Friday, August 31, 2018

Book Birthday Blog

Welcome to SCBWI-MI's NEW Book Birthday Blog! 
Where we celebrate new books by Michigan's children's book authors and illustrators

BIG congratulations to Lisa Wheeler on the newest book in her Dino series,

Q#1: How did you come up with the idea for your book?

LW: Actually, Dino-Christmas is the 11th book in my Dino series. My publisher decided that we should explore how these sports -loving dinosaurs celebrate the Holidays. We decided that Christmas would be the perfect kick-off to this 4 book series within a series.

Q#2: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

LW: It's always tricky to make the rhyme and meter work with difficult dinosaur names. Also, I wanted to honor some old traditions but make them dino-friendly. That was fun and complicated at the same time.

Q#3: In the voice of your main character, tell us what you hope readers will experience or learn while reading your book. (I love your character voices!!)

LW: There are a cast of characters in these books, so not really a "main character".  But if the troublesome Ptero Twins were to introduce the book, it might sound like this:

Ptero One: "Hey you, knuckleheads!"
Ptero Two: "Don't believe everything you see."
Ptero One: "Or read!"
Ptero Two: "We didn't really cause problems at the ice skating park. . .
Ptero One: ". . .or while decorating Main Street. . ."
Ptero Two: ". . .and definitely NOT at the Christmas Parade!"
Ptero One: "If you don't believe us, ask Santa Claws."
Ptero Two: "Yeah, he was totally there!"

Q#4: Who is your author idol and how have they influenced your work?

LW: I can't pick just one! I was brought up on Dr. Seuss, who I loved for rhyme and word play.  But I also loved the work of Ezra jack Keats, who created a cast of neighborhood kids that looked like the kids I grew up with. I also idolized Mr. Rogers, because he was the calm in the storm when I needed him.

So I guess they all influenced me to write mostly rhyming books that incorporate lots of wordplay, that are all inclusive (even when the characters are anthropomorphic) and speak to the child. At least, that is what I strive for.

Q#5: What are your marketing plans for your book? Where can we find it?

LW: What are marketing plans? LOL. Seriously, I am the worst. I am thrilled that you asked me to do this because I never would have thought of it on my own. I am doing a book signing in conjunction with SCBWI-MI at Barnes and Noble in Brighton on August 25th. Also, I will be signing at the September 8th Thomson-Shore Event in Dexter.
Oh, and I will be doing a children's program and signing books at the Read in the Park event at Beverly Park in Beverly Hills, MI on September 22.

You can order any of my books from your local independent book store. All my books are also for sale on and any online book seller.
My website is

A little bit about the book: Have yourself a merry Dino-Christmas! Dinos big and small deck the halls and enjoy snowball fights, hot cocoa, a parade, and more. Share in the dinosaurs' delight as they eagerly await the arrival of everyone's favorite . . . Santa Claws!

A little bit about the author: Lisa Wheeler has written many books for children, including The Pet Project, illustrated by Zachariah OHora; Spinster Goose, illustrated by Sophie Blackall; and People Don’t Bite People, illustrated by Molly Idle. She lives with her family in Addison, Michigan. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Ten Year Short Story by Julie Angeli

I recently had a serialized short story published in Cricket Magazine. A short story shouldn’t take long to write. Right? Mine took ten years.

It started out late one night while watching a bad movie that featured competitive free divers – individuals who dive ridiculously deep without a scuba tank, using a weighted sled to take them down and a buoyancy bag that shoots them to the surface before they run out of air – assuming it works.

I’m a scuba diver, snorkeler, mermaid enthusiast, and general ocean geek, so this was something I had to check out. While gathering information, I discovered an equally impressive group, the Ama divers of Japan. They are women who dive for shellfish, reaching depths of up to 60 feet on a single breath of air. No sleds for these ladies, they don’t do this for the thrill. They do it for survival.

I thought of them as “Real Mermaids” and decided to write a super short non-fiction piece for young readers. I became obsessed and pored through anything I could find on the internet, magazine articles, a book written in 1962 (the only book I could find about the Ama), a photo essay and pictures of ancient woodblock prints.

