Friday, April 24, 2020

Standard Manuscript Formatting in the KidLit World by Wendy BooydeGraaff

Strange that in an art form such as writing, especially writing for children, there is such a thing as standard manuscript formatting. We’d expect the rules to allow for fun fonts, experimental spacing, and coloured paper. Many publishing houses and magazines have guidelines that spell out exactly how to format your submission, but what about those that don’t? Does that mean they’ll accept any creative way you’d like to present your words?

Sorry, no. There is such a thing as standard manuscript formatting that most of the writing world adheres to. And while different publishers and agents may prefer slight variations on that, a clean professional manuscript in standard formatting allows your words to shine.

So unless your editor has a fondness for Garamond, or an agent wants you to format your cover page in a specific way, follow these guidelines. There are several sources out there, but the unifying factors are:

  • font—Times New Roman is standard, in 12 pt. or another classic, serif font. There is a strong hatred for Comic Sans out there, so don’t risk sending your work out in it, even if you love it and don’t see what the fuss is about.
  • one-inch margins
  • double spacing (except for poetry)
  • numbered pages
  • byline
  • header with name and address
  • title/chapter heading centered half way down page

SCBWI’s The Book has an article and example on page 9. There are also numerous examples available online. Here are a few gold standards:

For picture books:

For magazines, you’d do the same as the picture book format, but in the upper right corner, put First Rights (or whichever rights you are offering). A word-count is also nice.

For novels, there is specific formatting for the title page:

Each chapter begins half way down the page, and there’s a running header with the title/author/page number:

For poetry:

One final reminder—standard formatting is for your final draft. Get those initial drafts and revisions down any way you like. I like to draft in block format, Cambria is my font of choice, and I print on coloured paper for my critique groups.

Questions? Put them in the comments and I’ll try and answer them.

Wendy BooydeGraaff wrote this blog post in Comic Sans, but the editor changed it. She’s the author of Salad Pie (Ripple Grove Press, 2016) and has written a humourous bit about writer’s guidelines for Emrys Journal Online. Her short fiction has been published in literary journals including Bending Genres, Third Wednesday, and Smokelong Quarterly, and is forthcoming in NOON, Jellyfish Review, and So It Goes. Find out more at or on Twitter @BooyTweets.

Wendy's tips are just in time to help you finalize your submission to the SCBWI-MI 2020 Nonfiction Mentorship Competition! The submission window opens May 5th, and everything you need to know can be found here:

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Book Birthday Blog with Cathy Gendron

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

Congratulations to Cathy Gendron on the release of Trees Make Perfect Pets! 

In honor of Earth Day today, we celebrate the release of Trees Make Perfect Pets this March, and talk with Cathy Gendron about her experience illustrating this book!

Congratulations on the release of Trees Make Perfect Pets! Can you tell us a little bit about your experience illustrating this book? What was your favorite part? What was the most challenging?

I was in love with the story from the get-go. The possibilities of the narrative were pretty close to what I’d imagined when I set out to enter the children’s illustration field. My favorite spread is the greenhouse where Abigail meets Fido. The biggest challenge was the time frame. I work traditionally in oils so kids’ book deadlines are really tough!

Once you’ve read the manuscript, how do you move from there to your finished illustrations?

My first directive was to produce character studies for both the protagonist Abigail – and also her pet tree, Fido (He’s a dogwood. 😉). Abigail existed in my imagination but for Fido, I needed to consider several factors and do research. First I visited local nurseries in search of dogwoods, then rode my bike along the Huron River, photographing trees and leaves as I went. But my compulsive nature had me stewing over how I was to tell Fido’s story in such a short time frame. His journey from sapling to full-grown tree would involve years of growth, but the story needed to progress much more quickly – Abigail couldn’t age in the narrative. Just the right amount of magic was required! I actually created a Photoshop document that placed Abigail next to Fido for each page progression, so that he would grow proportionately through the book, leaves remaining the same size. Crazy, but it worked. Oh, and if I didn’t already have enough hours into research, I created a clay Sculpey tree. 

