Thursday, March 25, 2021

Three Takeaways from the Winter 2021 SCBWI Virtual Conference by Sara Kendall

First of all, thank you so much to Shutta Crum, the generous lady behind “Shutta’s Scholarship” which allowed me to attend the Winter 2021 SCBWI Conference.

This was my first time attending one of the big SCBWI conferences, as well as my first virtual one, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, given that my most recent experience with Zoom was accidentally leaving my microphone off on a virtual doctor’s visit. 

Overall, I was amazed at their coordination! There were only one or two instances of accidental muting, and of course the rogue dog or child, but the conference generally ran like a well-oiled Rube Goldberg machine. It amazed me that I was able to leech inspiration from great minds in the industry while guzzling cocoa and wearing sweatpants.

The segments were many, and there’s no way I can go into detail about all of them here, but here are my favorite takeaways from a weekend of crash course knowledge and summer-camp-style belonging.

Takeaway 1: “We’re all in this together."

With thousands of digital attendees from all 50 states and some 62 countries, the conference had no business feeling as cozy as it did, but on the first day, when Matt de la Peña read us his and illustrator Christian Robinson’s new book Milo Imagines the World, as one would to a class of grade schoolers, I felt like I could have been sitting cross-legged on colorful carpet and waiting for the page-turns alongside everyone else listening in. I almost cried; the book was beautiful, the illustrations simple and evocative, and the gentle act of being read to was surprisingly healing. 

I thought I got sick of this idea of “being in this together” at the beginning of the pandemic, when car insurance commercials and fast food places used it to death. But here I was hearing from people in my field who needed to dredge up artistry in the midst of a pandemic and who admitted to having difficulties similar to my own, and all of a sudden this saying popped back into my head and started to mean something less trite. 

Takeaway 2: So many different people need to work together to pull off a kid’s book!

This was a theme exemplified at the Simon & Schuster virtual office tour, a segment on the first day of the conference, where Laurent Linn, Art Director at Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, acted as MC as we jumped from zoom window to zoom window to meet a representative from every department that makes a kids’ book come together. 

The art department, the publishing department, the managing editorial department and the production department are chock full of people dedicated to making your book a success. They bounce work back and forth between themselves, from nitty gritty details like balancing budgets, all the way to choosing paper and special finishes for the final book. To a publisher, every book is an investment, and every author or illustrator has a team behind them and working with them to make sure that investment makes bank. 

At the mock book cover/ book design production meeting, hosted by Yaffa Jaskoll, Executive Art Director at Scholastic, we saw another team of editors and designers who worked together like a friendly machine. We were shown the steps, from mood boards and finding an illustrator, to final sketches and branding, that lead to the advent of several dazzling covers that gave me heart eyes. 

We saw the options and the design roads that could have been taken, and most interestingly of all, why they weren’t taken. It took me back to when Christian Robinson showed us how he used little teensy sticky notes to rough out a book, and the piles of crumpled and ruined sticky notes he had to go through to get there. 

Takeway 3: A great deal of mess and effort is necessary to make something beautiful. 

A few more examples in this vein stuck with me from interviews at the Illustrator’s Intensive, which was an extra event that took place the Monday after the conference concluded: 
  • Illustrator Jing Jing Tsong went through 12 rounds of sketches for most spreads in her upcoming book, and thought up and roughed out a whole B-plot that didn’t end up being used.
  • Illustrator Archana Sreenivasan made a trip to rural India to do hands-on research, and to meet the peoples profiled for her book Desert Girl, Monsoon Boy by Tara Dairman.
Sometimes as illustrators it’s easy to look at our heroes and imagine their work having sprung fully formed and perfect from their skulls, but the Illustrator’s Intensive was useful in that it pulled back that curtain and showed us people working hard and trying things out and doing their job. Jing Jing Tsong said it best when she emphasized the need to explore and make mistakes in order to find your way to the idea that you wish you had thought up in the first place.

Portraits by Sara Kendall

At the end of the conference, I was still alone and in my sweatpants, and my hot cocoa was now just a delicious stain in my mug, but I felt connected to thousands of other attendees and inspired in a way I had not expected. I can’t wait to attend in person, but weirdly I feel like I already did.