My short article morphed into a MG novel, then a YA novel, then back to MG. I started out with a mermaid/underwater theme, but found myself wondering about Japanese culture.

At one point I determined that I shouldn’t be writing this. I don’t have a lick of Japanese blood running through my veins. Surely, someone who is Japanese would do a better job, so I put it away. For years.

No one wrote about it.

I picked it up again.

By this point, both of my kids had decided to study Japanese in school. During conferences with their teachers I brought up the Ama. The teachers would nod their heads, but had little input. This culture keeps to themselves, and little is known about them even in Japan.

I kept plugging away. It seemed too long for a short story, but too short for a novel – a story without a home. I was still nervous about writing something based on a culture that wasn’t mine. But still, I couldn’t let it go.

A writer friend of mine who is Japanese helped me with the details about Japan and encouraged me to keep going. My fate was sealed when I was given the opportunity to travel to Japan with my daughter’s Japanese class. I simply had to finish that story.

The length of my story was still an issue, so I cut my too-short MG novel down to a 6,000 word serialized short story – a painful process, but I had to admit, the shorter version was better. I went to Japan with my daughter’s class and paid attention to how people interacted, how they dressed, what the houses and gardens looked like, and the color of the ocean. Finally, I verified a few last details with our Japanese tour guide.

When I got home, I put the finishing touches on the story, held my breath and submitted. More than ten years after my late-night movie inspiration, part one of THE PEARL INSIDE was published in the May/June 2018 issue of Cricket Magazine, with parts two and three to follow. I’ve learned a great deal over the last several years that never would have made it into that original story. This is the story that was meant to be published, even if it did take ten years. Sometimes even when you give up, the story doesn’t.

Julie Angeli’s first career was as a packaging engineer for IBM where she spent a lot of time dropping printers and copiers to see if they would break. When there was nothing left to break, she moved on to children’s writing. Her short stories have appeared in SPIDER and CRICKET magazines. She has also co-authored two picture books for local Michigan clients. She lives in Bloomfield Township with one husband, two kids, and three cats. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Bringing a Hidden Figure to Life for Children by Sonya Bernard-Hollins

It was the find you dream about. Boxes of photographs, diaries, tickets to historic events, and letters! When I discovered Merze Tate through the archives at Western Michigan University, I was hooked. My discovery of her being the first African American graduate of Oxford University was just the tip of the iceberg.

Born on a farm in Blanchard, Michigan in 1906, she lived a life without boundaries. She was an inventor, an award-winning writer of international history, world traveler, speaker of five languages, millionaire philanthropist…and (no spoiler alert).

What do you do with all that information? And how do you make it relevant to children? Through photographs!

After years of research to write a biography of Merze Tate, those who attended my lectures in libraries across the state wanted to take something home with them. They wanted something to inspire their children and grandchildren..and themselves. Merze and her life in the 20th century was one of phenomenal accomplishments achieved far beyond what the legendary trio (Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Rosa Parks) could have hoped for.

She met with dignitaries around the world and even worked for the State Department. Federal Bureau of Investigations Director J. Edgar Hoover investigated her to learn more about this woman who achieved so much in a time when Jim Crow’s wings cast a dark shadow on the potential of so many African Americans.

The book, Small Beginnings: A Photographic Journey Through the Life of Merze Tate, presents her story in prose and ends with a poem Tate wrote on her way to Oxford University in 1932. Original images from Tate’s own collection bring to life a story told more than 20 years after her death, through the lens of her own camera.

As I continued to work toward the adult biography, my desire for a children’s book seemed necessary. Illustrators (and I) grew frustrated in trying to narrow down such a complex life in 12 spreads or less. I had a traveling exhibition of Tate’s photographs curated through a grant from Grand Valley State University and viewers were captivated by the places she traveled and the people she met. They also found it astounding, that, through it all, she was a history professor at Howard University.

When I learned she never married or had children, I felt a desire to bring her legacy to life in another way. Her scrapbooks showed a Travel Club she founded in 1928 as a high school history professor at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, Ind. That black and white photograph of teenagers dressed in their Sunday best and headed to Washington D.C., struck a cord. In 2008, I started a similar club for girls who have traveled the world; working their way to all the places Tate once ventured decades earlier.