Once the character direction was approved we went through the normal procedure, from thumbnails and pagination, to rough page sketches, to tight pencils, to finished art. 

The Sculpey tree model Cathy created as an illustration reference.

What’s your favorite part of the picture-making process? The ideation and sketching? Finding the right colors? The finishing touches?

The ideation is fun, but the abundance of possible directions sometimes trips me up. Getting to the tight drawing is a lot of Just Plain Work, and oftentimes I feel like I’m never going to get it right. But then miraculously I’m there, color roughs finished, board primed and sanded. For me, the act of painting is the best part of all. 

In addition to your children’s illustration, you do a variety of creative work, including murals, editorial illustrations, and book covers! Why did you start illustrating children’s books?

During my entire career, I’ve wanted to illustrate children’s books. I’ve been collecting for all of my adult life, even before I became a mom. My own mother was an English literature major and my dad was a voracious non-fiction reader, so reading is almost like breathing to me. For a long time, I felt the place for me was in editorial illustration, and while I still love that field, it often favors young, fresh talent. A little voice in my head said “If not now, then when?”, so I started shifting gears, set a plan for children’s illustration and here I am. I still love doing adult book covers, and I make a habit of never turning down opportunities (thus the crazy large Ann Arbor mural). 

Cathy is the illustrator for another picture book, The Nutcracker Comes to America by Chris Barton

She also designed and painted this Ann Arbor mural, titled "Enduring Roots"

What illustrators do you look to for inspiration?

The list is so, so long and it changes weekly! My background is fine art so I drew first inspiration from artists like Edward Hopper, Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, Kathe Kollwitz, Max Beckman, then maybe Romare Bearden, Ben Shahn, Ralph Steadman. I adore Charley Harper and Tadahiro Uesugi, own most of Chris Van Allsburg’s books, love Lizbeth Zwerger, Julia Sarda, Oliver Jeffers, Victoria Semykina. And I could stand and stare at Charles McGee’s Noah’s Ark at the DIA for hours.

What advice would you give to an aspiring children’s book illustrator? 

Join SCBWI! In my planning process, it was the best move of all. 

What’s next for you? Do you have any events or projects coming up? Where can we learn more about you and your work?

The project that was to take up most of the summer is probably now sidelined because of the Coronavirus. So I’m enjoying revisiting watercolor painting for children’s book samples, and adding to an inventory of gallery paintings. 

To see more work, visit my website:
Check out my Instagram feed:
Friend me on FB too:

A little bit about the book:

Trees Make Perfect Pets, written by Paul Czajak and illustrated by Cathy Gendron

Abigail is determined to get the perfect pet.

So she chooses Fido. He keeps her cool from the sun, stays where she tells him, and even gives her air to breathe. That's because Fido is a tree!

But not everyone thinks having a tree as a pet is a good idea, though, especially when Fido starts to grow. Will Abigail be able to keep her perfect pet?

A little bit about the illustrator:

Cathy’s picture-making passion was sparked by an early painting class at the Toledo Museum of Art. She survived several years as an art director for both the Ann Arbor News and the Detroit Free Press before leaving to pursue illustration full-time. From then on, she has combined freelancing for books and magazines and teaching illustration at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. She lives and works from her studio in Ann Arbor.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

SCBWI-MI Calling for Indie Mentors!

Here's a special request from SCBWI-MI Indie Coordinator, David Stricklen:

As the Michigan Indie Coordinator, I am seeking to identify our indie high achievers and ask them to consider a role as an indie mentor.

This is an important first step in an effort to provide the most current and accurate information to our members and help them choose the right indie path to publishing for them.

Indie publishing would include hybrid publishing (combines aspects of traditional and self-publishing), vanity publishing (publishers do it all for a price), self-publishing (the author does it all), and digital. All of these various publishing methods would fall under the indie umbrella.

