Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A Picture Book Dummy Day Camp by Isabel O'Hagin

“Dummy Day Camp!” How would I explain these words to anyone who’d read my sign?

Let me try. . .

It all began with Troy Cummings’ presentation at the SCBWI-Indiana 2017 Summer Retreat where he walked us through the revisions he undertook with his new picture book, CAN I BE YOUR DOG? (to be published by Random House: March 2018). His website states it is a “heart-tugging dog adoption story told through a series of letters dropped in the neighbor’s mailboxes—a stray dog searches for a place to call home.”

In his session, Troy listed three sets of tools we could use to create our books: words, pictures, and designs. He described how he begins with a draft followed by a sketch, and then he creates a dummy—a rough version of the graphic design. Other considerations dealt with the pacing of the story such as silent spreads, typography, the physical size/shape/feel of the book, and page turns to highlight dramatic events.

Troy encouraged us to try making a dummy book, to find the page turns in our story, and not to worry about color or the level of our artistic skills. Also, we should think about the voice of the book itself and what that’ll look like. In other words—think about every part of the book from cover to cover.

Inspired by Troy’s presentation, I recently hosted a Dummy Day Camp at my home for our SCBWI-MI picture book critique group, the Dreamcatchers, and four other SCBWI-MI friends. Prior to the event I contacted Troy who gladly shared more information about the Dummy Camp he had organized. Right away I realized we had to adjust our plans—Troy’s Dummy Camp lasted for several days; ours was planned for one day.

Nick Adkins, Ashley Adkins, Beth McBride,
Paulette Sharkey, & Julie Richardson
To help the Dummy Day Camp participants make the most of our time together, I sent information ahead of time via email: Troy’s notes, a picture book layout, links to relevant websites (e.g., Tara Lazar’s homepage), and tips on which supplies to bring along. Unlike summer camp, we each had homework!

Our Dummy Day Camp started with introductions followed by a presentation by author/illustrator Nick Adkins who brought examples of his own sketches, dummy books, self-published books, and his picture book favorites. We continued our conversations over lunch, and afterwards we each found an area to work individually for the next two hours. At the end of our five-hour session, each author presented their finished products with feedback from the group.

Jennifer Burd, winner of
the SCBWI-MI 2017 
Picture Book
Mentorship Program
The following are comments from participants:

It was great to be at this Dummy Camp and talk with one another about our stories. As writers we often sit at home alone, and we miss the camaraderie to be had with other writers.

A delightful day of creativity. It was a much needed boost to spend time with real people pursuing the same goal, and such fun to hear first-hand what others are working on. I enjoyed every minute of it.

As for me, I learned valuable lessons by designing thumbnail sketches on a chart that I then used to create my dummy book. Misplaced or missing page turns and pacing issues became obvious—much more so than on my Word document. Extraneous words popped out at me. But it wasn’t all glaring mistakes—I had fun drawing cats galore! More importantly, I spent a wonderful day with my fellow writers!

Isabel B. O’Hagin dreams of becoming a published author and making children laugh and play! A former music professor and dance/drama teacher, she now enjoys writing stories that draw from her childhood experiences in the borderlands, La Frontera, of Arizona.

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: Promoting backlist titles, researching and writing a middle grade historical novel, and more about our upcoming mentorship programs and the 4 Out The Door Illustrator Postcard Challenge. But first, Charlie Barshaw will shine the spotlight on one of our SCBWI-MI members for our quarterly Writer Spotlight feature. Who will it be? Come back next Friday to see!

Follow the fun on our brand new SCBWI-MI Instagram page! Tag your postcards #4outthedoor. We can't wait to share them.