Sara Kendall is a middle grade illustrator who loves drawing adventurous kids with the fun kind of teeth that haven't yet been wrangled into braces. She's looking to expand into middle grade book covers, to make a dent in her to-read pile, and to go to the movies again one day (or at least to eat Swedish Fish in the dark). You can find her work on instagram, and on twitter @skillustrative. Her email is, and her website is

Coming up on The Mitten Blog this spring: 

Book Birthdays, a Writer Spotlight, Equity & Inclusion Corner, interviews with our SCBWI-MI illustration mentors, a new Featured Illustrator, and much more!

Have you registered for the SCBWI-MI (Virtual) Spring Conference?

Please join SCBWI for #StopAsianHate Virtual Action Day, Friday, March 26, 2001

Read the full statement at:

Members for Members Scholarship: Supporting Inclusivity in Children’s Literature

This scholarship awards a one-year SCBWI membership to a Michigan writer or illustrator.

Qualifications: Must be a Michigan resident actively working toward creating children’s books that resonate with diverse readers.

Award: Awardees will receive a year’s membership to SCBWI beginning April 1 if awardee is a new member. If the awardee is a current member, the membership will be extended for a year.

Deadline: Applications are accepted February 14 through March 14. Winner(s) will be announced on or about April 1 each year. ***Application deadline for the 2021 M4M Scholarship has been extended to April 1st. Winners will be announced by April 15th.

For more information and to apply go to: M4M Scholarship Application

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

#STOPASIANHATE Virtual Action Day, Friday March 26th



The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators stands in solidarity with the Asian and Pacific Island members of our human family. For our full statement of our support and resources, please visit

Friday, March 19, 2021

Hugs and Hurrahs



Spring is coming! I hope everyone has been enjoying the nicer weather. I feel so fortunate to be able to celebrate so much good news with so many Michigan SCBWI members today.


Pam Ostrander’s book A MASK FOR MOLLY, which was illustrated by her former student, 14-year-old Seth Pennington, hit shelves locally at The Studio Shop in Williamston, Sparrow Health Center Gift Shop, and Schuler’s Books and has been shipped to eight different states, as well as to Germany. She has received attention from the media including mLive, WILX, WLNS, Michigan's "The Big Show" with Michael Patrick Sheils, and Civic Center TV/Internet/Radio Show. She has been reading to classrooms for March is Reading Month and doing Q & A's with the children. Kids are revealing their fears and sadness about how COVID affected their families lives. She has found that the humorous, yet informative nature of her book draws out kids to talk about their feelings. 

What important work for these challenging times, Pam!


Kirbi Fagan illustrated SUMMER OF THE TREE ARMY: A CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS STORY (written by Gloria Whelan; Sleeping Bear Press), which came out on March 15.

Woohoo, Kirbi!


Lisa Wheeler’s new book, SOMEONE BUILDS THE DREAM, illustrated by Loren Long (Dial/ Penguin Publishers), which got a starred review from Kirkus, comes out on March 23rd.

That’s wonderful, Lisa!


Lisa Rose’s new book THE SINGER AND THE SCIENTIST (illustrated by Isabel Muñoz; Kar-Ben Publishing) will be released on April 1. After famous singer Marian Anderson gives a performance in 1937 for an all-white audience, she
learns that the nearby hotel is closed to African Americans. She doesn't know where she'll stay for the night until the famous scientist Albert Einstein invites her to stay at his house. Marian, who endures constant discrimination as a Black performer, learns that Albert faced prejudice as a Jew in Germany. She discovers their shared passion for music―and their shared hopes for a more just world.

That’s fabulous, Lisa!


Lynne Rae Perkins’ picture book, THE MUSEUM OF EVERYTHING (Greenwillow Books) will be out on May 11. It features illustrations of varying 3-dimensionality (photographed, though: the pages are flat!), from watercolors with stuff glued on, to dioramas. It has received two starred reviews so far (Booklist and Kirkus).

That’s great, Lynne!


Jean Alicia Elster’s latest book, the YA novel HOW IT HAPPENS (Wayne State University Press) now has cover art and a release date of September 14, 2021.

