Saturday, October 31, 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, Franny K. Stein, Recipe for Disaster!  

Happy Halloween! This year, to celebrate, we feature an especially frightful tale, featuring mad scientist Franny K. Stein! Read on to see how this hair-raising story came to life... 


Congratulations on the release of Franny K. Stein, Recipe for Disaster! This is the 9th book in the Franny K. Stein series, following the mad scientist as she sets out to create the Most Delicious Muffin On Earth, and deals with the consequences of a muffin-obsessed student body. Did you set out to write Franny K. Stein as a series of books, or was its evolution into a longer series more of a surprise?
I didn’t really think that far ahead. I pitched book one to a few different publishers, and was just really excited when we did a deal with Simon and Schuster. When they said they wanted to start with four titles I was just knocked out.
Franny K. Stein is delightfully wild and a little dark, as are her adventures! How do you draw the line for younger audiences when writing darker humor? Is it ever something you think about when writing?
I just go by instinct. The readers seem to understand that Franny’s heart is in the right place, and she always fixes things when she messes up. Franny and her lab look pretty sinister, but they know that she’s all about curiosity and discovery and outrageousness.
Your website describes some of the materials you use to draw for books like the Franny K. Stein series. Have you always liked a combination of pen and watercolor for your illustrations? Have you experimented with other mediums?
I use all kinds of stuff. The more recent Frannys are still drawn with good ol’ ink on paper, but I do the tinting on a computer.

Franny K. Stein is just one of your many characters! (Readers can browse some of our previous interviews with you here to read about more of your books.) Do you find you have lots of character or story ideas floating around at once? How do you record those ideas and decide what to move forward with?
SO MANY! I will not live long enough to execute all the ideas I have for stories. They are pinned up on bulletin boards and stacked in boxes all over my studio. Generally, I just work on whatever suites me at that moment.
On another note, It’s Me: Catwad was recently featured as NBC 5’s Book of the week. Congratulations! Did you ever anticipate your books having such a wide reach?
I don’t really think about it. Dear Dumb Diary, for example, has almost ten million books in print, is in over ten languages, and I made a TV musical based on it. But in the beginning, it was just four pages I thought were funny. I think if I thought any further than that, it might not come out right.
What’s your advice for building a following as an author, both online and off?
I think this is always the same, isn’t it? 1. Finish writing the book. 2. Finish re-writing the parts that are terrible. 3. Show it to publishers. Each one of those steps can be difficult, but each step must be taken.
What projects do you have coming up? I hear there’s another Catwad book soon to come…
A little bit about the book:
Franny K. Stein isn’t a good baker. But when she sees that the fundraisers for the art and music departments at her school aren’t making enough money, she decides to take matters into her own hands.

Using her genius mind and kitchen, which is really just another type of laboratory, she sets out to create The Most Delicious Muffin On Earth!

Sales, of course, go through the roof. But bad things can happen when people become exposed to the best thing they’ve ever tasted. They can become...overenthusiastic.

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, October 30, 2020

Shutta's Scholarship - Now Threefold! Revisit the Magic with Four Previous Winners


Shutta will pay the full tuition fee for three (!) Michigan SCBWI members to attend the SCBWI (online) Winter Conference.

  • One scholarship will go to an illustrator or author/illustrator. 
  • One scholarship will go to a pre-pubbed member. 
  • And one scholarship will go to a general member. 

The qualifying rules are listed on the application form on the SCBWI-MI website and at Shutta’s website

The deadline to apply for the scholarship is by midnight on November 15, 2020. Applications will be accepted beginning ASAP. The winner will be drawn at random and notified soon after November 15th. 


The online conference is February 20-21, 2021
. Registration starts on October 28, 2020. See the national SCBWI website for conference details. 

Past winners have included: Sara Kendall, Laura Stewart, Meline Scheidel, Andrea Donahoe, Lindsey McDivitt, Amy Nielander, Kelly Barson, Vicky Lorencen, Elizabeth McBride, Taraneh Matloob, and Betsy Williams. 

Here are some of their experiences shared right here on the Mitten blog in previous years. Revisit the magic of the conferences in their posts, and click on their names to see what they've been up to since then. Yes, some of their books are now out in the world!