Mentor information will be added to the SCBWI Michigan website with a link to a special page called Independently Publishing Resources. On this page, visitors will find the indie mentor's bio, links to their work, contact information and their particular publishing path. Depending on the indie path members may be considering, they will now have identified the best resources for information.

Are you an indie high achiever? Would you agree to be a resource for members on the SCBWI-MI website? At a minimum, you should be able to answer yes to the questions below.

 ● I have independently published at least three picture books or two novels.
 ● I have sold a minimum total of 2,500 books.
 ● I have presented at a variety of schools and/or conferences.
 ● I have presented my work at a variety of book fairs.

If you would like to be one of our SCBWI-MI indie mentor resources, please email indie coordinator David Stricklen.

David Stricklen is the SCBWI-MI Indie Coordinator, Grand Rapids Shop Talk Coordinator, and the overall MI Shop Talk Administrator. Learn more about his middle-grade novels at

Coming up on the Mitten Blog:

Wendy BooydeGraaff will be here this Friday with Standard Manuscript Formatting in the KidLit World - just in time to submit your manuscripts for the SCBWI-MI Nonfiction Mentorship Competition. The submission window opens on May 5th.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Creative Gifting

All around us, people are using their creativity to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Medical staff are finding new ways to treat patients. Grocers, farmers, restaurants, non-profits, and neighborhood groups are finding new ways to supply and deliver food and partnering to help vulnerable and struggling residents and businesses. Teachers and parents are finding new ways to educate children. We’re all in this together, but not equally; the reality looks very different even within the same city. I could go on and on, but I know you're all discovering new partnerships being created every week in your area.

Everyone is coping in their own way depending on their circumstances. Some of my author friends are writing up a storm, while others are literally and figuratively stuck in place. But creativity takes many forms, and I’m appreciating the various ways people are giving back when they've been gifted with safety and time at home - from quilting clubs making masks to chefs filming free virtual cooking lessons from their home kitchens. For those of you who attended my "Salted Book Launch Party" a few years ago and sampled my friend Laura's cooking, she's been sharing recipes and hosting daily Live at Five real-life cooking demos with limited ingredients, hungry teenagers, and the family dog barking in the background.

For some of us, being busy is a healthy coping mechanism; for others, our pace needs to slow. Here are a few of the ways our SCBWI-MI members are coping with the quarantine.
*  Remember Neal Levin’s Kiddie Litter cartoons? He created them many years ago when this blog was a newsletter printed on paper and snail-mailed to members around the state. Now, he’s created a number of quarantine cartoons. I had a hard time choosing just one to share here! You can see more on his Facebook page.

Author and SCBWI-MI Indie Coordinator/Shop Talk Administrator Dave Stricklen has been working on his 2020 ArtPrize non-partisan entry, The Spirit of America (come together and overcome together) about how we as Americans work together to overcome difficult times.

What to look for: The first view is how the painting appears to move as you walk by. The final stills show the detail when standing in place.

Did you notice? The doors open and close, the striped hallways stretch, and the spirit’s face follows you. Also, the shadows from the doors move as the doors open and the planes near the end move through the sky. If you ever get a chance to see it in person, be sure to move up and down (the face will also smile at you).

Many SCBWI members have created and shared activities to help teachers and parents with homeschooling kids.
Here’s one from author/illustrator, Amy Nielander.

Ages: Kindergartner to Adult

Families/kids can download a CREATE A CHARACTER activity sheet every Monday on my blog. Four BLOBS (inspired by real objects) are on each sheet. Kids can turn the BLOBS into any character they like using a medium of their choice. Amy will share her character designs on Friday (and encourages others to post their designs via social media using #theblobblog). Families can check the Blog Archive to see previous designs and Guest Artist’s artwork.This activity encourages creativity, imagination, design and problem-solving skills.

Here's a virtual 3D modeling class from author/illustrator/sculptor
Jeff Jantz:
"The organization that I work for is currently running interactive after-school activities through several different themed channels Monday through Thursday including an Arts and Craft channel, a Travel channel, a Health and Fitness channel and more. Also, homework help with certified teachers. I am working a lot with the MAKER channel, where we will be facilitating interactive engineering and design activities. Here's a link to our virtual page so you can see all the great things we have going on:  
I'm very proud to work for an organization that is so willing to make changes quickly to find ways to serve our students even in these uncertain times."