How exciting, Jean!


Sondra Soderborg has sold her debut novel, CAMP WHATEVER, to Taylor Norman at Chronicle Books. Set in Michigan, it is the story of a 6th grade girl whose identity is fearlessness and toughness. She must negotiate the challenges of 6th grade team-building camp, including the highest high ropes east of the Mississippi, without anyone discovering that she is terrified of many things, including heights and being truly known.  Publication will be Spring 2023.

Very happy for you, Sondra!

Author/illustrator Heidi Woodward Sheffield has been chosen as the 2021 Ezra Jack Keats Illustrator Award Winner for her picture book BRICK BY BRICK. There will be an awards show at 1:30 PM EST, April 13, where you can ask Heidi questions about her work. She was also interviewed by April Baer of Stateside, Michigan Radio last fall. You can listen to the interview here.  Finally, Editor Jill Davis of HarperCollins has bought world rights to GOOD NIGHT, LITTLE MAN, coming Fall 2022 by author Daniel Bernstrom and illustrated by Heidi Woodward Sheffield.

That’s so much amazing news, Heidi!


Darrin Brege and Karen Bell-Brege are the first author/illustrator, husband/wife team to receive the Michigan Reading Association's Gwen Frostic Award.

Congratulations, Darrin and Karen!

Shutta Crum's poem "Reading Brodsky (in English) While Stirring Soup" was one of three winning poems in the 3rd Wednesday annual poetry contest. It will appear in their spring issue at: .

That’s super, Shutta!


Neal Levin has had several poems published recently, including “Dragon Wagon” (March 2021 issue of Highlights High Five), “A Mole In a Hole” (March 2021 issue of Ladybug), “Hang Time” (February 2021 issue of Babybug), and “The War of the Noses” (February 2021 issue of Spider).

Awesome, Neal!


Monica Harris has sold 6 non-fiction assessment pieces to Data Recognition Corporation/Michigan M-Step for grades ranging from grades 4 to 7. 

Way to go, Monica!


Well done and hugs and hurrahs for all of you! The next Hugs and Hurrahs post will be in June. Please send all of your good news to

Friday, March 12, 2021

Becoming BookSmitten: Creating a Collaborative KidLit Podcast


BookSmitten is a brand-new podcast focused on children’s books, co-hosted by four Michigan authors and SCBWI members: Kelly J. Baptist, Jack Cheng, Patrick Flores-Scott, and Heather Shumaker. The first episode launched in February 2021, and I tuned in. It made me wistful for our pre-pandemic days of gathering with writer friends at a coffee shop, and I found myself nodding and smiling and wanting to join in their discussion. I even jotted down some notes, including this quote, "The pain of discipline or the pain of regret. You're going to have either one. Which one do you want?"

Read on for my interview with Heather, and then experience the podcast for yourself. Look for new episodes on your favorite podcast site every other Wednesday. It's guaranteed to lift your mood!
~ Kristin Lenz

Tell us how the idea for the podcast began and then took shape.

I’d met Kelly, Jack, and Patrick at various SCBWI events and conferences and was immediately impressed. Basically, these were people I wanted to keep talking to. I remember heading home, thinking “I wish she lived in my home town.” or “I wish we could keep talking about books together.” With this podcast, we can! Both Jack and I had hosted podcasts before, and knew how fun they could be. So we gathered together by Zoom during 2020 and discussed the idea for the pod. Everyone was enthusiastic. We discovered the four of us shared a big-hearted, hopeful view of the world. Fueled by Jack’s prior knowledge of pods, and Kelly’s contagious enthusiasm, we launched into our opening episode of BookSmitten: “We’re here, we’re happy, we’re human, and we’re BookSmitten!”

Are there a lot children’s book podcasts out there?

Not that many! We were surprised, especially given how many people love children’s books. A few children’s book podcasts have come and gone, and several focus on reading to children. BookSmitten really fills a niche, and although we’re all from Michigan, it’s intended for a national audience of librarians, parents, teachers, grandparents, book lovers, children’s book writers, and interested kids.

What can we expect from the upcoming episodes? 

