it a lifetime dream, or just another magazine sale?

Mad Kids was a short-lived magazine that only put out a few issues around 2007-2008. It was a younger kids' version of Mad Magazine with the same style of humor. This was one of those instances where other people illustrated my work. I had three poems published in three different issues and then was assigned a special feature: a whole set of funny poems about food to satirize the movie Ratatouille. It's unfortunate that the magazine folded, although the regular Mad is alive and well.

You were published in the anthology, Poems to Learn by Heart, apparently edited by Caroline Kennedy. The Caroline Kennedy? Did you get to meet her or talk to her?

You're right, that book was edited by President Kennedy's daughter, although I did not get to meet her. Apparently she had discovered my poem Baby Ate a Microchip and eventually decided to include it in her book.

Last, your website mentions that you retreat Up North all summer to work on a daily newspaper at Camp Walden. Can you tell us more?

It's true! I won't say how many years I've been going there -- okay, it's been 32 -- and yes, I put out a daily "newspaper" for the campers and staff. It's no more than a two-sided sheet of paper run off on a copy machine, but it gives me the chance to write funny stuff, draw pictures, and be creative all summer long. And, of course, the campers and staff help contribute. If you put together all those newspapers over the years, it would amount to over 3,000 pages of material! The majority of it, however, would only make sense to you if you went to that camp.

Read some of Neal's poems here:
Creepy Pizza
Swimming Lessons
Help the World

I began this interview with a question in rhyme, so here's a silly doodle ending:
There once was a group, smart and spry
Who'd create poems and stuff on the fly.
They're writers and drawers
Not ooh-ers and aw-ers
And they're called ess see bee douba you eye.

Charlie Barshaw loves to write posts for The Mitten, and interview people who really do something, like Neal Levin. This gives him an excuse for still struggling to finish the stubborn first draft of his YA novel. Thanks to editor Teresa Crumpton, his SCBWI-LA critique group, and The World's Greatest Critique Group, he's still plinking away at it.

Thanks for all of your hard work, Charlie! Pssst, Charlie has some book news. He has several stories published by Amazon's new children's reading app. Learn more at or

Have you seen Neal Levin's kidlit inspired cartoons for adults? He has his own special page, Kiddie Litter, right here on the Mitten blog.

We'd also like to extend congrats to SCBWI-MI member Lori McElrath Eslick. She won a 2016 SCBWI Magazine Merit Award for Illustration. Kudos, Lori!

***Important Deadline***
Dec. 15th is the last day to apply for the SCBWI Annual Winter Conference Shutta Crum Scholarship. 
(Michigan members only.)
This scholarship will fund one Michigan SCBWI member's tuition for attendance at the Annual SCBWI Winter Conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York, NY. Dates: February 10-12, 2017. (Info: .) Early bird registration starts Oct. 24th. (Full early-bird registration fee only: $430.) Note: MI-SCBWI will fund transportation for the recipient up to $400.

And we have another busy weekend full of SCBWI-MI Merry Mitten Holiday events!

Saturday, December 10th

Book Beat
Lincoln Shopping Center  26010 Greenfield Rd, Oak Park, MI 48237 (248) 968-1190
Saturday, December 10th, 1PM-3PM
Jean Alicia Elster

715 Washington Ave, Grand Haven, MI 49417 (616) 846-3520
Saturday, December 10 12PM-2PM
Lori Eslick
Amy Nielander
Kim Childress

Kazoo Books
2413 Parkview Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49008  (269) 385-2665
Saturday, December 10 11-2pm
Ruth McNally Barshaw
Leslie Helakoski
Deb Pilutti
Kristen Remenar
Matt Faulkner
Heather Smith Meloche
Buffy Silverman

Schuler Books & Music: Grand Rapids 
2660 28th Street SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512 616.942.2561
Saturday, Dec. 10 2PM-4PM
Erica Chapman
Janet Heller
PJ Lyons

Sunday, December 11th

Book Beat
Lincoln Shopping Center  26010 Greenfield Rd, Oak Park, MI 48237 (248) 968-1190
Sunday, December 11th 1PM-3PM
Patrick Flores-Scott

Schuler Books & Music: Okemos
Meridian Mall 1982 Grand River Ave Okemos, MI 48864 517.349.8840
Sunday, December 11 2PM-4PM
Erica Chapman
Peggy House
Kristin Lenz

Coming up next on the Mitten blog: The final Hugs and Hurrahs of 2016! We want to trumpet your success. Send your writing, illustrating, and book related good news to Patti Richards by Tuesday, December 13th to be included.

