Friday, June 2, 2017

Michigan KidLit Advocate: Debbie Gonzales, Creating and Utilizing Book Guides

Our Michigan KidLit Advocate series continues with our third interview: introducing Debbie Gonzales! Debbie wears many hats, and in addition to writing her own books, she works with authors and publishers to create project-specific, multi-use book guides. Read on to learn more about how Debbie's guides facilitate a connection with literature for readers of all ages.

How did you get started in the Guide creating business?

About six years ago, while living in Austin, a member of my critique group was told by a librarian that her YA, which was being considered for an award, needed a Reader’s Guide. I told her that I could make that for her and align it with the state academic standards, too. And, guess what? She won! While the Reader’s Guide did not ultimately bring about the prize, its content served to demonstrate the depth the story offered while being educationally sound. Librarians and educators really, really like that. Since then I’ve been honored to work with lots of award-winners in all genres!

What should an author or illustrator look for in a Guide?

It depends on how they intend to use it. Do they want a marketing tool, much like a Press Release, that can be easily reproduced and distributed? Do they want to offer a content-rich, in-depth resource that can be easily assimilated into educational curriculum? Or, do they want to market themselves by developing school visit/public speaking follow-up activities founded on the thematic nature of their stories? Whatever the format, Guides must offer opportunities for the reader to think critically by developing a deeper understanding of the story and, oftentimes, of themselves.

You’ve got close to 200 Guides posted on your website and every single one is different!  How do you manage to come up with so many original ideas?

Using my years and years of classroom experience as reference, I consider the content of each book as if it were a project playground. I love to create age-appropriate, genre-specific activities that explore aspects of each unique story by allowing students opportunities to demonstrate understanding through project-based games, crafts, experiments, writing and research projects.

I make the type of Guides that I desired to use as an educator. No gimmicks or dry, didactic blather. Nope. Instead, as a teacher, I sought out substantial and creative content that would motivate non-readers and inspire the literary elite. If I couldn’t find what I was looking for, like any good teacher worth her salt, I’d just make it myself. I bring that same mindset to the Guide-crafting projects I create today.

Tell us about some of your favorite projects.

That’s hard to choose a favorite because I get to work on such a wide array of fascinating projects. I especially enjoy working on topics that I knew nothing about beforehand. I love science and biographies, picture books that resonate on an emotional level, YA’s and middle grade novels that make me cry. I like mapmaking, art projects, science experiments, and historical time-lines. Sorry, I can’t pick just one project. I love them all.

Discuss the value of a School Visit Guide. How are these types of Guides helpful to authors and illustrators?

School Visit Guides serve as a thematic overview of an author or illustrator’s presentation(s), include follow up activities that teachers can easily use in the classroom, and are aligned with academic standards. These guides are beneficial for both the newbie who is trying to break into the school visit market as well as those who are multi-published. School Visit Guides add credibility to a presenter’s program in that they prove to educators that time with you is time well spent.

Are you open to new projects? If so, how can people get in contact with you?

Yes!!! I love new projects!!! Just fill out the Guide Request Form found on my website to initiate the process. I will follow up with you just as soon as I am able!

Debbie Gonzales is a career educator, curriculum consultant, former school administrator and adjunct professor, and once served as a SCBWI RA for the Austin Chapter. Deb currently devotes her time to writing middle grade novels, crafting teacher guides and various other freelance projects. She's the author of six “transitional” readers for New Zealand publisher, Giltedge, and the forthcoming picture book Playing Like a Girl from Charlesbridge. A transplanted Texan, Debbie now calls beautiful Ann Arbor, Michigan home where she lives with her husband John and energetic pup, Missy. Deb earned her MFA in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. To learn more about Deb and her projects, access her website at

Debbie also serves as our SCBWI-MI webmistress and all-around devoted volunteer. Stop by our chapter website to stay on top of the latest offerings and happenings around the state.

Did you miss our previous MI KidLit Advocate posts? Read our interviews with Ed Spicer and Colby Sharp. Do you have a MI KidLit Advocate to recommend? We'd love to feature your interview. Please email Kristin Lenz.

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: Behind the scenes with our co-RA's, crafting voice, and more MI KidLit Advocates. Plus, another round of Hugs and Hurrahs! We want to trumpet your success. Do you have an upcoming book release? Did you sign with an agent? Did you publish a children's story or poem in a magazine? Did you win a contest? We want to know! Please send your good news to Patti Richards by June 27th to be included.

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz


  1. Hooray for Debbie Gonzales! Aside from being a superbly gracious human being, she's a talented writer and a prolific teacher guide creator. And she's married to a guy who's as friendly and warm as the state of Texas.

  2. Thanks for the great information. Deb is a gem, and her classroom guides are treasures.

  3. Deb provides such a valuable service. If I was writing a book that needed a guide like this, I'd definitely want to use her services instead of trying to create something on my own.

  4. This is fantastic! And Debbie is a very special person we are lucky to have right here in Michigan.