Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Book Birthday Blog with Deborah Diesen

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

Congratulations to Deborah Diesen on the release of her new book, Equality's Call!

Equality's Call, released on February 18th, follows the history of voting rights and voting rights activists in America

Congratulations on the release of Equality’s Call! How did the inspiration for this book come about?

Thank you! And thank you for hosting me here on the SCBWI-Michigan blog!

Equality’s Call came about after a conversation that I had with my younger son a few years ago, as we were noting that the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment was coming up.  We talked about how it hadn’t really been that long since women gained the right to vote.  Our conversation got me to thinking about perhaps writing a picture book about a few of the well-known figures of the women’s suffrage movement, showing how their commitment and efforts led to the passage of the 19th Amendment.

As I began to work on the book, though, my manuscript evolved.  As I learned more about the women’s suffrage movement, I realized that my understanding of the movement was very incomplete.  For instance, I discovered that the women I was most familiar with, while important and significant, did not represent the full depth or breadth of the women who spoke up about the right to vote.  I also discovered that many white suffragists excluded women of color from their activities.  And I learned that the passage of the 19th Amendment didn’t mean that all women could vote as of 1920.  Barriers to citizenship as well as racially-motivated voter suppression profoundly limited the right to vote.  This changed my perspective on the story I had thought I was going to tell.

Another component of my manuscript evolving was that I realized that looking at only one aspect of enfranchisement (in this case, of women gaining the right to vote) without looking at the whole of our country’s voting rights history is not possible.  We cannot understand changes in voting rights without examining the interconnectedness of who has and hasn’t been allowed to vote at various points in our country’s development, and of how voting rights connect to larger themes of our country’s history.

What emerged from this process was a picture book that takes readers from our nation’s founding, when only white men with property were allowed to vote, to the present.  It highlights milestones of progress as well as issues that remain.  The main story is written in an accessible style – it’s a brief 400 words, in rhyme, with a recurring refrain – in order to allow even very young children to hear it and learn from it; there are also several pages of backmatter to provide a deeper dive for older readers.  The book is honest – it doesn’t mythologize the past or minimize the concerns of the present – but in a way that I hope will uplift and encourage kids.  Voting rights are a critical component of our civil rights, and it’s never too soon for young people to start learning about the importance and power of standing up for and using those rights.

Magdalena Mora’s wonderful art for Equality’s Call brings the book alive.  It’s her first picture book, but I know you’ll be seeing many more from her.  She’s an amazing artist who is passionate about visual storytelling as a tool for social change.

Illustrations for Equality's Call were created by Magdalena Mora

How did the writing and research process of Equality’s Call compare to your previous books?

Equality’s Call is my 15th picture book, but my first ever nonfiction picture book, and nonfiction research is quite a bit different than writing dialogue for talking fish!  In fact, not long after starting the story, and again when working on the backmatter, I nearly threw in the towel.  I’m not a historian or a voting rights expert, and I was overwhelmed by the complexity of the history and the issues.  I felt profoundly unqualified to be writing on the topic of voting rights.

But even as I struggled, I realized that the struggle could and should be a part of the process.  Putting myself in the position of being a learner, and going on a learning journey, is what allowed me to create a book that I hope will take kids on that journey, too.  Equality’s Call is not a comprehensive reference work, but it’s a synthesis of what I learned and is meant to serve as an engaging entry point for kids to begin to learn more.

Deborah's previous books include titles like Picture Day PerfectionBloom, and the New York Times Bestseller, The Pout-Pout Fish! Find more of her books here.

You’re well known for that poetic, rhyming style of writing that’s featured in many of your books, including your latest one! How did you develop that voice?

I’ve always loved the way words sound, and I’ve been fond of writing in rhyme since elementary school.  My earliest creative efforts were rhyming poems, and my interest in rhyme has been lifelong.  Not everything I write lends itself to rhyme, but I love to work with it when I can, because I think rhythm and rhyme in writing can help a story cohere in a uniquely layered way.  It’s also a fun challenge to write in rhyme.  It’s frustrating when it isn’t working, but very satisfying when it finally comes together.