Friday, January 19, 2018

We're All In This Together by Shutta Crum

“Remember, we all stumble, every one of us. That's why it's a comfort to go hand in hand.”
Emily Kimbrough, author and broadcaster (1899-1989)

Before I was published I heard stories about how writers hoarded their best writing advice, or how opportunities were snatched up jealously, and the names of contacts never shared. That may be so in some writing circles, but that hasn’t been my experience in the world of children’s authors and illustrators. We tend to give our all at presentations, in our critique groups, and on our blogs, etc. I have joyfully learned at the feet of others, filled notebooks with writing advice, loved connecting folks with each other, and supporting my fellow writers. Best of all, I have met great folks and made many friends. Wherever I travel there are friends—SCBWI members in all corners of the world! We are not in this endeavor alone.

That said, sometimes I still feel there is more we can do to help each other. Below is a short list of easy things to lend a hand to our fellow writer or illustrator. What you do just might be the break a colleague needs.

  • Never just say “no.” If you’re invited to speak or present somewhere, and can’t do it, say, “I can’t, but I am sending you a list of writers (or illustrators) who might be able to. Then keep a list of folks you know who do great presentations with their contact info and webpage URLs. It only takes a few moments to copy and paste and send it with your reply.
  • When you’re at a book festival or conference, thank the organizers and let them know that you have a list of other writers, or illustrators, who might like to participate next year. And then hand them your list, or follow-up with an email. (A lot of organizers have no idea how to contact writers and illustrators. BTW: I always include links to our speaker’s bureau.)
  • Tell your local booksellers about writers in the area who have books coming out soon.
    Shutta Crum and Jonathan Rosan sharing a book launch
  • Buddy up! Do your own signings and book launches with another author. You can double the audience this way, and cross-introduce family and friends to each other’s books. Booksellers love it. Even go for three authors—make it a party! Don’t wait for the bookseller to suggest this.
  • Have an elevator pitch for the manuscripts of friends. I’ve heard of one writer who used her precious ten minutes with an editor at a conference to pitch all the manuscripts in her critique group! What a heart. The editor asked to see three manuscripts from the group.
  • Open the door for someone else. Support SCBWI scholarships. Even if you can only donate a little. Make it an annual giving, and help members who may not be able to attend otherwise.
  • Help each other by critiquing when you can. I know time is precious, and we can’t all do this, or are uncomfortable doing this, but lend a critical ear and eye if possible. This also means attending your critique group sessions even when you don’t have any of your own writing to share. Good groups thrive on giving—you should not be there just to get feedback on your own work. 
  • Use your social media to advertise the books, awards, and successes of others—not just your own. Share FB posts and retweet often! Spread the good word beyond your own circle of family and friends. How hard is it to push that “share” button?
  • And don’t hoard information about writing/illustrating opportunities, online classes, agents, editors, pitch parties, spur-of-the-moment markets, freebies, etc. Sometimes these kinds of opportunities come and go too quickly to make it into the Bulletin or chapter newsletters. No miserliness allowed! Push that “share” button on Facebook (It’s easy!), and use group emails for like-minded friends.
  • Finally, of course, volunteer as you are able. We all know that life happens, and what available time we have gets co-opted quickly. But every little bit helps. (And remember to thank our volunteers whenever you see them. Thanks, Leslie, Carrie and the whole AdCom board! We couldn’t do what we do without you.)

Shutta Crum is a long-time MI-SCBWI member. Her newest picture book, MOUSELING’S WORDS (Clarion) is out as of Dec. 5, 2017. She says it’s an auto-mouse-ography; her life as a word loving mouse!

*  Did you know Shutta writes novels as well as picture books, and she was one of SCBWI-MI's novel mentors years ago? Her mentee Tracy Bilen's YA novel WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND was later published by Simon Pulse. This year, our MI chapter is offering TWO novel mentorships. Learn more here.

And here's another SCBWI-MI writing competition! Act fast, the deadline is January 22nd! Learn more here.

*  Calling all illustrators! Click here to learn more about our 4 Out the Door Illustrator Challenge.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Hugs and Hurrahs!

Happy New Year! We’re shaking things up this month at the Mitten and starting the year off with your happy publishing news. You heard it right- it’s time for Hugs and Hurrahs! You were busy writers during the last three months of 2017, and we salute you all for your hard work and commitment to craft. Drum roll please. . .  

