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.