As authors, it is our job to inspire the world through our stories. While fiction has its place, I have discovered other hidden figures in our local archives. These hidden figures have contributed to their communities and beyond; never having received recognition. Now is the time!

Sonya Bernard-Hollins graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in English with an emphasis in Journalism. She has worked as a reporter for various newspapers and magazines and has received recognition for her work by Michigan Press Association and others. Her husband, Sean, uses his talents as a graphic designer to co-produce children’s books on hidden figures in Michigan history through the imprint, Community Voices.

Learn more:
Facebook: Merze Tate Explorers
Twitter: @merzetate
Instagram: merzetate
YouTube: Merze Tate Explorers Channel

Sonya can be reached at:
Books available on Amazon.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Welcome to SCBWI-MI's NEW Book Birthday Blog! 
Where we celebrate new books by Michigan's children's book authors and illustrators

BIG congratulations to Josef Bastian on his newest book, 

Q#1: How did you come up with the idea for your book?

I saw that there was an opportunity to bring folklore back into modern storytelling.

Words have power. Children understand that almost instinctively the first time that they’re insulted by a sibling or on the playground. But something they might not understand quite as well is that stories do too, even (or perhaps especially) the fictional ones. The idea that stories and folktales are powerful inspired me to cofound Folkteller Publishing and to write this series.

Part of my mission is to preserve the craft of storytelling by sharing hidden folktales and stories from around the world. I coin the term for these hidden regional/culture-specific stories: “cryptofolk.” 

Regional folklore can get lost through time. But these folk tales tell a lot about us as humans and who we are in different regions of the world. In Excerpts from an Unknown Guidebook, and in all of my work, I try to resurrect many regional myths and legends from around the globe.” I believe that we have much to learn from one another’s stories. By embracing storytelling, children, with their eternal optimism, can be especially receptive to the lessons therein. 

Q#2: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

There was a lot of research involved. Also, since this is part of series, it was VERY hard to keep continuity throughout the book and the series.

Another difficult task was writing a creation myth that would encompass the entire world of the Folktellers in the first book. That was a real challenge!

Q#3: In the voice of your main character, tell us what you hope readers will experience or learn while reading your book.

Here’s the thing. If you read this book, you may not believe it, but it’s all true. I’m just a regular kid who never did a single extraordinary thing in my life. Then, one day, my whole world turned upside down and none of it was my fault!

If you like a lot of adventure, danger and dark, creepy stuff, you’ll love this book. Trust me, I lived it!

Q#4: Who is your author idol and how have they influenced your work?

My favorite author is John Bellairs. He is a Michigan native and has such a wonderful, magical style of writing. Bellairs has the innate ability to deal with very scary, intense subject matter without any sex or gore. He is just a great storyteller that creates characters that kids can relate to and root for time and again.

I also love how original his subject matter is. Bellairs creates a magical world of fantasy in ordinary places and I really love that and try to emulate in my stories.

 Q#5: What are your marketing plans for your book? Where can we find it?

We have a full-blown marketing campaign, including social media, video and pre-read opportunities on NetGalley and Goodreads.

We’ve partnered with Smith Publicity to get the word out too.

Book is available on Amazon, Seattle Book Company, and all major retailers.

A little bit about the book: 
Like a wheel within the wheel
Spiraling forever
Through the world we see and feel.
There’s a tale within the fable
Like a gear within the gear
Marking time forever
Until the secret is revealed . . .
There’s a story in the story
In every age, across time and space, there have been Folktellers. These are the select few who have been chosen to collect and share the stories that must be told.
Aaron is an average midwestern teen – or so he thinks. When his grandfather disappears under strange circumstances, Aaron’s ordinary existence changes forever. He will soon discover a mysterious world where stories are powerful and dangerous, where deadly enemies and dark forces lurk just out of sight.
Accompanied by his friend Jake and an odd girl from another dimension, Aaron must save his grandfather from the gathering darkness, and the shadowy creatures that thrive within.
In time, Aaron will learn that whoever holds the story, wields the power, and that the choices he makes will change the destiny of the entire universe.