Hats off to Maria Dismondy! Her bestseller, Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun is now available in Spanish and will be released in Chinese later this year. Her book Chocolate Milk, Por Favor is being published in Korean and is now traveling the country as a children’s musical. Way to go, Maria!

Congrats to Kathryn Madeline Allen! Her book, A Kiss Means I Love You (Albert Whitman & Co.) won GOLD in the Moonbeam Awards board book category. Launched in 2007, the Moonbeam Children's Book Awards bring increased recognition to exemplary children’s books and their creators, and to celebrate children’s books and life-long reading. That’s amazing, Kathryn!

Three cheers goes to Rebecca Grabill! Her first book, HALLOWEEN GOOD NIGHT, was released this past July from Atheneum/Simon and Schuster. Congratulations, Rebecca! 

Standing ovation goes to Supriya Kelkar! Supriya was recently interviewed by the Washington Post about her middle grade historical fiction, AHIMSA. So proud of you, Supriya! Here’s a link to the interview: 

Neal Levin has been at it again! His poem, “Saturn’s Rings,” was published in the October 2017 issue of Spider Magazine, and his poem “Smells Like Chicken Noodle,” is in the January issue of Spider. Neal also recently published his 25th “10 facts” feature for Fun for Kids Magazine. This is a regular two-page color cartoon he creates for each issue of the magazine, providing ten fun illustrated facts relating to the issue's theme. You are awesome, Neal!

Big congrats to Lindsay Moore! Her narrative nonfiction book, SEA BEAR, was recently purchased in a two-book deal by Greenwillow Books for a winter 2019 release. That’s amazing, Lindsay!

Three cheers for Debbie Taylor! At the Nov 5 Ann Arbor Library Fifth Avenue Press Book Release Reception, it was announced that the next author they will be publishing is Debbie Taylor. Her book will be coming out this spring. Congratulations, Debbie!

Hats off to Heather Shumaker! Her first middle-grade adventure story called The Griffins of Castle Cary, was recently purchased by Simon and Schuster for a March 2019 release. This is Heather’s first book for children and introduces the three Griffin children, their ginormous, tongue-drooling Newfoundland dog, and a bit of a ghost problem. Being billed by the S&S editor as a charming book with “Penderwick-y style and Neil Gaiman themes.” So happy for you, Heather!

And here’s a standing ovation for Lisa Wheeler! Her newest picture book, PEOPLE DON’T BITE PEOPLE (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon Schuster) debuts on April 3. The book is illustrated by the award-winning Molly Idle! So proud of you, Lisa!  

Congratulations to Sondra Soderborg! Sondra just signed with her “dream agent,” Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Erin will be taking Sondra’s first MG novel to market next year. So happy for you Sondra!

Three cheers for Ruth McNally Barshaw! Coming in June 2018: NO BASE LIKE HOME, written by ESPN broadcaster and two-time Olympic medalist Jessica Mendoza and her sister, Alana Mendoza Dusan, in which an eleven-year-old tries to live up to her legendary older sister's softball skills on her travel ball team. Stacy Whitman at Tu Books is the fantastic editor on this project. Way to go, Ruth!

Happy dancing for Claudia Whisitt! Broken Lines, the third book in the Kids Like You Series garnered a silver medal in the 2017 Moonbeam Awards in the pre-teen historical/cultural category. So happy for you, Claudia!

Congratulations goes to Lorelle Otis! Three of her mindfulness painting/poems have just been published in the online poetry publication, Willawaw Journal. Her work appears on the cover, back cover, and page 4. The poems are from her A Few of the Ten Thousand Things, project she has been working on for four years. That’s awesome, Lorelle!

Hats off to Joseph Kimble! Joseph, a law professor who has written three law books, recently published his first children’s book, Mr. Mouthful Learns His Lesson. Way to go, Joseph!

