Friday, December 20, 2019

Hugs and Hurrahs

Welcome to this quarter's edition of Hugs and Hurrahs! This is my first time writing the Hugs and Hurrahs post, and I'm happy that we have so many talented and wonderful Michigan authors and illustrators to celebrate today! First, a big thank you to Patti Richards for all your work as the Hugs and Hurrahs person for the past five years!

Jordan J. Scavone's TURTLE DAY (illustrated by Monica Guignard) is the #1 New Release in Children's Turtle books on Amazon for December and is Jordan's fourth children's book. Turtle Day refers to the day when Noah's first-grade classroom checks in on their adopted sea turtle, Lilac. Turtle Day is inspired by Jordan's actual classroom experience, where he and his students adopted a sea turtle and use satellite tracking to continue to watch it. Noah is also based on one of Jordan's students!

Way to go, Jordan!

Theresa Nielsen recently published three books that have been in the works for the past ten years: PICKLES AND OLIVE, STORMY AND CLOUDY, and MUSTARD AND HONEY. All three
books are illustrated by eight-year-old Jake Goodgall.

How cool, Theresa!

Lori McElrath Eslick illustrated GOODNESS GRACIOUS, A GRATITUDE BOOK FOR CHILDREN by Kathleen A. Green (Skinner House Books).

Yay, Lori!

Fatma Al-Lawati had two books published by Mayaseen Publishing in November 2019: THE ADVENTURE OF THE TEN FINGERS, illustrated by Insaf Haj Yasin and translated by Ahmad Al Lawati and MARYAM'S JOURNAL, illustrated by Krimat Ibrahim and translated by Ahmad Husain Al Lawati. If you want to know more about Fatma's publishing company and their mission, you can read this interview from last year.

Well done, Fatma!

OLD ROCK (IS NOT BORING) by Deb Pilutti (GP Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers) comes out February 4. A starred review from Kirkus called it “A witty, engaging exploration of deep time . . . This picture book rocks!”

You rock, Deb!

Shanda Trent is celebrating the publication of her third picture book, THE PLANET WE LIVE ON, with Fifth Avenue Press in Ann Arbor.

We're celebrating with you, Shanda!

Buffy Silverman's new book, ON A SNOW-MELTING DAY: SEEKING SIGNS OF SPRING launches from Millbrook Press on February 4. Kirkus gave the book a starred review, calling it "“Crocus-poking, mud-luscious enjoyment.”

Woohoo, Buffy!

WILD HONEY FROM THE MOON, by Kenneth Kraegel (Candlewick) came out in November and got a starred review in Kirkus

Awesome, Kenneth!

Monica Harris has sold 8 more pieces to DRC (Data Recognition Corporation) including informational and folk tales pieces.

Congratulations, Monica!

Neal Levin's poem “Festival of Lights" was published in the November/December 2019 issue of Ladybug.

That's great, Neal!

Jacquie Sewell's WHALE FALL CAFE will be published by Tilbury House Publishers in late 2020 or early 2021. WHALE FALL CAFE introduces readers to a unique group of "diners:" the hagfish, rattails, zombie worms, and others that make up the ecosystem that develops on a whale carcass on the bottom of the ocean. The first natural whale fall was serendipitously discovered in 1987. Since then scientists have discovered dozens of new species and important interspecies interactions.

Looking forward to it, Jacquie!

Erin M. Brown shared two pieces of good news: 1. She won a scholarship to Superstars Writing Seminar in Colorado Springs and 2. She was chosen as a judge for a major writing competition with a major writing organization.

We're excited for you, Erin!

Congratulations again to all of you! Please send all your good news to Sarah Prusoff LoCascio at for the next Hugs and Hurrahs post! 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Diversity Dialogue: A Taste of Holidays

The Diversity Dialogue is a monthly feature on the SCBWI-MI Chapter Blog. Learn more and meet the committee members HERE.

Artwork by Rebecca Howe

This Holiday season, let your light shine. Debbie Taylor and I teamed up for this blog post. Read below for her words of inspiration on how light is reflected through this season.

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.

Photograph by Buffy Silverman
The winter months are the setting for many holidays and celebrations, some familiar and some less so.  Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, Three Kings Day, Kwanzaa and others. A theologian pointed out that many of these holidays celebrate the defeat of darkness with light, citing the candles in the menorah and kinara, the star of Bethlehem, floating candles and the Yule log.

Consider that we, creators of stories, poetry, comics, books and more for children, have the opportunity to bring light to a reader’s life. Your touching poem, hilarious picture book, insightful comic, fearless young adult novel or illuminating non-fiction article can raise the curtain, ignite passion, dispel fear or provide respite. Whether your words or illustrations move your audience for a moment or touch a heart for a lifetime, you are bringing light.

This might be good time to write down some of your personal holiday or winter season memories. You can also rewrite the “happy” holidays that may never have existed for you. Explore the origins of existing holidays or create completely new celebrations for any time of year.  From those you may discover the gem of an idea that may become some reader’s shining light, dystopian ritual, dark-dispelling candle or holiday star.

Light tomorrow with today.
-Elizabeth Barret Browning

So gift yourself time to tap resources that may lead you to insight, satisfaction, and pride in your work.  Some of my favorite resources include these four:

1) Cynthia Leitich Smith’s website: A site featuring a range of children’s and YA literature resources      
2) Reading Rockets: A literacy site featuring insightful interviews with authors and illustrators      

3) Brainpickings: A blog that often features references to children’s books  

4) Publishers Weekly: A site featuring articles and reviews of children's books and more

Somedays I’m a candle, somedays I’m a mirror and somedays a waxy ball of fret…

-Debbie A. Taylor

As Debbie mentioned, the idea of light is present as a tradition in many celebrations. The Hanukkah celebration includes candles as well as the Kwanzaa celebration. To shed a little light on the tradition of Kwanza, I'll share a few facts.

  • Kwanzaa is not associated with a religion; It is based on seven principles
  • Kwanzaa means "first fruits of the harvest" or "first fruits"
  • Kwanzaa is a celebration of community, family, and culture that was established as a way for African Americans to reconnect with their roots and heritage
  • Festivities usually involve dancing, singing, gifts, and a large feast

Photograph by Buffy Silverman
Our family celebrates Christmas, however we do recognize some of the things that go along with the festivities of Kwanzaa. We create family traditions in our own special way.

Dashing through the store, with an empty shopping cart, up the aisles we go, searching with our heart (sung to the tune of Jingle Bells). And that begins the Holiday season in my family. From acquaintances to friends, to family, we are all diverse in our traditions. What traditions have you established during the Holiday Season?

Searching for white elephant gifts - any goofy, odd-ball, or knick-knack item, brings a smile to my son's face. It’s all in preparation for the annual Christmas dinner hosted at my house. We play the “Gift” game. Everyone pulls a number from a bag and that’s the sequence in which they choose a gift from the tree or take an opened gift from someone.

One year my brother went home with a toy ukulele that he hadn’t a clue how to play. He re-gifted it to his grandson, but the look on my brothers’ face when he opened his gift…priceless. The evening ends with me faking a yawn, stretching, then inviting everyone to stay longer if they want, but to lock up when they leave.

The day after my Christmas dinner begins what I’ll call my Kidlit Holiday. It’s my time to work on writing projects, think about writing goals for the New Year, and to read. Speaking of reading, I’ve started reading Ghost by Jason Reynolds. It was exciting meeting Jason at NERD Camp this past summer. Do you have a suggestion for a book that reflects diversity or written by an author/illustrator who identifies as reflecting diversity?

What does a taste of the holidays look like for you?

Let your light shine in all that you do.

- Angie Verges

Special thanks to Buffy Silverman for sharing her winter photographs. You can enjoy more of her nature photography on her website.

Photograph by Buffy Silverman

Coming up on the Mitten Blog:

Two weeks of vacation! But first, our final Hugs and Hurrahs of 2019! Come back this Friday to celebrate all the good news from our SCBWI-MI members. Today (Tuesday, Dec. 17th) is your last chance to send your writing and illustrating news to our new Hugs and Hurrahs editor, Sarah Locascio

Photograph by Buffy Silverman

Friday, December 13, 2019

Writer Spotlight: Tara Michener

Charlie Barshaw coordinates our quarterly Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet author and counselor Tara Michener.

"From Bullied to Builder":  Tara Michener allows those who do not feel seen to be acknowledged

Tara Michener at the Michigan International Women's Show

In your Ted X talk, “From Bullied to Builder,” you describe when a younger Tara is led into an ambush and a bloody beating by a former friend. Do you see this incident as a defining event in setting your future course?  See TEDxDetroit video HERE

Unfortunately this situation showed me that bullying can occur in many ways both directly and indirectly. I was physically hurt by specific aggressors and they were obvious but I was bullied in a way that involves relational aggression by several people that I trusted who lured me into harm's way and navigated my trust by using emotionally damaging and deceptive tactics. Those people who were just as complicit as the physical abusers were not as obvious.  My physical scars healed much quicker than the ones that hurt me mentally. In no way am I happy that I was a victim of bullying and relational aggression but I am grateful that I learned how to channel the lessons into developing education opportunities and resources for others who have been impacted by similar circumstances.

You are such a vibrant, caring and optimistic person today, it’s hard to imagine anyone choosing to bully you and make you feel less than, but it happened. Is every child at risk for bullying? And what can children and parents do to combat this oppressive practice?

Well thank you! I appreciate your kind description. I think that personality, appearance, background and other factors do not necessarily protect a person from being a candidate to be bullied. I often hear parents say "no one would ever bully my child because..." and they may give multiple the same way I hear people say "I want my child to be like (fill in the blank) so that they do not get bullied". The truth is that anyone can bully a person for any reason and instead of teaching a child how not to be bullied I think it is important to teach proper coping skills, resilience training, and healthy strategies that are therapeutically appropriate so that when challenges come-thriving can still be an option. Counseling and professional support is not a bad idea if it feels like a parent is lost and I hope to continue to do work to reduce the stigma of seeking help.
2008 saw the publication of “Who I Am Not What I Am.” That message seems important to you; your 2009 book “100% Real” is subtitled a “Who I Am Not What I Am book.” And that’s even part of your email address What does Who I Am mean to you?

Tara and her picture book,
"Who I Am Not What I Am"
When these books were introduced I felt as though representation was on the lower end when it came to picture books with kids who looked like I did and who would resemble my future kid. I also saw a void in specific issues being addressed around race, bullying, inclusion and more. I wanted to make sure that anyone who read my books felt like they could either relate personally to my characters and if they could not that at least they could learn from them. I wanted people not to simply see stereotypes when they read my stories but to evolve their thinking into seeing that people are deeper than "what" you see on the outside" but take the time to understand "who" they are on the inside. 

In 2010 “Summer Camp Survival” was published, where a girl named Mackenzie must make adjustments during a summer camp experience. It’s a chapter book, aimed at an older audience than the first two picture books. What made you adjust your focus to that age group?

I have always wanted my work to reach the span of the youth market. I thought the best way to stay relevant and integral to my readers was to have opportunities that they could turn to as they grew up. I did not want the kids who read my picture books to no longer have a reason to pick up a title from me because it was too immature.
Tara and son Cannon and husband Jason

2011 saw “No Longer Besties” published, and 2012, “Teen Life Crisis.” These are novels of increasing length and complexity for teens They’re issue novels, dealing with adoption, death, role reversals “and other assorted Teenage Drama.”Why did you feel the need to address children from preschool to high school?

The picture books deal with these same issues in a way but in a more simple and optimistic format. As young people grow the same issues exist but they exhibit themselves in more complicated ways. I needed to make sure that I evolved my books to allow the reader to be able to grow in understanding and I want them to know that I trust them to be faced with complex content.  

Tara and Cannon
You’ve got a list of accomplishments a mile long. What drives you?

I am driven to allow those who do not feel seen to be acknowledged. I want my son to see hard work and the fruit of it and I feel that wasted talent is ungrateful.   

Tara Michener, MA, LPC, NCC 
Tara Michener is the Author of the "Who I am" Series & Teen Books By Tara. She has a B.A. in Journalism & Public Relations from Madonna University. She has a M.A. in Counseling with specialized courses in child and adolescent therapy from Oakland University. Michener is the Founder of Students Against Bullying at Oakland University. She is the Founder of Dream Esteem Detroit Project providing empowerment resources for young people. She Founded UnBully Engagements-conferences that inform, educate & solution build.

Charlie Barshaw submitted his YA novel to a big-time literary agent. While he's waiting to hear back, he's putting the finishing touches on his MG novel about a squirrel invasion.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Michigan Publishers: Cardinal Rule Press

The Mitten Blog is exploring local publishing options right here in Michigan. If you missed our first entry, go HERE to learn about Fifth Avenue Press, a program through the Ann Arbor District Library.

Today, we have an interview with Maria Dismondy, founder of Cardinal Rule Press, a small, traditional publishing company in southeast Michigan.

Tell us about Cardinal Rule Press. What distinguishes it from other small publishers?

At Cardinal Rule Press we are really dedicated to supporting our authors from the time they sign their contract through the life of their book. Our mentorship program lasts six weeks and works with authors in small groups, educating them on topics like brand development, social media and creative marketing. We also have customized marketing campaigns that we deliver six months prior to the books release that allow authors to have a clear plan of what our team does month-by-month leading up to a launch and it also supplies them with a suggested timeline on what they can be doing from their end.

Coming Spring 2020 from Cardinal Rule Press

What are you looking for in submissions?

We are looking for books with a strong moral focus. At the time, we are only accepting realistic fiction. Our backlist sells very well and we believe part of this is because the messages are timeless, not trending.

What is the Cardinal Press team looking forward to in 2020 and beyond?

We continue to grow each year, both in sales, acquisitions and in our team. We would like to be mindful of this growth and make sure that we remain focused to our ultimate mission as a publisher: to create books that make a difference.

Your career has evolved from teacher to author to publisher and more. Plus you’re a busy mom with three kids! How do you find time to wear all of these hats?

I get super creative with my time. I am up before the kids to set the tone for the day, getting in a workout, a cup of coffee and a chat with my husband before the rest of the house wakes up. I don't try to do it all. I have found team members that are skilled in their areas of work and I get to do what I enjoy and excel at. Last, I don't compare this path with the journey of others. It's easy to go down a rabbit hole when you begin to compare and lose sight of your focus.

Thank you, Maria! To learn more about Cardinal Rule Press, go here:

Please note their submission window is only open from Nov. 1, 2019 - Feb. 1, 2020. Submissions are not read outside of this time period.

Maria has shared her expertise on our Mitten blog several times before. Read her other posts here:

Coming up on the Mitten Blog:

A Writer Spotlight, Diversity Dialogue, and another round of Hugs and Hurrahs! We want to trumpet your success! Please email your writing and illustrating news to Sarah LoCascio by December 16th.

Celebrate Nonfiction!

Once again, SCBWI-Michigan is here to help you with your New Year’s Resolutions. You know
that great idea you’ve had for a nonfiction book? Make 2020 the year to write that nonfiction
picture book or to develop that nonfiction book proposal.

On March 7, 2020, SCBWI-MI is having a nonfiction conference. Details are coming. Until
then, save the date.

SCBWI-MI is also holding two nonfiction mentorships.

The nonfiction MG/YA mentorship will be with mentor Stephanie Bearce.

The nonfiction PB mentorship will be with mentor Patricia Newman.

These mentorships are open to all SCBWI members who live in Michigan.
The registration fee is $20, nonrefundable.
The submission windows open on May 5, 2020 and close on May 26, 2020 or when we get 30
applicants, whichever comes first.

Details are available at:
Click the links (in green at the bottom of the page) to download submission instructions.

We’ll have interviews with Stephanie and Patricia here on the Mitten Blog in March.

For questions about the mentorships, email Ann Finkelstein.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Introducing SCBWI-MI's Communications Coordinator - Karen Bell-Brege! Plus, Social Media Show and Tell Days!

If you've been following SCBWI-MI on social media, you've likely noticed a recent increase in posts, images, and conversations. It's all thanks to our Communications Coordinator, Karen Bell-Brege, who dove right into her new role! Here's Karen to tell you a little about herself, her plans going forward, our new Social Media Show and Tell Days, and how you can become more involved.

Hello SCBWI Friends!

I’m so happy to be taking on the role of Communications Coordinator for you and our totally wonderful Michigan chapter! I’ve been an SCBWI member since 2001 and finally worked up the gumption to get more involved - I know, what took so long, right? But after attending many conferences, and making new friends – I thought, Hey! Maybe it’s time to give back. So, here I am.

Just to tell you a little bit about me, my career started in radio on-air, and before long I was writing copy. I moved into copywriting at ad agencies, and then into communications. I always loved comedy and studied at Second City in Chicago, and with Paul Sills. I started the first improv troupe in Michigan in 1992. The performing led to speaking and teaching improv. I met my husband Darrin when he auditioned for my troupe (good way to get a husband). He was a full-time artist, and soon became the illustrator for the Michigan and American Chillers covers. He did the first 36 original covers and branded the series. After I wrote the Chill Art Sketchbook, Darrin and I decided to write and illustrate our own books. Thus, our first series Mick Morris Myth Solver was born (named after our son, Mick).

We now have 14 books out, and it hasn’t always been easy. In fact, I find writing and the business extremely hard – a lot like performing. It can be frightening, and like fear you have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. The same with creating, you have to keep putting one word after the other, or one shape after the other and move forward.

So, my goal is to find those wonderful ideas and nuggets to help us all stay connected, creative, motivated and to encourage us to put ourselves out there. I hope to make this happen by exchanging (What a cookie exchange? Okay! Kidding.) ideas, and to really build our relationships and interact and engage with each other any way we can. For starters, a great way for us to join together in sharing our strengths, skills, motivation and know-how is through social media. We all have that same love-hate relationship with it – but we can utilize it to grow our engagement and network.

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve written one word, or sketched anything at all – we have to start somewhere. I know with the encouragement and support of each other we can all follow and grow our dreams.

That’s my shtick. I would absolutely love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and what you need to flourish in our fantastic little SCBWI mitten environment. Please reach out to us, and tell us what you need, want, or have to share. Very soon we'll be providing a monthly self-promotion day (Show and Tell) for each of us to promote our work, tell us what you’ve been up to… even if that means you want to tell us that for one day you managed to sit and write or draw, because we all know how tough keeping true to our goals can be.

Well, that’s it for now, whew! I really hope you begin to make your connecting with us as important as the writing and illustrating, publishing and submitting part of your business.

Thanks so much for your time, and looking forward to our growth - together.

Just remember, it’s all in your confidence, because no one else really knows what they’re doing either. 

Introducing Social Media Show and Tell Days!


The first of every month. Beginning Dec. 1st.


We are inviting each and every one of you to join in the conversation. Show us what you’re up to. It could be your latest book cover, illustration, what you’re writing – or Tell us what you want to write, draw, or about your giveaway, building a platform, or online promotion.

Even feel free to reach out expressing what the hardest part of the biz is for you, or where you would like some input from your colleagues.

It doesn’t matter whether you have several books published or have finally managed to sit down and write. You can share a pic of your office chair! Show & Tell and get involved as you begin to boost your biz with SCBWI-MI!


Join, follow, like, share, and engage with SCBWI-MI on social media:

Our social media channels and MichKids listserv are the best way to stay up-to-date on all SCBWI-MI events and opportunities, including monthly Shop Talks and annual conferences.

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: 

Vacation! The SCBWI-MI Blog Team will be spending time with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. We'll return to our weekly Friday posts in December.

Save these December dates!

SCBWI-MI members will be signing/selling books:

Dec. 8th, 12-6pm: Downriver Book/Holiday Fair, Lincoln Park

Dec. 12th, 6-8pm: Schuler Books’ Merry Mitten/Parent’s Shop Night, Grand Rapids

Regional Shop Talks will be meeting all around the state on various days and locations.

And don't miss this FREE webinar on December 9th:

Friday, November 15, 2019

Introducing the Diversity Dialogue Blog by Isabel O'Hagin

Artwork created by Rebecca Howe
Welcome to our SCBWI-MI Diversity Dialogue blog! As chair of the DEI committee, I’m happy to author this first post with committee member and Blog Co-host, Angie Verges. Our aim is to engage members in what we hope will be stimulating dialogue that will build community and make a difference. We encourage you to contact us if you’d like to suggest a topic for discussion and/or have resources to share with our members. Our blog posts will include information on various projects that our committee will undertake with your support and allies in our communities.

Our mission, as stated on our chapter’s website, is to welcome and celebrate writers and illustrators who represent a broad spectrum of backgrounds and who seek to create quality literature that reflects the lives of all young children. We understand the power of children seeing themselves represented in books. Such diverse reading experiences can lead to empathy, understanding and respect. It is vital that we do all we can to implement initiatives that will address issues of diversity, inclusivity and accessibility for our kidlit community that will in turn help us write books for all children.

We believe in bringing about change in a three-fold vision: Include, Engage, and Embrace.

INCLUDE: We strive for the inclusion of marginalized and underrepresented communities in children’s literature within our membership.

ENGAGE: We aim to fully engage members, communities, and allies by identifying resources and support available and other professional-growth activities.

EMBRACE: We provide a ‘welcoming place’ to nurture and better support communication and networking within the diverse voices of our members, the community and potential members. Everyone has a seat at the table.

Artwork created by Rebecca Howe

Our committee’s focus on diversity is aligned with #WeNeedDiverseBooks:
We recognize all diverse experiences, including but not limited to LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and cultural and religious minorities. Because of the breadth of this focus, we will be particularly conscious of the intersectionality of oppressions and identities.

I recently read an article about a young designer breaking into the field who in addressing issues of equity and inclusion and access hung up a sign in his studio: YOU’RE OBVIOUSLY IN THE WRONG PLACE. For me, the subtext served as a challenge: stake your own place in the world, renegotiate your own self-identity, and define your own positionality. Be courageous!

There have been times in my professional life where a sense of exclusion permeated my existence. I often had to pinch myself and say, “You belong here.” Fortunately, I didn’t experience this sense of displacement within SCBWI circles. I’ve been a member for six years and am grateful for the camaraderie and support I consistently receive from my SCBWI friends—and it is reciprocated. However, we need to assure that all current and potential members feel valued and affirmed. Our goal as a committee is to make sure there is space for everyone at our ever-expanding table.

As the DEI committee, we look forward to collaborative partnerships with allies throughout the state to actualize our vision. As the Kalamazoo Area Shop Talk Coordinator, I will bring this message to my local community and encourage you to do the same. Together we can make everyone feel they are indeed in the RIGHT place and that their voices are valued in SCBWI-MI. By doing so we will continue to develop and nurture all kidlit creators to produce quality literature that reflects the lives of all young children.

 – Isabel O’Hagin

Greetings from Angie:
We encourage you to join our dialogue and hope that you find value in something expressed through our blog posts. Any nugget of inspiration or encouragement you take away is like finding a diamond in the rough.

The Diversity Dialogue will be a monthly feature on the SCBWI-MI Mitten Blog. Stop by the Diversity Dialogue Blog Page anytime and look for our next post in December. As writers or illustrators have you thought about giving yourself a gift for the holidays? Are there unique traditions that you incorporate in your writing life? In December, we'll explore holiday traditions, seasonal traditions, and just plain old kidlit stuff.

Learn more and meet the DEI committee members here:

Let's get our dialogue started! 

Your opinion is important to us. Join our dynamic dialogue this month and leave a comment below as we pose this question:

What two actions can members take to make SCBWI-MI more accessible, equitable, and inclusive?

Friday, November 8, 2019

Michigan Publishers: Fifth Avenue Press by Debbie Taylor

The Mitten Blog is launching a new series to explore local publishing options right here in Michigan. First up is Fifth Avenue Press - an interesting venture run by the Ann Arbor District Library. They're celebrating their Fall 2019 list this weekend, and here to tell us more is one of their newest authors, Debbie Taylor. You can read Debbie's Book Birthday interview to learn more about her new picture book, Over in Motown, but read on below to learn more about her experience working with Fifth Avenue Press.

Celebrate with Debbie and the other Fifth Avenue authors this Sunday in Ann Arbor!

Here's Debbie:

Debbie's first picture book published by Lee and Low in 2004
The differences in my experiences with a trade publisher and Fifth Avenue Press range from minor to profound. Each one provided magic. My first picture book was published in 2004 by a trade publisher. My most recent book, Over in Motown was published by Fifth Avenue Press, a publishing imprint of the Ann Arbor District Library dedicated to publishing local authors.

In 2017, a critique group member encouraged me to submit Over in Motown to Fifth Avenue Press. In just two weeks after I submitted the manuscript, I received an invitation to meet to discuss the book with Erin Helmrich, an editor and librarian, and Amanda Szot, the graphic designer. Erin asked if I was willing to make some revisions. I agreed and was immediately informed that Fifth Avenue Press would like to publish the manuscript. When I worked with my wonderful editor at a trade publisher I received an offer by phone after six months of revisions. During the process, I met with Erin and Amanda in person to discuss revisions, while in the past, my interactions with an editor were by e-mail and telephone.

My trade publisher selected an illustrator my book. The artist selected was without a doubt, a great choice. I certainly did not expect to be asked for input. Fifth Avenue Press identified an initial illustrator immediately, but eventually decided to move in a different direction with a new illustrator. Erin and Amanda scoured the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators directory and solicited my suggestions for an illustrator. In short order they settled upon Keisha Morris and requested some sample sketches based on the manuscript. Erin and Amanda shared a few of Keisha’s sketches and we agreed she had captured the essence of the book. Fifth Avenue Press paid the illustrator's fee just as trade publishers do.

My trade publisher managed the printing and distribution of the book. As a Fifth Avenue Press author, I was responsible for selecting a printer and also choosing the book size, format and paper. Fortunately, they had a great relationship with a local printer, McNaughton-Gunn. I met with a representative who provided book samples with various styles of paper. I felt out of my depth, but after talking with Erin and Amanda, I made my selections.

My trade publisher published the book in hardback for almost nine years and released it in paperback a few years ago. With Fifth Avenue Press, I had to make those decision since I would be paying for the printing. After conferring with other authors and having a lengthy conversation with my sister, a first grade teacher, I settled on paperbacks for the initial run.

The most unusual feature of Fifth Avenue Press is that authors retain the rights to their books. Any profit, after paying sales taxes, is mine. With my first publisher, I received an advance and I receive a royalty check every six months.

Both of my publishers secured the ISBN and provided graphics for websites and other purposes. Fifth Avenue Press has provided opportunities for the authors to meet, mingle and share information and resources. It also generously hosts a book launch for each crop of authors.

At a Fifth Avenue Press book launch in May of this year, I ran into a critique group member who asked if I knew that Spider Magazine had reprinted a story of mine. We rifled through back issues of Spider and found the reprint. The illustrations were different from the original and captured different elements of the story. I peered at the illustrator’s name. It was Keisha Morris. Neither Erin nor Amanda had known that of all the illustrators who could have been chosen to illustrate a reprint, it would turn out to be the illustrator they would select to illustrate Over in Motown!

Working with my first publisher was a great experience. Working with Fifth Avenue Press was remarkable. Having personal access to a "dream team," my terrific editor and our splendid graphic designer, provided  a unique and truly rich experience. I would urge anyone with a good manuscript and a dream to visit the Fifth Avenue Press website

Debbie Ann Taylor is a picture book author and magazine writer. Her work has been published in children's magazines including Spider, Cricket, New Moon and Pockets Magazine. Taylor is the author of the acclaimed picture book, Sweet Music in Harlem (Lee and Low 2004) and books for the Toggle Talk educational series. She contributes to local, regional and national literacy efforts as an author, speaker and volunteer. Her hobbies include visiting museums and botanical gardens with her family. Taylor and her husband live in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Learn more at

Coming up on the Mitten Blog:

All about book reviews, the upcoming non-fiction mentorship, Book Birthday celebrations, a Writer Spotlight, and our quarterly round of Hugs and Hurrahs. But first, come back next Friday to meet the new SCBWI-MI Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Committee!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Book Birthday Blog with Debbie Taylor

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

Congratulations to Debbie Taylor on the release of her new book,  OVER IN MOTOWN!

Congratulations on your new book release! What inspired Over In Motown?

The text for Over in Motown was inspired by the thrill of listening to the music of Motown and by my affection for the classic Over in the Meadow book. I was moved by the interactions of the creatures in the original poem and recent versions. The parent gives loving instruction and encouragement to her little fishies, turtles, foxes, sea horses, etc. Each mother or father urges the young ones to be themselves, appreciate their abilities and use their unique gifts.

Throughout my middle school years and teen years in Columbus, Ohio, my sister and I, along with the whole neighborhood listened to the local radio stations, WCOL and WVKO, for long stretches hoping to hear Motown music. We could scarcely wait for Motown to release the new Supremes, Temptations or Jackson 5 singles.

Several years ago, I began jotting down words and phrases in an art journal during one of my many journeys by train. After doodling “o”  and  “Mo” for  multiple pages, I started generating stanza after stanza. Revising is a critical part of my process.  At least half of the original stanzas didn’t survive the revision process and others were drastically altered. At one point I resorted to using colored pencils and index cards to keep track.

You’ve spoken before about how family and community are often themes in your
writing. Do you see these themes in Over In Motown as well?

Yes, indeed the themes of family and community are reflected in the book. The Motown entertainment enterprise has been described as a family venture. The success was not only due to the actual blood ties of the Gordy family, but the family of musicians, coaches, technicians, business professionals, fans and others.

In this book, you highlight not only performers, singers, and musicians, but also
other aspects of Motown and Detroit. You mention record pressing, church choirs,
marching bands, even car assembly lines! What motivated you to talk about all the
different aspects of the musical life in Detroit?

I wanted to provide a more complex, rich picture of the influences on the development of the music. The rhythms and beats of those people and places all contributed to the Motown sound that was enjoyed and appreciated by fans around the world.  I included the physical production of the actual record because it was an interesting element. The first and last stanzas frame the interior stanzas and reflect the influences, universal appeal and appreciation of the music.

You mention in the author’s notes that Motown music was a part of your
childhood. How was the experience of taking that nostalgia and love of Motown music and writing a story about it? Has it changed the way you listen to the music now?

The music pulled me back to simpler days, happier times and sweeter moments. I found the ballads by various artists very soothing and the bouncy rhythms of other performers energized me. Writing the text and revising the drafts was a very enjoyable and satisfying experience. (I have always appreciated the music, but I now listen to certain songs more often. These days, I also find myself lip-synching to the Supremes' Stop in the Name of Love.)

What’s something you hope your readers will take away from Over In Motown?

I hope readers will appreciate the talented creators of this accessible and upbeat music.  I also would like readers to consider writing their own versions of the Over in Motown. I'd love to have young writers use that structure as a jumping off point for some of their own writing. Readers could use various natural environments, schools or cities. I'd encourage them to think about the elements, features or characteristics of that setting. Consider how multiple voices, creatures or characters could interact, then flesh out the stanzas with descriptions and choose the most effective ones.  I also hope readers will just have fun reading the book and enjoy counting the figures on the pages.

What’s next for you? Where can we find Over In Motown, and how can people
connect with you? 

My sister, a country music fan and I are finishing up Over in Nashville. I am also revising a young adult novel set in Idlewild, Michigan. The book can be ordered through my website and can be found at all of the Ann Arbor Public libraries at the end of the month. Several bookstores, including the Source Booksellers in Detroit, will carry the book as well. Starting mid-November, it can be ordered through my website Sweet Music In Harlem.

A little bit about the book: 

This counting book features studio singers, dancers and choir members as well as guitarists, pianists and drummers making the music of Motown.  These and others, including the automakers and record-pressers who put the "Mo" in "Motown," reflect the energy and influence of Detroit, a distinctive, historic, music-producing city. A timeline of Motown highlights is included.  

A little bit about the author:

Debbie Ann Taylor is a picture book author and magazine writer. Her work has been published in children's magazines including SpiderCricket, New Moon and Pockets Magazine. Taylor is the author of the acclaimed picture book, Sweet Music in Harlem (Lee and Low 2004) and books for the Toggle Talk educational series. She contributes to local, regional and national literacy efforts as an author, speaker and volunteer. Her hobbies include visiting museums and botanical gardens with her family. Taylor and her husband live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Check out Over In Motown's Book Release at Ann Arbor's Downtown Library November 10th!