In addition to talking about the history of voting rights, you’ve also used Equality’s Call and its teacher and student handouts to encourage voting participation in local communities! Was this message and call to action something you saw happening with your book from the beginning? 

In writing Equality’s Call, the learning journey that I took into the past heightened my awareness of present-day voting rights issues.  It also impressed upon me the importance of sharing that knowledge with kids so that they will know what their rights are, how those rights came to be, and what we need to do to ensure those rights remain in place.  I didn’t anticipate taking on an advocacy role when I began, but I’m glad it’s where I ended up!

What’s one thing you hope your readers will take away from Equality’s Call?

There are actually three main ideas I hope young readers will take away from Equality’s Call.

The first is a recognition of the importance of voting.

The second is a clear understanding that barriers to the right to vote are wrong.  We can and should expect our government officials to make voting easy, accessible, convenient, accurate, and fair.

The third is an expectation of all of us to speak up for voting rights and civil rights.  There’s a question posed on the last page of the book, after the mini-biographies of voting rights activists:  “How will you answer equality’s call?”

Answering that question is on all of us.

What’s next for you? Do you have any events coming up or new books in the works? Where can people connect with you and learn more about your work?

My web site ( is the best place for finding updates about my upcoming books and events.  Also on my web site are some handouts for teachers and parents to use with Equality’s Call.

Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to talk about Equality’s Call.  I’ve enjoyed your questions, and I really appreciate you hosting me here today! 

A little bit about the book:

The founders of the United States declared that consent of the governed was a key part of their plan for the new nation. But for many years, only white men of means were allowed to vote. Equality's Call looks back at the activists who worked to secure the right for all to vote, and it also looks forward to the future and the work that still needs to be done.  

A little bit about the author:

Deborah Diesen is the author of many children’s picture books, including The Pout-Pout Fish and Equality’s Call. She loves playing with words and rhymes and rhythms, and she believes everyone should own at least one rhyming dictionary.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Book Birthday Blog with Deb Pilutti

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

Congratulations to Deb Pilutti on the release of her new book,  Old Rock (is Not Boring)!

Congratulations on the release of Old Rock (is Not Boring)! What inspired this story?

Thank you! I take a lot of walks in the woods, and I often will wonder what a rock or tree might have witnessed over time. I drew a picture of a rock that I thought was funny and wondered if I could write a story about the character. Then I became stuck, because ROCKS DON’T DO ANYTHING, they just sit there. It seemed like a boring premise. Once I thought more about how rocks are formed, and what they might have seen through the millennium, I realized there was an abundance of not-boring experiences Old Rock could have.

You created a charming “Make Your Own Rock Character” activity sheet to go along with your newest book. You’ve also offered activity sheets, teacher’s guides, and even event kits for previous books! Why do you make these extra materials? What value would you say they hold for your readers?

I find it inspiring whenever I see a teacher connect curriculum to a book or theme, sometimes in surprising ways. It creates opportunities for students to delve deeper into a subject, be creative or just have fun. Plus it’s a nice leave-behind for school visits. 

Before you wrote and illustrated picture books, you did a variety of graphic design, product design, and illustration. Can you tell us a little bit about why you made the transition to picture books?

When I was a young adult, it was my desire to become a “serious designer,” and create corporate logos and posters and brochures. It seemed like the kind of thing an adult would do. If I had been paying attention to what I was truly passionate about, I might have made the transition sooner. The projects I enjoyed most had a playful or illustrative component and told a story. It never occurred to me that writing and illustrating for children was something I could do. When it did finally dawn on me, I began to study children’s books and joined SCBWI and a critique group. At first it was something I tried on and off, until I realized being published would not become a reality if I did not take the work seriously and treat it like my job.

As both the author and illustrator of your books, you work with the written and visual aspects of your story. When a new story idea first comes to mind, is it usually in images or words? How do you balance text and visuals through the creation and revision process of your books?

Each story is a little different. Many of them have started with a character sketch. Then I try to learn more about the character  and develop a premise for the story. I write and revise until the idea feels pretty buttoned down. At that point, I start sketching and put together a dummy to take to my critique groups. They let me know if there are problems with plot or if I need to revise or cut text (always). Then on to more revising.

What’s something you hope your readers will take away from Old Rock’s exciting tales?