Friday, October 23, 2020

Books With Barbers: A Fresh Cut For Readers

Books with Barbers – it’s easy to be drawn to this poetic alliteration and program title. Today you will discover that this is more than just a title, it is a literacy initiative that’s making an impact in our local community. In this blog post, Equity & Inclusion Team member, Debbie Taylor provides insights on the Books with Barbers initiative. Her interview with co-chairs, Dr. Ashelin Currie and Ms. Jerry Jones, Ed.S., explores the premise behind this program and its continued relevance.

~Angie Verges, E & I Corner Blog Co-host

Books With Barbers: A Fresh Cut For Readers

Two extraordinary women, Dr. Ashelin R. Currie and Ms. Jerry Jones Ed. S., coordinate Books With Barbers in Detroit through the Black Child Development Institute (BCDI) affiliate. Books are provided to a local barbershop on the eastside of Detroit so children and young men can have access to high interest books that feature characters of color. Research clearly indicates the value of books that reflect the readers’ experiences, culture and community.  Barbershops often serve as a community hub for boys, young adults, and elders. These books are fuel for the camaraderie enjoyed as patrons receive haircuts, shaves and trims.

Dr. Currie was inspired to act after learning about various literacy initiatives of the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI). She joined forces to coordinate the program with Ms. Jones, a former special education teacher with the Detroit Public Schools and a literacy activist and resource expert. Their goal is to share literature in which children can see themselves in texts, provide a strong foundation of their racial identity, and cultivate a love of books. BCDI-Detroit is intentional in sharing books that are counteracting society's narrative of African American males.

The first barbershop selected was The Final Kut, owned by Kevin Ingram. This shop on Detroit’s west side is near an elementary school and a church. The proximity to these establishments provided access to the target audience. When Mrs. Jones first approached the barbershop, the owner was not available. Undeterred, she left a compelling note with a two-dollar bill to make certain the message was noticed. It was—and Mr. Ingram was excited that his shop was selected for the first Books With Barbers initiative. The community has joined them in their effort. State representatives, Michigan Reading Association members, and other organizations joined them for a cutting ribbon ceremony held last year. The coordinators and supporters revisited the barbershop throughout the year to host African-American Read Ins and book giveaways during winter and spring breaks.

Although for a time the program was halted due to the pandemic, Books With Barbers continued to collaborate with other groups to support boys and their families. In the past, the books remained at the barbershop, now children can simply take books home. The next site for the program will be located on the east side at the community barbershop in the Ford Resource Engagement Center which is connected to a middle school. The program is seeking another site on the southwest side of Detroit. The expansion will allow even more readers to enjoy the newest haircut and a special book.

SCBWI-MI and your E & I Team will lead a book drive to help Books with Barbers stock their shelves. Look for our announcement with more information in early November! 

Ashelin R. Currie, Ph. D., is a literacy consultant with Oakland Schools. Ashelin served as the president of the Detroit Affiliate of the National Black Child Development Institute (2017-2019) and is currently the co-chair of the literacy committee.  She works extensively with children and families and other community organizations systems to improve the academic lives of students beyond the school.

Ms. Jerry Jones, Ed. S., is literacy resource expert and advocate who has led literacy initiatives, served on boards and volunteered in a variety of organizations including Kiwanis Detroit and the Detroit Public Library. She was a special education teacher for over 16 years in the Detroit Public Schools.

Debbie Taylor is a picture book author and a member of the SCBWI-MI Equity & Inclusion Team. Her work has been published in children's magazines including Spider, Cricket, and Pockets Magazine. Taylor is the author of Sweet Music in Harlem (Lee and Low 2004) and Over in Motown (Fifth Avenue Press 2020) She volunteers for local, regional and national literacy efforts.


Barbershop Writing/Illustrating Prompt

from Angie Verges

  • What has been your experience with a barbershop or salon visit? Below are some thoughts to ponder, story starter ideas, or merely a collection of words/images to use as you please. Share a peek at your ideas in the comments.
  • Write/Draw about a time you visited a barbershop or had a barbershop experience at home. What did you see inside (how did the shop look)? What were the ages of the people? Was there a unique smell? What sounds did you hear? Was your visit like a horror show, a mystery, a comedy? 
  • Where was the shop located - a busy street, secluded area, or somewhere else?

Here’s another approach for generating story ideas.

