Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Kidlit Book Club by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds

Book clubs come in all sizes and shapes. In 2012, Wendy Lawrence, educator and aspiring children’s author, launched a book club with a novel—no pun intended—twist.

When she arrived in Ann Arbor that year, she hoped to find a community of like-minded writers. “Not only did I want to talk about writing with other children’s writers, it’s just a fact that children’s writers are the best people in the world and that’s who I wanted to be friends with!” she told us. “Also, I had another goal: improving my craft by reading and analyzing great books.” She sent a group email out on the SCBWI-MI listserv inviting local children’s writers to meet.

Nearly a dozen writers answered the call. We agreed to do more than read and review books. Our goal was—and is—to analyze them closely and learn craft lessons from the masters - Newbery and Caldecott Award winners.

Who are our members?

We have some well-known names and faces in children’s lit circles: Shutta Crum (Thunder Boomer, William & the Witch’s Riddle, Dozens of Cousins), Nancy Shaw (Sheep In a Jeep, Sheep on a Ship), Patrick Flores-Scott (American Road Trip, Jumped In), Kristin Bartley Lenz (The Art of Holding On And Letting Go), and I’ve written a dozen children’s books (Grammie’s Secret Cupboard, S is for Star: A Christmas Alphabet, Oliver’s Travels). Since we began, three members have published their first books: Lindsey McDivitt (Nature's Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story), Kathleen Vincenz (Over the Falls in a Suitcase), and Deb Gonzalez (Girls With Guts). Betsy McKee Williams will complete her MFA in children’s literature in January and she's finishing a middle grade manuscript. Doug Kasischke, Laura Stewart, Sondra Soderborg, and Lori Yuhas are also completing middle grade novels and more.

How do we structure meetings?

We rotate among members’ homes, meeting monthly on the third Tuesday, each of us bringing snacks. Days earlier, Betsy McKee Williams provides links to reviews and author bios. We prepare to discuss characters and character development, place (Is it a character in itself?), time, themes, plot structure and development, beginnings and endings, and social/literary relevancy.

Because we focus on the best of the best in children’s picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult titles, they serve as laboratories for everything from word selection, pacing, point of view, and story structure to trends in illustrations, ways illustrators tell their own stories paralleling the writers’ tales, and the evolution in children’s literature over the past two decades.

An equally valuable aspect of our club is the opportunity to share information about agents, publishers, publishing trends, authors’ school visits, schedules of upcoming writers’ workshops, local bookstore news, and book signings.

We began as a diverse group of people with little in common except a love of writing, a commitment to our craft, and the joy of reading, but we’ve become loyal friends. We attend each other’s signings, sometimes baking and bringing treats. We also serve as beta readers and encouragers to bolster sagging spirits struggling with writers’ block or agent queries. Several of us belong to the same critique group.

Our favorite nights are celebrations, when we break open a bottle of champagne—or sparkling cider—to celebrate the release of a member’s new book. Last fall Nancy Shaw, Tracy Gallup, and I shared the same publication date and big smiles when Patrick opened the bottle.

Patrick Flores-Scott reads aloud from Lindsey McDivitt's newly published picture book, The Gwen Frostic Story

Why this club?

 We all love the craft perspective this book club offers. Despite the fact we’re studying award winners and runners-up, we don’t accept these books as cast-in-stone works of art without reviewing every aspect. Each has obvious strengths, but also occasional weaknesses. We each have a unique perspective on the club’s merits:

Doug Kasischke: “This club has been a great remedy for, what is for me, the heartbreaking problem that comes when I finish a book: not having someone with whom to talk about it.”

Lori Yuhas: “I love meeting with this brainy and talented group of writers to discuss award-winning books! While I’ve learned a lot about craft, what’s helped me the most as a writer is the knowledge that even award-winning books aren’t perfect. They’re filled with flaws. Striving for perfection as a writer is a waste of energy. Striving for excellence is the end goal.”

Deb Gonzalez: “I love the community that has been created around our love for quality literature written for children and, ultimately, for one another.”

Shutta Crum: “What I love most about this group is that since each one of us is a serious writer, we ask for honest opinions about what is working and not working in the books we read. It allows me to go home and let those ideas simmer awhile. Then, sometimes, new ways of approaching my own work pop up to the surface. It's much more than simply an ‘I liked,’ or ‘I didn't like’ group. We are called on the carpet to explain our thoughts and to try to parse exactly how the authors of the month did what they did—or just missed doing.”

Kristin Lenz: “Ann Arbor is an hour from my house, but it’s always worth the drive to connect with other writers and examine the craft. It’s also a great nudge to read and study some books I wouldn’t normally pick up on my own. I was especially touched when Nancy Shaw opened a bubbly bottle and led a toast for the publication of my debut novel. We’ve celebrated not only the publishing success of other members, but the many personal milestones along the way: revisions, speaking engagements, MFA programs, even weddings and grandchildren—not to mention Deb Gonzalez’s outstanding pickles! ;)”

Laura Stewart: “Being new to the writing community and not even a member of SCBWI, I took a chance and met everyone for the first time at Nancy Shaw’s home in 2014. You might say I was a bit nervous coming into a group with some published and pre-published writers who seemed so well versed in the mechanics and style of writing.  I felt like a country bumpkin mixed with a touch of greenhorn. Six years later, they haven’t booted me out yet. I feel very welcomed, as are my thoughts and feelings about the many books we have read and discussed together.”