This is a difficult question. It isn’t something I think about when I’m writing. I just try to find the story or character’s truth and hopefully entertain in the process. That said, it would be nice if readers thought, “Everyone or (thing) has a story to tell.”

What’s next, any events coming up or new ideas in the works? How can people connect with you and learn more about your work?

 I’m having a launch party for Old Rock at Nicola’s in Ann Arbor on February 29 at 11:00 am along with Deborah Marcero, author/illustrator of In a Jar. I’ll also be participating in a panel at KidlitCon in Ann Arbor on March 27-28. You can find out more at or @dpilutti on Instagram and Twitter.

A little bit about the book:

Old Rock has been sitting in the same spot in the pine forest for as long as anyone can remember. Spotted Beetle, Tall Pine, and Hummingbird think just sitting there must be boring, but they are in for a wonderful surprise.

Fabulous tales of adventurous travel, exotic scenery, entertaining neighbors, and more from Old Rock’s life prove it has been anything but boring.

A little bit about the author:

Deb Pilutti writes and illustrates for children. She feels lucky to have a job where reading, playing with toys and watching cartoons is considered “research.” Before becoming an author & illustrator, Deb was a graphic designer and created toys for and graphics for SeaWorld and Warner Brothers theme parks.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Working with a Small Press by Wendy BooydeGraaff

Working with a small press/publisher is a unique experience. A working definition of a small press is a small, traditional publishing house which publishes fewer than thirty titles a year. Many small publishers have specialties or market niches that they fill. Examples in the children’s book world include Arbordale Publishing, Enchanted Lion Books, Tilbury House Publishers, Penny Candy Books, and many, many more.

Each publisher is unique, just as each book is unique. To capture a smattering of experiences, I reached out to a few fellow authors:

  • Jean Alicia Elster says, “Unique to my experience with Wayne State University Press is the fact that my books Who's Jim Hines? and The Colored Car are still on their list—even though they were published in 2008 and 2013 respectively. The books are still selling, I'm still doing lots of author visits and conferences and Wayne State University Press still promotes them. I like that Wayne State University Press has given the books time to develop an audience, particularly since the subject matter is very relevant in today's social/political climate.”

  • Kristin Wolden Nitz, published with Peachtree, says, “All three of my novels are still in print. They probably all would have been remaindered long ago with a Big Five publisher. My YA mystery Suspect, which came out in 2010, was on display at an ALA event as few as three years ago.”

  • Kristin Bartley Lenz says of Elephant Rock Books, “My YA novel was the only one being published that year, so I got all of the attention from the entire team. I had a weekly phone call with Jotham for several months while we edited. I was able to be involved in the creation of the cover design and the marketing/promotion plan - my opinion mattered and every step was discussed along the way. They arranged for me to speak on a panel at the NCTE/ALAN annual convention and sent me to the Heartland Fall Forum for a “speed-dating” lunch with independent book sellers throughout the midwest.”

  • Robin Newman raves, “I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE being a Creston Books author. I would not be a published author today if it weren’t for Creston and the amazing, you-take-my-breath-away, publisher and editor Marissa Moss. All Creston authors are given the opportunity to attend big conferences, like ALA. Generally large publishing houses only invite their big-name authors to attend these kinds of events. Likewise, large publishing houses may only invite their big-name authors and moneymakers to participate at certain book festivals. This is never an issue at Creston. On Creston's website it states unequivocally: 

"Creston Books is author/illustrator driven, with talented, award-winning creators given more editorial freedom and control than in a typical New York house. We work hard to promote every book we print, not just the few we think will sell the best."

And finally, some advice from Rob Broder, publisher at Ripple Grove Press:
“Read as many picture books [or whatever you are writing—RGP only publishes picture books] as possible. Study them. Love them. Write something that’s from the heart... write very, very well, and make the story unique.”

Wendy BooydeGraaff is the author of Salad Pie, a children's picture book published by Ripple Grove Press. Her work for adults has been published in Emrys Journal Online, Kveller, The Emerson Review, Third Wednesday, Rune Bear, Leopardskin & Limes, SmokeLong Quarterly, and is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review and So It Goes. Find her @BooyTweets and say hello.