Create a story using items from the following categories:

Setting (choose 1)


Beauty Salon

Character (choose up to 2)






Object (choose up to 2)


Barber Chair



Broom & Dustpan

Thursday, October 15, 2020

A YA Novel Becomes a Webtoon: The Transformation of American Road Trip

Today's post is an example of the many different directions our stories can take, and how they continue to evolve and reverberate in the world beyond us. American Road Trip, a 2018 YA novel by author Patrick Flores-Scott, was recently transformed into a Webtoon. What's a Webtoon? Webtoon Producer, Quincy Cho, is here to tell us about the company, their projects, and vision. We'll hear from Patrick about his experience too. Read on!

Here's Quincy:

Please give us a brief overview of Webtoon. 

Webtoon is a platform, and a home, for creator-owned web comics.

What is your job title and what does a typical work day look like?

As a producer, a typical work day involves pitching stories, outlining and writing scripts, getting notes for rewrites, and giving feedback on the artwork.

How does Webtoon find and decide which YA novels to adapt to comics? 

In addition to American Road Trip, we've also adapted The Fever King and The Weight of Our Sky. We first look at story and characters because you need both for an exciting read. Then we look at the message and representation. American Road Trip is about a LatinX-American family doing their best to help a loved one struggling with PTSD and mental health. Similarly, The Weight of Our Sky addresses OCD and the Malaysian race riots in 1969. These adaptations are an opportunity to bring more visibility to underrepresented stories as well as starting dialogue around serious topics that often get swept under the rug.

Who writes and illustrates the comics, and is the original author involved in the process?

For American Road Trip, I had the great pleasure of adapting it to fit the Webtoon format. Patrick has written these incredibly relatable characters that are fresh and unique and in relationships that we don't often see (shout out to Caleb and T's bromance!). Moreover, he explores mental health, PTSD, and the consequences it has on a family in a very real way, so it was very important to me to capture the nuance and tone of the story, especially after he gave me his blessing to adapt the story to how I see fit.

I feel very fortunate to have come across Little Corvus' artwork as they are a wonderfully talented LatinX artist based in Seattle. Because of their shared background with the characters, they not only breathed life into Patrick's work in a remarkably unique way, they brought authenticity and a level of detail to the characters and the world that I'm sure native Seattlians and LatinX readers will appreciate.  

What else would you like us to know about Webtoon, the audience/reach, creators?

Please tune in every Sunday for a new episode of American Road Trip! And if the wait is too much for you, I’d suggest reading the book. I hear it’s a great read~

Here's Patrick:

Tell us about your experience with your novel American Road Trip becoming a Webtoon.

Quincy Cho, a writer/producer at Webtoon reached out saying she liked American Road Trip and that she wanted to adapt it into a comic series. When my editor and agent and I learned what Webtoon is--how big their reach is--we knew this was a terrific opportunity to get the story out to a wider audience. I had no idea how it was going to look, or turn out, but I trusted that Quincy's enthusiasm for the material would lead to something really cool. But I was still nervous about the whole thing. I'm really proud of this story. And I feel such deep affection with the characters. What were these comics people going to do with my baby? 

I wasn't prepared for seeing the first drawings. Like the Avila family in the book, it turned out that Little Corvus, the Webtoon artist, is from the Seattle area. And they perfectly captured the colors and feel of the setting. I was thrilled and I knew this project was in the exact right hands. And the more they shared their progress, the more it was clear that Qunicy and Little Corvus weren't just translating the book, they were making it bigger and deeper and more complex. They created something that stands beautifully on its own of course. But for readers of the novel, I don't think the American Road Trip experience is complete without the comic. And I feel really lucky and grateful that it's out there in the world. 

Thanks to Quincy and Patrick for taking the time to share their experience! Learn more at the links below and experience Webtoons yourself:

Webtoon website:

American Road Trip Webtoon:

Quincy Cho website:

Little Corvus website:

Patrick Flores-Scott's website:

Coming up on the Mitten Blog:

See you next Friday for a post from our SCBWI-MI Equity & Inclusion Team - Books with Barbers: A Fresh Cut for Readers. Until then, you can catch up on any of the previous posts you might have missed from our Equity and Inclusion Corner.

Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Indie Trailblazers by David Stricklen


Artwork by Melissa Bailey

You may have noticed our beautiful new Indie Trailblazers Icon on the SCBWI-MI website.