Reading Kathy Appelt's Newbery Honor book, The Underneath

Favorite books?

Our best discussions always take place when we don’t all agree about the merits or problems within books. As you can imagine, we have a long list of books we’ve read and discussed, but among the titles with outstanding discussions:

  • Neil Gaiman’s magical and terrifying YA fantasy novel The Graveyard Book.

  • Our two best discussions about the Hero’s Journey involved a close analysis of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (an added bonus was a discussion about crafting sequels effectively and efficiently) and Markus Zusak’s novel, The Book Thief. 

By the time she was four, Cynthia Furlong Reynolds knew she would become a writer. An award-winning journalist who has worked for newspapers and magazines throughout the Midwest and East Coast, she has written 12 children’s books (including a Young Hoosier Book Award winner and a Mom’s Choice Book Award), a chapter book series, middle reader novel, 9 histories (2 of them named Michigan Notable Books), a writing manual and workbook, and countless news stories and oral histories. She is finishing two new Michigan-based books (one non-fiction, one fiction) and a YA novel. She served as associate director of communications/publications at Princeton University and director of the same department at the University of Tampa. Reynolds, who lives in Dexter, leads writing workshops and Prime Time literacy programs, freelances as editor/ghost writer, and loves visiting schools to talk about writing. Her website:

Do you attend a book club? Tell us about it in the comments!

Coming up on the Mitten Blog:

Introducing the SCBWI-MI Diversity Committee, all about book reviews, a non-fiction mentorship, a Writer Spotlight, another round of Hugs and Hurrahs, and much more.

Subscribe to the Mitten Blog and never miss a post. See "Follow by Email" on the right side-bar.

See you next week!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Make Your Own Video Book Trailer with Rebecca Grabill, Plus Upcoming SCBWI Learning Opportunities

Rebecca Grabill created her own book trailer for her picture book, Halloween Good Night (which got a starred review from Publishers Weekly!) and she shared a step-by-step guide so other authors can give it a try themselves. A typical book trailer often consists of a slow pan of a book cover, followed by an image or two from the book. But Rebecca's videos go a little beyond this format by using iMovie and photo editing software. Rebecca says she's not a video expert by any means, but here's a brain-dump of everything she knows about creating a video trailer yourself (for free!). Watch the video below and find Rebecca's step by step guide on her website here:

If you're looking for more examples of book trailers and other step by step guides, see these previous posts:

From Supriya Kelkar:

From Deb Gonzales:

Deb has also been teaching Book Trailer Basics at some of our SCBWI-MI Shop Talks. If you're looking for an in-person tutorial, come to the Lansing Area Shop Talk on Oct. 27th.
1:00 to 3:00 pm at the Biochemistry Building at MSU
603 Wilson Rd. Room 208, East Lansing, MI 48824
Parking is free on weekends. Lot 46 is a lovely place to park.
Here's the interactive map
Doors will open at 12:30. Email Ann Finkelstein with questions.

Thanks to our generous and hard-working SCBWI members, we have more learning opportunities ahead:

This Sunday, Oct. 20th: 

KAST a Spell: Create Spell-Binding MG and YA Literature. 

Learn more here:

Monday, Oct. 21st and 28th: 

The SCBWI webinar series continues with Be the Perfect Panelist and Social Media for Authors and Illustrators. 

Learn more here:

Save the dates for 2020:

Friday, October 11, 2019

Featured Illustrator Makiko Orser


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?

2. What do you do best?
Not sure. I’m a more rounded type. My daughters say “cooking!” :) 

3. Where would you like to live?
Sausalito or New York

4. Your favorite color?

5. Three of your own illustrations:

6. Your music?
ColdPlay, Music from musicals, Studio Gibuli movie sound tracks, JPOP.

7. Your biggest achievement?
My kids.

8. Your biggest mistake?
Not focusing on one thing.

9. Your favorite children's book when you were a child?
This is a Japanese one called “Shirokuma-chan no hot-cak

10. Your main character trait?
Loyal, perseverance

11. What do you appreciate most in a friend?
Kindness, Trustworthiness with some humor. 

12. What mistakes are you most willing to forgive?
Mistakes from trying

13. Your favorite children's book hero?
Hazel from Watershipdown 

14. What moves you forward?
Be a good role model for my daughters

15. What holds you back?
My ancient brain trying to put break on unknown situations.

16. Your dream of happiness?
Learning and creating each day with some time for tennis and travels.

17. The painter/illustrator you admire most?
Pretty much anyone who works as an artist. 
My favorite one, though, might be Dr. Seuss. 