Kristin Lenz

Friday, December 2, 2016

On Being a PAL by Dawne Webber

I joined SCBWI in 2014, and it didn’t take long for my writer-self to realize I’d finally found a home and I couldn’t wait to get involved. I joined the MichKids listserv and began attending Shop Talks. When the conversation at one of the meetings revolved around querying, I offered to write a series of articles on SCBWI Michigan's blog, The Mitten. I’d spent a lot of time in the query trenches and hoped to make the process a little less intimidating.

I continued attending the Farmington Shop Talks and at the last meeting before summer break, we all bemoaned the fact we wouldn’t see each other until the fall. Being the social animal that I am, I offered to plan a night out so we could meet over the summer. I contacted Carrie Pearson, one of Michigan’s Co-Regional Advisors, wondering if it was possible to share the invitation to our night out with all the MichKid members. She thought it was a great idea, and the night out was quite a success.

I’d told Carrie that I wanted to get more involved in our chapter and a few months later, I got a call from her and Leslie Helakoski, SCBWI-MI’s other Co-Regional Advisor (they are lovely ladies).

They were looking for someone to communicate with Michigan’s 110 PAL members and share information regarding events, educational and marketing opportunities, as well as organizing PAL events and activities that would benefit them. They ended by asking if I would like to become the Michigan chapter’s first PAL Coordinator. That sounded right up my alley (excuse the cliché) and I enthusiastically accepted the position.

Before I continue, let me give a refresher on SCBWI’s levels of membership which are:
  • Associate members - Open to unpublished writers and illustrators of children’s literature or media, and those with a general enthusiasm for the field. Writers or illustrators who have been published in markets other than children's literature (but not in children's literature), as well as journalists, bloggers, educators, teachers and librarians.
  • Full members - Open to those whose books, articles, poems, stories, illustrations, photographs, films, television or electronic media for children have been published or produced.
  • PAL members - This PAL doesn’t mean friend, although you may have a friend who is a PAL. PAL stands for Published and Listed. In a nutshell, the books of Published and Listed authors/illustrators must be published by traditional publishers that do not charge money to authors or illustrators. For detailed guidelines on PAL membership, click here. For a list of current PAL publishers, click here.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Updating your membership status to PAL:
Once you have been published by an accepted publisher, in order for your status to be PAL, you must go to the SCBWI website, upload the book, article, etc. that qualifies you as a PAL member and click on the publisher in the drop down menu. Your status will then automatically be changed to PAL.

SCBWI’s mission is to support the creation and availability of quality children’s books around the world. That’s a huge undertaking, and, although they offer many types of support to members in general, each type of membership also has specific needs. PAL members are interested in more intensive and advanced level of instruction. For this reason, on a regular basis Michigan SCBWI AdvisoryCommittee (AdCom) plans programming at conferences or a retreat that’s geared toward more experienced SCBWI members, such as the writer/illustrator retreat in Boyne this past October.

Because PALs have books to sell, they also have a vested interest in the marketing, networking, and outreach aspect of the publishing world. As the PAL coordinator, I share resources and advice with PAL members, and relay information about bookfairs, conferences, and events they might want to participate in.

On a national level, PAL members are supported by The Reading List Program which includes books of all genres from PAL authors and illustrators. It’s available on the national website as a resource for educators, librarians, and parents. Also at the national level is the Book Blast Program. It’s a fantastic way to boost a newly published book's outreach. Members design a one-of-a-kind, online page that gives visitors an inside look at them and their book.

This year, SCBWI-MI has been very busy planning the upcoming MERRY MITTEN HOLIDAY. Twenty-eight Michigan SCBWI authors and illustrators are teaming up with six Michigan bookstores for one-of-a-kind signing events that will take place throughout December. We’re all very excited about the program and hope it will become a yearly holiday staple around the state. For more information, dates, times and locations, visit the Merry Mitten website and Like/Share our Facebook page.

Thanks in advance for supporting our PAL members at Merry Mitten Holiday bookstores and beyond!

Dawne Webber has been the PAL coordinator for the SCBWI-MI chapter since 2015. Feel free to email her with PAL related questions. 

Coming up on the Mitten blog: A Michigan author/illustrator wins the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award - twice! And it's time for our final Hugs and Hurrahs of the year. Send your writing/illustrating/book news to Patti Richards by December 12th to be included. You inspire us - let us trumpet your success!

Kristin Lenz