Oh gosh, we have a growing list of topics. We’ve already recorded four episodes and will be diving into topics surrounding “all things kid lit.” Kelly has a new picture book out in March, THE ELECTRIC SLIDE AND KAI (Lee & Low Books), so an episode in March looks at her creative process. Jack and Patrick both wrote road trip novels, so we’re focusing an episode on road trip / journey stories. Other topics on the brainstorm list are: exploring non-white heroes in fantasy / sci-fi books, books that bridge differences, how we got serious about writing, the connection of sports and writing, portrayals of grandparents, encouraging child writers, short stories in kid lit, and so much more. We also plan to feature guest authors and amazing librarians from time to time, as well as invite child writers on to the show.

One wonderful development is that all four of us bring a unique perspective. We’re sharing from our family backgrounds, sharing our voices, and learning together. It’s a journey we’re excited to share with listeners.

What’s the format? Will each of the authors take turns or will you all be talking together?

So far we’ve been co-hosting together. There’s a nice balance of voices, with two male and two female hosts, so it’s easy to tell who’s talking. Going forward into the future, we may have episodes where just two or three of us host, especially given deadlines and busy schedules, but for now, no one wants to be left out. We’re having too much fun creating camaraderie in this new kidlit space! We hope it’s a space where everyone will feel welcome.

What have you already learned from the process?

Creating the podcast has reinforced just how creative and thoughtful my fellow authors are. Being together adds a dash of goodness into the world, and keeps us - and hopefully our listeners - buoyed up. We even recorded one episode on Jan. 6th, the day of the U.S Capitol attacks. Being together helps. It’s also continually inspiring - seeing Kelly’s prodigious output (two new books out in 2021!), Jack’s creative process, and Patrick’s goal of reaching struggling readers. We have something to share with anyone who loves children’s books.

We also learned how time-intensive bringing a podcast to life can be. Thankfully, we’ve teamed up with children’s librarian Josie Schneider, from Missouri, to produce the show for us. She shares our passion for children’s books and volunteered to do the back-end editing and technical stuff. We’re so grateful to have Josie! She makes us shine.

Anything else you'd like us to know?

For people in Michigan, you’ll see there’s a Mitten hiding in the BookSmitten name. A nod to our Michigan connection. And, if you look closely, you’ll find another Mitten hiding in the logo Jack designed for us. 

Where can you find the BookSmitten podcast?

You can listen to BookSmitten through Apple podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Google podcasts and hopefully everywhere you get your pods. If you like it, leave a rating on Apple. We hope you become BookSmitten! Join us and suggest new episodes at

Here are some helpful links:

The landing page:

Jack Cheng’s recent blog post introducing the podcast. 

Heather Shumaker's recent 5 minute YouTube video below:

Learn more about each of the podcast authors:

Kelly J. Baptist
hails from Berrien Springs, MI. She’s the author of the Middle Grade book ISAIAH DUNN IS MY HERO and a new picture book THE ELECTRIC SLIDE AND KAI. Kelly is also the author of a short story in the Middle Grade collection FLYING LESSONS AND OTHER STORIES.

Jack Cheng lives in Detroit, MI. He’s the author of the Golden Kite award-winning Middle Grade novel SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS.

Patrick Flores-Scott is from Ann Arbor, MI. Patrick is the author of two Young Adult novels: JUMPED IN and AMERICAN ROAD TRIP.

Heather Shumaker lives in Traverse City, MI. She’s the author of three books for adults, plus the Middle Grade adventure THE GRIFFINS OF CASTLE CARY.

BookSmitten Producers: 
Josie and Corey Schneider, Kansas City, MO
Music by Duck, Duck Chicken

Coming up on the Mitten Blog:

Hugs and Hurrahs! We want to trumpet your good news. Please send your writing/illustrating/publishing news to Sarah LoCascio by Tuesday March 16th to be included.