Indie stands for independent publishing. Authors have chosen independent publishing for a variety of reasons. Full creative control, frustration with the query process, and a quick turnaround to name a few.

As your Michigan indie coordinator, I thought that we could do a bit more for the indies who are trying to find their way. The trouble with working on an independently published project is that there is more than one way. The traditional path is well worn but the indie path is like cutting your way through the literary wilderness. That is why we call our indie authors, trailblazers.

There is an obvious need to point inquiring authors in the right direction. A helpful suggestion by someone who has already been down that path (and learned from trial and error) can save time and costly mistakes.

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

In an effort to provide the most current and accurate information for our members we have acquired three award winning or Kirkus review recommended indie authors to be our advisors: 

Melissa Bailey - Picture Book 

David Stricklen - Middle Grade

Melanie Hooyenga – Young Adult

Depending on the indie path that you are considering, you may contact one of our three advisors above that best fits your intended direction. Please keep in mind that they are not intended to take the place of a critique group. They are here to make helpful suggestions regarding the path you wish to take depending on your particular goals.

When choosing one of our indie advisors to answer your questions, you should not only look at their genre but also their process. 

  • Do you plan to completely self-publish? 
  • Are you going to enlist a dream team to complete the different aspects of publishing? 
  • Pay a vanity publishing company? 
  • Are you going to do your own artwork? 
Has one of our advisors already blazed that trail and done it successfully? It is my hope that you find this opportunity helpful as you take the first step in blazing a trail of your own.

You will find information about each of our indie advisors, as well as their published work and their step by step publishing process by simply clicking on the link below to the SCBWI-MI website:

Coming up on the SCBWI-MI Blog:

A new post from our Equity and Inclusion Team, a special book drive, Pinterest tips, Webtoons, a Writer Spotlight, Book Birthdays, and more! The Mitten blog is always looking for guest posts from SCBWI-MI members. Find our Submission Guidelines here.

Did you notice we have a new blog banner? Thanks to our new Featured Illustrator, Wendy Berry! Read her interview here.

SCBWI-MI Happenings:

Virtual Shop Talks and Workshops will continue in the months ahead. Information is posted on the calendar at the SCBWI-MI website. Follow our chapter on social media and subscribe to the MichKids listserv for reminders, updated information, and ongoing conversation. Everything you need to stay connected is here:

Save the date! 

April 23-25, 2021, more details to come.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Featured Illustrator Wendy Berry



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?

I like to think I’m a good problem solver.

3. Where would you like to live?

I’ve lived in other states, but I’ll always think of Michigan as my home.  It’s not just the location, it’s the people. 

4. Your favorite color?

Blueish purple

5. Three of your own illustrations:


6. Your music?

I love old standards, Louis Prima, Peggy Lee, Hank Williams, but I also like contemporary music and everything in between. I don’t listen to music while I draw though, I listen to books on tape.  Books keep me seated and working a little longer.

7. Your biggest achievement?

Definitely my three boys.  They are good people and I’m thankful for them.

8. Your biggest mistake?

Not starting my illustration career earlier.

9. Your favorite children's book when you were a child?

I used to love “Gus was a friendly Ghost”, by Jane Thayer.  Then when I got into chapter books, it was “Half Magic”, by Edward Eager.

10. Your main character trait?

Optimism, but that might be optimistic to think that.

11. What do you appreciate most in a friend?

A good sense of humor.  Everyone needs someone to laugh with.

12. What mistakes are you most willing to forgive?

That’s hard to answer, I guess I’d want you to be more specific. I hope that doesn’t making me an unforgiving person.

13. Your favorite children's book hero?

Hagrid from the Harry Potter series, because he is sometimes misguided, but always kind.

14. What moves you forward?

Myself, always getting ideas and wanting to bring them to fruition.

15. What holds you back?

Time, there is never enough.

16. Your dream of happiness?

Knowing those I love are happy and safe.

17. The painter/illustrator you admire most?

Chris Van Allsburg, Yvonne Gilbert, Inga Moore, Maurice Sendak, I really can’t pick just one.  If I think too hard about it, I’ll come up with more, Jan Brett, Susan Jeffers, Anton Pieck, Edward Gorey.

18. What super power would you like to have?

Time Travel, going back in time to talk with loved ones that have passed would be wonderful.

19. Your motto?

You should never be bored, if you are then you need to work on your imagination.

20. Your social media?