Coming up on the Mitten Blog:

Book Birthdays, a Writer Spotlight, and our SCBWI-MI Nonfiction Conference and Mentorship Competition.

For those who:

  • asked for more nonfiction programming in our state, this conference is for YOU!
  • asked for a way to find critique partners or groups, this conference is for YOU!
  • asked for time to learn from successful creators and time to apply these new learnings to their own projects, this conference is for YOU!
  • wanted to interact with an editor who is actively acquiring nonfiction projects, this conference is for YOU!
  • wonder why and how their friends are selling nonfiction manuscripts or getting nonfiction illustration jobs, this conference is for YOU!
For many people, nonfiction is the path to breaking into the children's publishing world. There's never been a better time. Learn why and how from people who are doing it. 

Registration is open. Seats are limited. Click THIS CONFERENCE IS FOR ME! to learn more and reserve your place.

  • And here's another great opportunity to learn about writing for children and teens. Several SCBWI-MI authors and illustrators are presenting at KidLitCon in Ann Arbor on March 27-28. Learn more about this free event here:

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Book Birthday Blog with Amy Nielander

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

Congratulations to Amy Nielander on the release of her new book,  Grama's Hug! 

Congratulations on the release of Grama’s Hug! You’ve talked with us in a previous interview about this book, its inspirations, and its earlier stages. Can you tell us about your journey from there to now?

Thank you so much! I’m happy to be on the Book Birthday Blog sharing more insights from my journey. The final artwork phase lasted roughly six months. I upgraded my workstation before I began so I was learning and doing at the same time. When I wrapped artwork up, I spent quite a bit of time researching how to best promote my book. I eventually discovered a budding group of debut 2020 Authors/Illustrators linking arms to promote each other. Perfect 2020 Picture Books officially formed last summer and our social media pages are in full motion via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can learn more about us through our website (created by the lovely Lisa Katzenberger). Working as authors/illustrators can be quite solitary at times. I am grateful to be part of this supportive group of talented women whom are always cheering me on. I absolutely recommend the group promotion strategy! 

Previous to this book release was your wordless picture book, The Ladybug Race. You’ve mentioned that Grama’s Hug also started out as a wordless book. What was the moment or thought that lead you to give Grama’s Hug words? How was your experience creating a book with words compared to a wordless one?

Grama's Hug went from a nearly wordless story to a story with full text after the dummy was shared with more readers (and illustrations were settled on). Creating a book with words was definitely more challenging at that point. What helped me overcome the change of direction was spending time paging through the dummy on my couch, where I used to read picture books to my kids. It was in that peaceful place that the narrative and voice for both characters took shape.  

An example of Amy's illustration process, from sketch to finish

In your experience, how does being both a book’s author and illustrator impact the creation and publication process most? 

When I go back to the development of Grama's Hug and examine the final artwork/text phase a bit more, I’d say the element of time is impacted most. When I needed to revise text I could no longer work on illustrations. That progress came to a halt when I had to shift creativity gears. It wasn’t until text was finalized when I could flip back to working on illustrations. I imagine it is different for other Author-Illustrators though.

You often feature or talk about your dummy books in interviews and on your Instagram. What significance do dummy books play in your creative process?

I love creating dummies. They are like candy to me. The reward for getting a revision tightened up is, a dummy. I enjoy physically making them, then doting over their cute baby-book size. The purpose of every dummy I create is to help me figure out pacing and page turns. They also make the book feel a step closer to being real, which can be quite motivating. If I want to test out another illustration, new pages can be dropped in quickly. Dummies are critical to the process of picture book making for me.

A few of Amy's dummy books for Grama's Hug

What’s something you hope your readers, whether grandmas or young astronauts, will take away from Grama’s Hug?

My biggest hopes are readers believe in their dreams a little more, believe in each other
a lot more and make every goodbye memorable.

What’s next for you? Any events coming up, or new books in the works? How can people connect with you? 

My official book launch is Saturday, February 22nd at Barnes & Noble in Troy, from 11am-12pm. If there are any SCBWI members in the area, I’d love to meet you! I’m also an artist in the Muskegon Museum of Art Exhibit, 20 for 20: Celebrating Michigan Illustrators. A reception and Book Fair will conclude the exhibition on April 9th. As far as new books go, my agent will be submitting a couple more picture books soon. Readers can visit my website to learn about future book signings/events.