FREE Virtual 3D modeling class for kids. "3D modeling Mondays featuring TinkerCAD"
This Virtual class will be taught by author/illustrator Jeff Jantz and is sponsored by WSU C2 Pipeline in response to school closers across the country due to COVID 19. To join simply click on the Zoom Meeting link below during the scheduled time.

What is TinkerCAD? It's a 3D modeling program for kids. It can be used for 3D printing, lego builds or simply designing a project.

Who can participate? Kids and Teens age 6 and up. Kids who play Minecraft tend to catch on to TinkerCAD very quickly.

What's needed? An internet connection and a computer (preferably with a mouse). You can join Zoom from a computer or a phone. It would be best to set up a TinkerCAD account beforehand and explore it on your own before the class. To set up a free account go to

When? Every Monday, 3:30 to 5:00 PM eastern time, till May 25, 2020

How do I get on? Just follow this link during the scheduled time:
Join Zoom Meeting 
Or use the Meeting ID: 825-674-345

Find more educational resources from SCBWI members in Michigan and around the world:

You might have heard the inspiring story of how Ruth McNally Barshaw’s sketchbook journal of an SCBWI conference experience helped her find an agent and publish her popular Ellie McDoodle series. In recent weeks, Ruth has been keeping an "isolation journal" and sharing the sketches on her Facebook page. Her entries are full of humor and heart. Most of all, they speak the truth.

Thank you everyone for sharing your creative gifts in myriad ways. We'd love to hear more about what you're doing; please let us know in the comments. Whether it's working on the front-lines of healthcare or staying home and hugging your family members, we appreciate you. Here’s a gentle, encouraging post from Vicky Lorencen which sums it up beautifully:

Stay safe and take care,
Kristin Lenz

Friday, April 10, 2020

Diversity Dialogue: In-Between by Amy O'Hanlon

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

Artwork by Rebecca Howe

Our second quarterly post for the Diversity Dialogue blog written by Amy O'Hanlon addresses the complex issue of self-identity in our rapidly changing society. We welcome your thoughts and opinions. Let's keep the dialogue going. Stay tuned for our next quarterly post with Jack Cheng in mid-July.

by Amy O'Hanlon

Growing up, my family had a Chinese New Year tradition. We would “do hot pot.” Every year we went to the same restaurant in the same mall in the middle of Chinatown. I can remember running down the long aisles of raw meats and vegetables, daring my cousin to eat a thousand-year-old egg, eyeing the dessert table that sat next to the giant vat of steamed rice. My dad would help us cook our meat, but mostly we were left to our own devices. Afterward, the Aunties would make us all stand in the courtyard and giggle as we bowed to them and said Gung Hay Fat Choy in return for small red envelopes.

I don’t know if this is the right way to do Chinese New Year, and I am self conscious of this because I am Chinese American. Well, half. Many biracial children face this same issue of feeling like an imposter among cultures that they only half belong to. They are often forced to identify as one race or the other, depending on how society perceives them, and even then, there is a sense of being different, not quite a perfect fit. The multiracial identity for many is, at its core, a measure of not-quites and in-betweens.

As creators, we know the value of representation, and we know that there is work to be done in our industry. The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education Cooperative Children’s Book Center studied 3,134 picture books published in 2018. In those books, 50% of the characters depicted were White, and 27% were animals or other (trucks, forks, etc.) Less than a quarter of characters depicted were POC, with 10% Black and 7% Asian. Multiracial characters aren’t even on the list.