18. What super power would you like to have? 
Read/learn things super fast and remember everything you read/learn. 

19. Your motto?
Be good.

20. Your social media?
instagram: @kiki68
twitter: @makiko222
Youtube: @PaperLuv

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Book Birthday Blog with A. Kidd

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

Congratulations to A. Kidd on the release of her new book, THE HEALING STAR!

Congrats on the release of The Healing Star! What inspired you to write this story?

I was inspired by a trip my husband and I took to Montreal and Quebec City. He saw a shooting star, but I didn’t. This got me thinking about stars, where they come from and what they mean. I was also listening to one of my favorite singers, Sara Bareilles. Two of her songs from the album The Blessed Unrest, “Satellite Call” and “Cassiopeia,” are about space. I was also inspired by the fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk, which features a tale of someone climbing into the sky. My grandma was also an inspiration. I had a special relationship with her growing up. She taught me piano lessons and stayed for dinner every Sunday. My grandma became very sick, just like Julia’s grandma. I think I worked through some of my feelings by writing this story.

The Healing Star follows the relationship between fourth-grader Julia and her grandmother. What do you hope readers take away from your story and that relationship? 

I hope they feel the love between Julia and Grammu and recognize the special bond they share. As Julia says, they are “cosmic twins.” I think everyone can relate to having a certain person in their life that means more to them than anything. When you have that go-to person, that best friend, you’ll do anything for them. And I hope readers see that this bond can transcend all kinds of circumstances. 

You also have experience as an artist and performance poet. Do either of these experiences influence or overlap with your novel writing? Do you ever find common threads in all of these pursuits? 

Absolutely. Artists see things with a visual eye, so I think this helps me picture the scenes for the novels inside my head so that I can better describe them on paper. And if I ever get stuck when writing a character or scene, sometimes I’ll sketch it out.

I love to play with language and I’m a huge fan of lyrical writing, so I think that comes out in my work. I try to create imagery and metaphors to enhance important moments in the story. Also, you must be very concise with words when writing poetry while still getting your point across, so this helps me “kill my darlings” as they say when writing a longer work such as a novel. Performance poetry has helped me get over my fear of speaking in front of people during author visits…mostly. Performance poetry often involves telling a story in the form of a poem, so that was good practice too. And getting immediate feedback from the audience on my work helped me improve my writing much more quickly. I miss that sometimes, as writing novels can be a lonely process.

Your book has been out for a little while now, how has the marketing trail been? What’s next for you?

It’s been going great so far. I’ve done a couple book signings at local bookstores and just had my first school visit. I used to work as a full time children’s librarian, so it’s been a joy to interact with kids again, this time talking to them about writing. It really feels like a good fit, so I hope to do more school visits. Next I have my official book launch on Tuesday, Oct. 8 at 7:30pm at Baldwin Public Library. At 6:30pm, there will be a special book club discussion featuring my book for grades 4-6. And then on Sunday, Oct. 20th from 11-5pm, I’ll be at Leon and Lulu in Clawson signing books as part of their Books and Authors event.  

As for writing, I recently completed a draft of a dystopian YA, so I’ll need to begin revisions on that after I finish the book launch for The Healing Star.

Where can people find The Healing Star, and how can people connect with you?

The Healing Star is available on Amazon in paperback and as an ebook. Here are all the vendors for the ebook. I hope to make it available through Apple soon too. If you’re local, the book is available for purchase at Yellow Door and Toadvine Books in Berkley. It’s also available at Book Beat in Oak Park. To find out more about me, my book (The Healing Star), and my upcoming events, please find me on Facebook and Twitter. I’m also on Goodreads if you’d like to chat or leave a review.

For author visits and other related inquiries, email me at I’d love to hear from you!

A little bit about the book: Stars with healing powers are falling from the sky.
Feisty fourth-grader Julia’s best friend in the entire universe is her grandmother. Julia and Grammu share secrets while cooking soup together, stay up late eating junk food and watching scary movies, and go stargazing on Blackberry Hill. They even wish on the same star every night.

But everything changes when Grammu catches the disappearing disease: little by little, she’s turning invisible. If Julia can catch a falling star, then her wish to save Grammu will come true. All Julia needs to do now is find the legendary ladder to the stars…

A little bit about the author: A. Kidd is the middle child in a family of three girls. She started making up her own stories at age four. Because she couldn't yet write, her mom wrote the stories down for her while she painted the pictures. Her first story was called Wagland and featured an island community with sea creatures that ate tuna fish sandwiches.

She has a B.S. in Written Communication with a minor in Language, Literature, and Writing from Eastern Michigan University and an MLIS with a specialization in children's librarianship from Wayne State University. Her poetry has been published in literary magazines. She is also an artist and a performance poet. In her free time, she enjoys finding and hiding painted rocks in her neighborhood and going on adventures with her family and friends.

A. Kidd lives with her husband and daughter in a suburb of Detroit, MI. The Healing Star is her debut novel. She often wishes on stars but hasn't caught one yet.