A little bit about the book:

Grama's Hug is about a devoted grama and her space-loving granddaughter, May. The story follows the pair during May’s elementary years as they become an inseparable team. They create art, birdwatch and prepare inventions for the annual space fair. They never, ever say goodbye without a hug until that moment (almost) slips away one day. 

A little bit about the author: 

Amy Nielander is a children’s picture book author and illustrator. She strives to spread joy and inspire others through her stories and school visits. Her first wordless picture book, The Ladybug Race (PomegranateKids), received international recognition as a finalist entry in the Silent Book Contest and later earned a Bronze Metal Book Award by Independent Publisher. Her second picture book, Grama’s Hug (Page Street Kids) received a starred review from Booklist and released January 28th, 2020. Amy lives in Michigan with her family and works alongside her sweet, chair-sharing havanese (whom she adores), every day. 

Twitter: @nielanderamy 
Instagram: @amynielander

Friday, February 14, 2020

The New SCBWI-MI Members For Members Scholarship Fund: Now Accepting Applications

This January we marked our one-year anniversary of KAST (Kalamazoo Area Shop Talk). In this position I’ve had wonderful conversations with college students from diverse backgrounds who expressed interest in joining our organization, but said they could not afford the membership fee. One, a young mother, hoped she could join once she graduated and found a job. Writing for children was her dream. Like many of you, I’ve been there and I’ve been fortunate to have received help from SCBWI-MI. I did not get here on my own and I’m grateful for all the support and guidance that has come my way. If you feel the same way and want to "give back," here's a great opportunity.

After conversations with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and our Regional Advisors we established the Members for Members Scholarship Fund to support new and continuing memberships. The guidelines for submitting an application are included in this post.  We invite all in our community to consider making a contribution to this worthwhile project. You can be creative and contribute as a group!

Give a little love and help change the world!

Isabel O'Hagin
DEI Committee Chair
KAST Co-Coordinator

Members for Members Scholarship Fund

This scholarship will be awarded to writers and/or illustrators who are Michigan residents and who wish to become members of SCBWI, or to current SCBWI-Michigan members who fit the scholarship guidelines.

Awardees will have an interest in and are actively working toward creating children's books that resonate with diverse readers. The scholarship will offset the cost of an annual membership in SCBWI (which includes membership in SCBWI-Michigan) and is currently $80.00 for full membership and $65.00 for student membership.

This grant is sponsored by donations from current SCBWI-Michigan members. The number of awards will be determined by donations to this scholarship fund.

Deadline: Applications are accepted February 14 through March 14, 2020. The winner(s) of the scholarships will be announced on or about April 1 annually.

Award: Scholarship winners will receive a year’s membership to SCBWI beginning April 1 if the winner is a new member. If the winner is a current member, his/her membership will be extended for a year.

SCBWI and SCBWI-Michigan membership benefits include but are not limited to reduced conference registration rates for members, access to members-only opportunities and awards offered by SCBWI and SCBWI-Michigan, access to our quarterly publication, The SCBWI Bulletin, and ongoing free access to local Shop Talks in Michigan, etc. In addition, winners will receive a follow-up phone conversation with a current member.


This award is open to persons who live in Michigan.

Please collect the following information for the body of an email:

1.)  Full name and contact information: mailing address, email address, social media handles, and phone number. Indicate if you are a current SCBWI member.

2.)  Provide a brief description about works-in-progress or projects in the planning stages. Name some recent educational experiences that have supported your interests in writing/illustrating for children.

3.)  Include a statement about why you want to become a member of SCBWI. What in kidlit captures your motivation and commitment? Indicate your school or college and program if applying as a student member.

4.) Include a brief statement of financial need. Please do not provide any personal income information.

  • Address the email to our SCBWI-MI Regional Advisors: Carrie Pearson ( and Jodi McKay ( 
  • Fill in the subject line with: Members for Members Scholarship Application. 
  • Provide the requested information in the body of the email letter and send.

Please email Isabel O'Hagen at 
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee Chair


Interested in making a donation to support our Members For Members Scholarship Fund?

You can send your donation via PayPay or by check.

By PayPal: donations made through our SCBWI MI PayPal account should read, “M4M Scholarship” email address is

By check: make your check payable to SCBWI-MI with a note to read, "M4M Scholarship." Checks should be sent to Carrie Pearson, 3204 Island Beach Road, Marquette, MI 49855 c/o SCBWI-MI

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Book Birthday Blog with Buffy Silverman

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

Congratulations to Buffy Silverman on the release of her new book,  On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring!

Congratulations on the release of your new book, On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring! What inspired this story about the changing seasons?

The idea for Snow-Melting Day began as a response to a StoryStorm blog post in January, 2018, written by Heidi Stemple. Heidi encouraged writers to pay attention to what’s around them. It must have been a warm winter day, because I wrote this sentence in my notebook:
It was a drip droppy
                slip sloppy 
                snow melting day

And then I jotted down a few images: Mist rises in the air, boots sink in the slush, puddles grow on the lake, followed by some questions to myself: Is there a story here? Or just a poem? And then more notes: dog wet from snout to tail (it really must have been a slushy day!) and writing on the snow (dog/deer tracks) turn to slippery sloppery.

Not only do you write picture books, but you write poetry as well! Can you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an author and poet? 

My writing focus has wandered over the years, from narrative nonfiction for magazines, to writing nonfiction for educational publishers, to poetry. I think I first caught the poetry bug when I enrolled in an online children’s poetry class with Laura Purdie Salas, about 10 years ago. As I delved into children’s poetry, I discovered that this is the writing I am most drawn to and is what I want to do when I grow up!

In addition to nonfiction books on nature, you’ve also written about a wide variety of other nonfiction topics, from Titanic to the mars missions and even about how race cars work! Do you have any tried and true research methods or resources?

Many of my nonfiction books were written for series developed by editors. Some of these featured subjects about which I knew little to nothing. Mars? Pokemon? The Titanic? Cutting-edge Brain Science?? I’ve found that the more I learn about a subject, the more interesting it becomes. And once I’ve discovered the wow-factor, I know I can write about a subject for a young audience. Unfortunately, I’m not organized enough to say that I have any tried and true research methods—I usually spend a lot of time wandering around the internet, gathering more and more sources. Sometimes I’ll look at references cited on a Wikipedia page because those often lead to primary sources.

You are incredibly prolific, with over 90 books written and poetry featured in an impressive array of publications, like The Poetry of US, from National Geographic, and magazines like Cricket and Spider! What do you do to “fill your bucket” and keep the inspiration flowing?

I think my greatest source for inspiration is accountability. That can take many forms—a deadline from an editor, a critique group meeting that I’ll be embarrassed to attend without a manuscript, or a submission opportunity from a conference.

What advice would you give to someone who’s looking to write and publish not only picture books, but also poetry?

Go to the library and read lots and lots of books, especially recently published titles. Many children’s poets who bring nature to life inspire me—Barbara Juster Esbensen, Valerie Worth, Joyce Sidman, Leslie Bulion, Douglas Florian, Deborah Ruddell, and Irene Latham have written books that I’ve read over and over again. I think poetry books are really the best mentors for anyone wanting to write poetry!

What’s next for you, do you have any events or readings coming up? Where can people learn more about you and your work?

What’s next on my agenda is a walk in the snow with my dog! But you might have been asking about writerly things? I’m speaking about using lyrical language for KAST at the end of February. I’m also heading to the SCBWI-MI nonfiction conference in March, and I hope to see lots of SCBWI folks there. To learn more about my writing, please visit my website:

A little bit about the book:

Snowmen droop / Cardinals swoop, Rabbits bounce / Foxes pounce

In the early days of spring when the snow begins to melt, plants and animals stir to life. High-impact photos and simple, rhyming text make for an engaging read-aloud while back matter offers more detail about each of the creatures featured in this celebration of spring's arrival.