But families with mixed identities are on the rise and deserve to be represented. According to the Pew Research center, the percentage of multiracial babies has grown from 1% to 10% from 1970-2013. And as more and more families become multiracial, it becomes more and more important that these unique blendings of culture and ethnicity are reflected in our stories. I get so excited when I see a story with a White mom and a Black dad, or a child with an Indian mom and Mexican mama, but that’s not quite what I mean. It is good to see mixed families in stories, it normalizes it and integrates it into our psyche as something that positively reflects our society. There also needs to be more stories that are specifically about the mixed-race or biracial identity. Recently, a girl saw me, and exclaimed, ‘she has hair like mine!’ She knew immediately that we were both half Asian, and she was only four. Did she already realize she was not quite one or the other, that she was something in-between?

It can be hard to discuss difficult topics in our stories. I constantly struggle with the self doubt that tells me that my experiences don’t count, and I need to remind myself that the reason we tell these important stories is to ensure that the children of the future don’t feel the same. When I was a child, I couldn’t find characters who shared my experiences, and it’s heartening to see that these days, there are some great kid lit stories that explore what it means to be biracial. A worried mom was looking for a book for her daughter, and she was so pleased to find Mixed! by Arree Chung. The new middle grade novel Prairie Lotus features a half Chinese American girl in the late 1800s America, and is Linda Sue Park’s response to how Laura Ingalls did not reflect her when she was a girl. But there’s still a long way to go and I, for one, cannot wait. I want to see more stories about different mixed cultures, about different definitions of identity. When children see different kinds of characters, it leads to empathy and understanding. I want my stories to showcase and celebrate the same.

Books about being Mixed Race:

Picture Books:

Middle Grade:

To learn more:

Amy O'Hanlon is from San Ramon, California, and is the only illustrator in a family of musicians. She began studying art at Humboldt State before running away to England in 2015 for a Masters program at Kingston School of Art. After graduating with honors, Amy had the opportunity to do stage projection design for several Bay Area musicals, and has worked as an illustrator for self published authors. She currently works as a bookseller at Bookbug & This is a Bookstore in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Amy is inspired by the fantasy in everyday life, and loves nothing more than drawing all the magical things that can only be seen in the corner of her eye. She is represented by Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary Agency.

Learn more and connect with Amy:
Instagram @im_amyability
Youtube: this is a youtube channel

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Book Birthday Blog with Jim Benton

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

Congratulations to Jim Benton on the release of his new book, Catwad, Me, Three!

Congratulations on the release of Catwad, Me, Three! What inspired the Catwad series, and its newest addition? 

Thanks! He began years ago, and I designed him as a licensed property, similar to how I created It’s Happy Bunny. Scholastic had some interest in him, but it wasn’t until I came up with Blurmp, his friend and polar opposite, that it suddenly made sense to me as a narrative I wanted to do.

This is your first time on the Book Birthday blog! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started writing and illustrating? 

I’ll try to make this quick---Like all artists, I’ve always drawn, but my first job as a full time pro was in a t-shirt shop. I was also freelancing for newspapers and magazines and greeting cards, and eventually learned about licensing. That led to bigger projects like the Misters and It’s Happy Bunny. I also was a joke writer on Whose line Is It Anyway, and I created and produced a tv series for Fox Kids. After my daughter was born, I decided to write books for her, and that led to me selling Franny K. Stein and Dear Dumb Diary, which I co-developed and produced into a made for TV movie musical. 

What inspires your sense of humor? Do you have any favorite comedians, writers, or artists that have influenced you?

I think I’m inspired by the absurdity of existence, so there’s never any shortage of inspiration. One of my favorite writers is PG Wodehouse, but I really like to read a pretty wide variety—both treasures and trash.

What does your process for writing a book look like? Do you generally come up with the words or the visuals first?

I almost always think up the narrative thread first…long book or short comic, I like to have an idea where I start and where I stop. Then the words, then the visuals, but on occasion it’s the reverse.

One of Catwad's pages from draft to finish

In addition to your books, you’ve had a lot of success with licensing characters. Your property, It’s Happy Bunny, has generated more than ¾ of a billion dollars at retail! Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with licensing and how that came about?

That came about as an extension of my experience with screen printed apparel, which is a core product category in licensing. The character began as a little sketch that was pinned up in my studio (which is littered with little sketches). Over time, the sketch continued to make me laugh, so I developed it and started showing it at the Licensing Expo (a big convention). It took about 3 years for anybody to take a chance on it, and Hot Topic was the first to really give it a go. It sold well on shirts, so stickers, buttons, and lunch boxes followed. Eventually more and more items were licensed, and more and more retailers got on board. I did a few books and a couple were ALA top picks for reluctant teen readers. I’m rolling it out again for it’s anniversary, which, like everything else in the world, needs to be postponed while science races to keep us all healthy again.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author/illustrator?

Don’t be afraid of bad ideas. Bad ideas have a way of evolving into good ideas in unpredictable ways. 

What’s next for you, do you have any new ideas in the works? How can readers learn more about you and your work?

More CATWADS, A graphic novel called ATTACK OF THE STUFF, a christmas picture book called COMET THE UNSTOPPABLE REINDEER, and a graphic novel called CLYDE. You can see more at

A little bit about the book:
From tricycles, to rock-paper-scissors, to the three little pigs, the best things come in trios...Catwad included! Everyone's favorite big blue grump and his best friend, Blurmp, are here with more comics stories full of cat-tastic surprises. See Catwad try yoga! GASP as terribly hilarious things befall their unlucky friend Pigmichael! Meet Blurmp's grandmother! It's a laugh-out-loud collection that even the crankiest kitten would love.

A little bit about the author:
Jim Benton is the award-winning creator of more than thirty books, including the New York Times best-selling series Dear Dumb Diary, the series Franny K. Stein, the series Catwad as well as the international licensing hit, It’s Happy Bunny. His books have sold more than fifteen million copies worldwide, been translated into more than fifteen languages (and Braille), and have garnered numerous honors (like LIMA awards, Addy awards, Eisner nominations, Reuben divisional awards, an Eleanor Cameron award, and a NAPPA award to name a few). Benton is a member of the Writers Guild of America, the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators, the National Cartoonists Society and The Society of Illustrators. He has also contributed to The Licensing Book, Writer's Digest Magazine, Reader's Digest Magazine, Kidscreen Magazine, Dark Horse Presents, MAD Magazine, and The New Yorker. Learn more about him at

Friday, April 3, 2020

We Are In This Together

Dear friends,

I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said. We’ve all been talking and reading and sharing a continuous stream of articles and resources and videos and poems and well-wishes. We're each responding in our own way depending on our circumstances. I was sick for two weeks and this sturdy old tree outside my bedroom window was a tremendous comfort. I like to think she was helping me breathe. Indeed, she became part of the daily healing meditation I sent out into the world.

Today the sun is shining, the forsythia is blooming, and I am thoroughly on the mend, but still quite distracted - it's taking time to get my thoughts in order and my energy rekindled. I know many of you are also distracted and grieving and worried about health and finances, homeschooling kids, the challenges of telecommuting, and more. The social worker in me is all too aware of the numerous needs in our communities and I'm very uncomfortable staying home even though safety dictates it for now.

For a creative kick-in-the-pants, I'm re-reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. As you can see by all of my sticky notes, it really resonated the first time I read it years ago! Libraries are closed and we can't browse in person, but indie bookstores are taking online orders and shipping books, sometimes for free. I've already placed orders from Book Beat in Oak Park and Pages Bookshop in Detroit.

SCBWI headquarters, our Michigan chapter, and other regions sprang into action immediately and continue to share many resources. All members have been emailed about the upcoming free events, including webinars, virtual Shop Talks and a virtual Coffee House via Zoom. Check your email for instructions or go to and

Be sure to follow along on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Instagram Illustrators) for reminders, resources, and uplifting messages; everyone is encouraged to add their own thoughts and share.

Our SCBWI-MI blog team will have more blog posts coming up and a new Featured Illustrator for spring, but until then we have new temporary blog banner created by Nina Goebel. Thank you, Nina!

Stay safe, be well.
We’re all in this together.

Kristin Lenz