A little bit about the author:  
Josef Bastian is the Young Voices Foundation Award-winning children’s book author of the Nain Rouge Trilogy, and co-founder of Folkteller Publishing. His new middle grade fantasy book series, Excerpts from an Unknown Guidebook, launches in August 2018 with Book I: Phases of the MoonBastian currently lives in Metro Detroit, Michigan.
For more information, visit and connect with Josef Bastian on Twitter @NainRougeProj, Facebook at, and Instagram @folktellerstories. 

Phases of the Moon will be available through all major retailers on August 15, 2018.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Am I Really a March is Reading Month Author? by Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw

You’ve only been on this writing journey for a little over a year.
You’re still tweaking your middle grade fiction book that has morphed into a nonfiction picture book.
You’re unpublished.
And speaking in front of a crowd is way out of your comfort zone.

But the principal at the school you’ve just been transferred to tells you there’s no money in the budget to hire an author to speak during March is Reading Month and asks, “Will you be the author for our assembly?”

You surreptitiously gulp.

You scream “no” in your head knowing this will be a ton of work and your teacher plate is filled beyond capacity.

You start your yoga breathing.
You smile and say,
“Of course.”

And then you panic!

You call the reading consultant at the school you got transferred from for advice.
She suggests you do the assembly there first.
Everyone knows you.
It’ll be good practice.

Then she says,
“Don’t tell anyone. We’ll say a surprise famous author is coming!’

“Famous author— the kids will be so disappointed when they see it’s me!”

“They’ll love it; trust me.”

You reluctantly say yes and agree to be introduced as the “Surprise, Well Known Author”.
Like that’s any better.

That night while you’re supposed to be sleeping, inspiration strikes.
You hobble downstairs to your laptop.
And title your presentation “Am I Really an Author?”

You work feverishly on your PowerPoint and gather all your props.
You take the most recent revision of your WIP and illustrate it with photos and add it to your presentation.

You don’t care anymore that your teacher plate is overflowing.
Somewhere along the way this has become fun!

You arrive at your old school hands trembling.
As a special ed teacher, you’re used to working with small groups of kids.
250 kids and all those adult teacher faces—ACK!

You walk into the multipurpose room where you participated in so many assemblies—as an audience member.
You set up.

Three of your former students are going to introduce you.
They’re in on the “big secret.”

Before the classes file in, you hide.
Remember, you’re the “Surprise, Well Known Author”.

You hear your name introduced.
Then massive cheering.
Your fears diminish.

You enter the room, arms pumping in the air like Rocky!

You stumble here and there.
But overall, your presentation goes smoothly.

Students are raising their hands to share.
They laugh at all the right spots.
You’ve avoided looking at any adults in the room the entire time.

You read your manuscript.
The students are mesmerized by your story.
And then, the applause.

You had a blast and you can’t wait to do it again at your current school!

A few days later, you get emails from two other schools.
They heard about your presentation.
They want to PAY you to speak at their March is Reading Month assemblies.

YES, you really are a March is Reading Month Author!

Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw is a nonfiction picture book author and elementary special education teacher who is passionate about growing young minds through her teaching and writing. The proud momma of two grown boys, Suzanne lives in Waterford, MI with her husband and furry writing companion. When she’s not dreaming up new teaching or writing projects, you can find her kayaking on the lake, hiking a trail, practicing at the yoga studio, or comparing paint swatches at the local Sherwin Williams. Learn more about Suzanne at

Note: A brief version of this post was first published on the TeachWrite blog.

Are you an author looking for resources about school visits? Follow the results of this 2018 survey, Transparency in Pay for Author and Illustrator School Visits, in a four-part series here and here on author Michele Cusolito's blog.

Happening right now: the SCBWI Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles. Follow along on the SCBWI Blog.

Looking for a conference closer to home? Registration is now open for the SCBWI-MI Fall Retreat. This year, we're partnering with the SCBWI-Indiana chapter for a creative weekend at Pokagon State Park, October 5th-7th. Go here to learn more and register online.
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