A little bit about the Author:

Buffy Silverman is the author of over 90 nonfiction books for children, featuring topics from Angel Sharks to Alligators, and Mars to Monster Trucks. Her newest book, On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring, received a star from Kirkus Reviews. Buffy spent many years as a naturalist and environmental educator, and taught biology to college students. Now she enjoys speaking to students about nonfiction, poetry, and writing. Her home is near a swampy lake in Michigan where she spends outdoor time with her dog, watches and photographs nature, and writes about the creatures she observes. Visit her at

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Reviewer's Job by Ed Spicer

Most of us may be aware of one or more of the following children’s book reviewing sources: Horn Book, Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist… Many of my author and illustrator friends slip into depression or rage or denial upon the release of a review. Note that I did not add an adjective to “review.” Book creators have a myriad of reasons for releasing a maelstrom of anxiety-ridden emotion to suck them into wishing they had become shepherds instead of exposing their work to a cadre of leering reviewers. And sometimes these reasons are as capricious as the wind. “They didn’t like this enough.” “They liked the wrong thing.” The actual reasons are not as important as the point that book creators should be more concerned about the next book than this book, with all its perfections and mistakes. And most of my book creating friends do not spend a second thinking about matters of representation justice.

Reviewers typically come from the American Library Association world. Usually they are librarians, but if, like me, they are not, they come with a whole host of reviewing experience. This experience can be from serving on Notable Children’s Books or other committees that select a list of books, such as the old, Best Books for Young Adults (that is now the Best Fiction for Young Adults). Many reviewers have served on single book selection committees, such as the Caldecott or Newbery. And most reviewers are white and most are women, to say nothing of other intersections.

My own experience includes establishing the young adult book review column (that may not still exist) for the Michigan Reading Journal. I have also reviewed for local newspapers, Horn Book, and others. I have served on the Printz Award, the Caldecott Award, the Schneider Family Book Awards (one year as the Chair), and many others. I even served as a poetry reviewer for the Lee Bennett Hopkins Children’s Poetry Awards.

At this point readers may be thinking that reviewers are a well-vetted group of very knowledgeable readers—and we are. However, we are also victims of a systemic and dangerous singular view of what constitutes excellent literature for children, which helps explain why book creators should be more concerned with creating their next book. We are victims of our upbringing with all of its implied support of a patriarchal, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, ableist… viewpoint. Quick! Name five series for middle school students that feature Black women. Name five books that portray a student with a wheelchair on the cover. Name ten books for each of the five hundred plus separate nations that exist within our U.S. borders.

Do ALL of our children have a chance to see themselves regularly among the artwork and words on our covers and pages? If not, how should reviewers deal with this fact? I remember reading about Toni Morrison’s conversation with a tall, white, male reporter. At one point she says to him that if the only reason he knows how to be tall is because he makes everyone kneel down to him, then he has a gigantic problem. She then tells him something close to, “Racism is a gigantic problem in this country. What are YOU going to do about it? Leave me out of it.”

Until we are able to see that our world is shaped by children’s literature—the world we see AND the world we don’t see—fear will reign. Would a young George Zimmerman living in a world steeped with images of young Black teens wearing hoodies have grown up with the same prejudices? Would he have seen the person in the hoodie? I firmly believe that it is the job of the reviewer to seek out books featuring the unrepresented and to shine a “BUY THIS BOOK NOW” light on those that feature children from Indigenous Nations, LGBTQ students, POC children, etc. The good news is that one can promote plenty of high quality books that address this!

It is also the job of the reviewer to listen to these same people and be willing to learn, be willing to apologize for screwing up, be willing to persist when so many would ask us to give up. Toni Morrison also said that optimism is a political weapon that should be used every single day. Rarely has she been wiser!

In addition to reviewing, Ed still works with publishers, librarians, teachers, and other book lovers on selecting authors, illustrators, and titles to use with children. He has completed over 70 curriculum guides for several publishers and has used his Reading Specialist knowledge to review both finished texts and manuscripts. As stated in the article Ed has been on many local, state, and national book selection committees. And even though Ed is clearly enjoying his Crack of Noon Club, he hopes there is at least one more book committee with his name on it. Contact Ed via email (, call or send a text to 269-615-3620, or follow him on Facebook. His Twitter handle is @spicyreads and his website/blog is

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