Three cheers for Jacquie Sewell! Jacquie’s book, Mighty Mac, The Bridge That Michigan Built (Peninsulam Publishing) is now available on Amazon (with a sneak peak!) or through the publisher:
So happy for you, Jacquie!

A special congratulations to Nancy Shaw, Kelly Dipuchio, Lisa Wheeler and Patricia Polacco! These amazing authors are part of the Michigan Album Quilt of Authors and Illustrators unveiled last fall at The Clarkston Independence District Library. The quilt was started in 2011, with participants signing fabric squares to go into the design. Other authors/artists for young people are Gary Schmidt, Gloria Whelan, Janie Bynum, Margaret Hillert, Devin Scillian, the late Nancy Willard, and Robbyn & Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen. Other libraries will be displaying the quilt, too. Standing ovation to these amazing authors and what they give to the children’s literature community!

And finally, my story, “The Christmas Candles,” appeared in the December issue of Highlights Magazine, and the joy I felt was pretty much overwhelming!

I hope this issue of Hugs and Hurrahs has you celebrating with your friends and finding new inspiration to get those drafts polished and submitted! You can do it! And when you do, we’ll be right here to celebrate you!

Happy Writing!

THIS JUST IN: Author Jack Cheng has won the SCBWI Goldne Kite Award for Middle-Grade Fiction! Please join us in congratulating Jack Cheng, the author of SEE YOU IN THE  COSMOS, on this special honor. The Golden Kites are the only children’s literary award judged by a jury of peers. The awards will be presented at a gala during the SCBWI New York Winter Conference on Friday, February 2 at 7 PM at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Featured guest Chelsea Clinton, humanitarian advocate and children’s author, will make a special presentation at the event.
Big Michigan congratulations, Jack!
Carrie Pearson and Leslie Helakoski

Send all your happy publishing news to Patti Richards, Our next Hugs and Hurrahs deadline is March 28, 2018. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Featured Illustrator John Bleau


This questionnaire goes back to a popular parlor game in the early 1900s. Marcel Proust filled it out twice. Some of our questions were altered from the original to gain more insight into the hearts and minds of our illustrators. We hope you enjoy this way of getting to know everybody.

1. Your present state of mind?
Thoughtful, with a smidge of anxiousness, a hint of panic and one cup of caffeinated confusion.

2. What do you do best?
Listen and translate thought to image, quickly.

3. Where would you like to live?
Before kids, I lived in Cologne Germany and would love to take them back one day.

4. Your favorite color?
Yellow, of course! Who doesn’t like yellow?

5. Three of your own illustrations:


6. Your music?
Disney soundtracks with the kids and Ed Sheeran in the studio.

7. Your biggest achievement?
Making time for my children despite a two-hour commute to work, otherwise, teaching design and working with students.

8. Your biggest mistake?
Spending too much time in meetings with people who say “No.”

9. Your favorite children's book when you were a child?
P.D. Eastman’s Go, Dog. Go! and Snow!

10. Your main character trait?
Seeing both sides of a situation.

11. What do you appreciate most in a friend?

12. What mistakes are you most willing to forgive?
First time mistakes, not ones that seem to repeat.

13. Your favorite children's book heroes?
The ones with a secret identity, Peter Parker, Dick Grayson, Don Diego de la Vega, and John Clayton III.

14. What moves you forward?
The anticipation of making something better than yesterday.

15. What holds you back?
Self-doubt, indecision, and looking over my shoulder when I need to focus on the road.

16. Your dream of happiness?
Being the “Art Dad” at the STEM meeting.

17. The painter/illustrators you admire most?
The people making a living through their art while raising kids like Jake Parker, Will Terrell, Jason Brubaker …

18. What super power would you like to have?
I would like to time travel in my own TARDIS.

19. Your motto?
“I never drive faster than I can see. Besides that, it’s all in the reflexes.” Jack Burton, Big Trouble in Little China

20. Your social media?  
Web site: