Thursday, May 2, 2019

SCBWI-MI Picture Book Text Mentorship - An Interview with Mentor Lisa Wheeler

Full and Associate SCBWI-MI members who write picture books, you’ve waited patiently while we held the PAL mentorship. Now, your moment is almost upon us. SCBWI-MI’s mentorship competition this year is with Lisa Wheeler and is open to Associate and Full Members (non-PAL) members who live in Michigan.

The submission window for the non-PAL mentorship is June 3-24, 2019.

Complete submission instructions can be found on the SCBWI-MI website. On that page, click the link (after the red words “click here” to download a pdf that explains membership status, eligibility and submission instructions.

For questions about eligibility or submissions please contact SCBWI-MI Mentorship Coordinator, Ann Finkelstein.

Lisa Wheeler is the author of numerous children’s books with well-respected national publishers. You can see some of the titles on her website. Lisa's book, The Christmas Boot, was the SCBWI 2017 SCBWI Golden Kite Award winner for Picture Book Text. Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum is the 2017 Michigan Reads! One Book, One State Children’s Book Program recipient. Her awards include The Michigan Mitten, The Missouri Building Blocks, The Texas Bluebonnet, and the Theodore Geisel Honor given by the American Library Association. Lisa has critiqued SCBWI members’ manuscripts in over ten states and at the national conference. She’s taught picture book workshops to hundreds of people.

Ann interviewed Lisa so we can get to know her better.

What do you like best about writing picture books?

I think my very favorite part is getting the idea. When an idea hits me, I'm on fire. It's like when you first fall in love. At that point, I don't know where it will lead as my ideas never come fully formed.

Then, taking that journey is magic! Starting out, I don't think about "Is this idea viable?", "Will I finish it?", "Will it sell?", etc. All I know is that I am in love with this new thing and I want to spend every waking minute with it.

What do you like least?

Trying to sell the dang thing! First, I have to get it past my agent. Then, he has to find interest with a publisher. And if the manuscript becomes a book, I feel as if I have to sell readers on it. (I really hate this part!)

It's an uncomfortable feeling for me to push my work out into the world. But it's a necessary part of the process as I'm not writing for my desk drawer.

Describe a typical writing day.

My writing days are never typical. I may write, in my head, while walking or even exercising on a spin bike. I generally don't sit down in front of my computer until I have omething solidified in my head. I find that being in motion helps my creativity and thought process.

Rather than writing every day, I do something writing related every day. That might be answering these questions, visiting a school or putting together a new program.

Which of your books was the most fun to write? Why?

Rather than pick just one, I'd like to say that all four of my poetry books were the most fun to write (Wool Gathering, Seadogs, Spinster Goose and The Pet Project). Poems are fun little snippets that I can write (and re-write) while taking walks, cleaning house or exercising.

I have also written a few that haven't been published and it is like a fun little workout for my brain to take an idea, turn it on its head, and see if a poem spills out.

When you’re reading for pleasure, what features of a book typically impress you the most?

In novels, it is all about characters for me. I can read a book that has very little action if I'm in love with the character. They have me at "Hello".

In picture books, I am drawn toward humor, but also to books that I know I would never/could never write. I love the quiet and sentimental when they are written beautiful. (Like Ida, Always or All the Places to Love) And I also love well-written non-fiction picture books. (I'm currently loving Sea Bear: A Journey for Survival by Lindsey Moore)

What brings you joy?

My family. My husband and children are my world. And then dogs, puppies and puppy dogs! And then nature, walks-- and walks in nature.

What inspires you?
This great big wonderful world! I never know when inspiration will hit, so I try to be observant. I think if one is wired for picture books, they see everything through a six-year-old's eye. At least I do!

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I find this one of the hardest questions to answer. I have been very few places and I want to go everywhere. So when you ask that, my mind races to all these wonderful parts of the world I have yet to explore! (Both in the US and other countries.) If I had unlimited funds, I'd do a world tour, starting in the redwoods, then off to New Zeeland, Australia, and then on to all the continents. There is just so much out there and I rarely get out of Michigan.

If you could have dinner with any person throughout history who would it be? What would you discuss?

Mr. Rogers. I would thank him for allowing me to be his neighbor and for being the calm in a stormy childhood. I also wonder how much he and the Muppets had to do with my love for puppet play.

What aspects of being a picture book mentor are you most looking forward to? 

I love the when an author has that "light bulb" moment. I've done mentoring before and I get giddy when a mentee sends back a revised manuscript that is so perfectly spot-on, that I know my teaching is making an impact.

I believe that we, as children's authors and SCBWI member, should have a pass-it-on mentality. I've had people who helped me and I, in turn, hope to help others.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

Thank you for asking!

In June, I have a sequel to Even Monsters Need to Sleep coming out. In this one, we explore first days in Even Monsters Go to School.

Then, sometime this summer Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum is going to be re-released by Purple House press. They are publisher that only does re-releases of classic titles for kids. This title won 4 State awards and is my most frequently asked for OP title.

In August, the next installment of the Dino-Holiday series comes out with Dino-Halloween. This one was fun to write and the kids get all giggly when I mention it.

Finally, In September, I am thrilled that the second book in the "people" series comes out with Simon & Schuster. This one is called People Share with People.

Ann Finkelstein is a former scientist who discovered that writing novels is more fun than wrangling test tubes. She coordinates the SCBWI-MI mentorship program and helps Charlie Barshaw host Lansing Area Shop Talks.

Thank you Ann for all of your time and energy coordinating the SCBWI-MI Mentorship programs!

The 2019 SCBWI-MI Mentorship Competition is only for picture book text, but we didn't forget about you illustrators! Next year's mentorship will be for illustration. In the meantime, stay up-to-date with events and opportunities for illustrators on our chapter website:

The 2019 SCBWI Marvelous Midwest Conference is happening this weekend in Naperville, Illinois, and it's sold out! We'll share conference recaps and photos here on the Mitten blog in the upcoming weeks. If you'd like to share your experience, please email Kristin Lenz. Safe traveling, and have a blast!


  1. I always love hear from and about Lisa! At the last Chicago conference I sat in one of her talks and really got more out of it then I was expecting. Thank you Lisa and Ann!

  2. Looking forward to the mentorship competition. It's nice to have a spring goal:) I've enjoyed meeting Lisa during a few of Monroe County's writer events over the years. Many thanks to each of you, for your time and involvement in helping others to become better writers.

  3. Great interview. It was interesting to read what Lisa's typical day is like. Wish I wrote picture books so I could enter the competition. She'd be a wonderful mentor.

  4. Ann and Lisa. Thank you so much for doing this interview. AND thank you both for offering this mentorship opportunity as well.
    The Christmas Boot is our new favorite holiday book. Love it! It's one of those "I wish I'd written this" stories. Sure to be a classic!