Registration is open for the SCBWI-MI Spring (Virtual) Conference and critique slots are going fast. Don't delay! Register today for this jam-packed yet flexible conference where you can participate in real time via Zoom or watch recorded sessions later at your convenience. Everything you need to know is here:

Friday, March 5, 2021

Writer Spotlight: Arjun Yetukuri Has an Engineer's Brain and a Poet's Heart, Helps Create the Upcoming Conference


Charlie Barshaw coordinates our quarterly Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet Arjun Yetukuri, engineer by day, storyteller by night, and someone currently helping to set the table for the SCBWI-MI Spring Conference, open for registration now and (virtually) live April 23-25. For more information on the conference and to register, click HERE.

You are an accomplished person, with a PhD. and several patents granted in automotive seating, vehicle electronics and autonomous vehicles. So how do you now find yourself involved with children's books?

I loved telling my kids made-up stories at bed time which I had to do almost every night for years! Seeing them enjoy and smile as I told them was rewarding. I am hoping to see more kids smile as they read my stories.

How does your work as an innovative engineer intersect with your desire to write books for kids?

Both require method and creativity. Many picture books are super creative and cute, if I may say so. The authors, illustrators, agents, art directors, and editors that touched those books must have been methodical to create such master pieces of art.

Describe your early life. How did it help shape the person you are today?

Watching my parents in my childhood through now, their work ethic and determination gives me the will to keep trying.

 When did you discover you wanted to write books for children?

My interest in writing PBs started when I read ‘Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore!’ to my kid – she enjoyed it so much that I had to read it several times for her – the fact that a kid could be so fascinated by a PB inspired me to extend my love for storytelling to writing PBs.

Are there any titles or authors which inspired you?

There are so many awesome authors like David McPhail, Jessixa Bagley, Mike Boldt, Pat Z. Miller and our own Laurie Keller, Leslie Helakoski, Carrie Pearson, Jodi McKay, and from my childhood, Georges Remi, (Hergé) author of TinTin comics, Albert Uderzo, René Goscinny, Jean-Yves Ferri authors of Asterix comics, Lee Falk author of Mandrake and Phantom comics. They bring back so many wonderful childhood memories!

Laurie Keller

When I first decided to write children’s books, I reached out to Laurie Keller. She was super helpful with her encouragement and advice and lead me to craft-related books to start with. Later, I discovered SCBWI and learned the craft (actually, still learning!) from many amazing authors, agents, illustrators, and editors that share their knowledge and experiences.

 On Arjun Yetukuri @ ReviseLoop you’ve charted word count per page in picture books. What did your study reveal?

It is ongoing – my second batch of charts will be released soon. You could dig for patterns in the numbers on any chart. What’s interesting is that there are many PB’s that have pages with zero word count. It highlighted a crucial aspect of a PB for me. A PB is a magical combination of text and illustrations. Kids enjoy the text as much as the illustrations. Pages without words give the kid a pause from the text to enjoy the illustrations. They give the illustrator an opportunity to express and also tell part of the story.  

 What genre do you hope to write?

 PB - MG

 What are you working on now?

I just finished two PBs that have been professionally critiqued and are ready for submission.

One is about a baby polar bear who plays hide-and-seek with her mother every day. It always hides close to their den, but chose to hide somewhere else this time. Worried mama bear has to find her baby before it’s lost. I wrote the outline for this story at one of SCBWI conference sessions by Linda Ashman. She showed a picture of a bear and a kid and challenged us to write a story outline. Luckily, I was the first to complete and read to the audience and won a signed copy of one of her books!

During my research for the book on bears, I read about Polar bears and the potential decline in their numbers due to climate change ( So I kept the original outline and weaved the story around Polar bears to bring awareness.

The second PB that I just finished is also about a search and rescue mission. This time it’s a baby who discovers his bellybutton during an infamous diaper changing session. But the baby can’t find its bellybutton when his mom puts on a fresh diaper and thinks that it’s lost. Baby sets out to search for the lost bellybutton with the help of its pets.

 What details can you share about the upcoming SCBWI-MI virtual conference you are helping to run?

I have to tell you that it’s going to be a super exciting conference with a great variety of topics. The good old cliché “There is something for everyone” meets reality here. The organizers crafted sessions keeping in mind genres, craft, diversity, and inclusion with 3 goals in mind: education, networking, and fun! You don’t want to miss this conference. The faculty are stars. Successful and with wealth of knowledge to share.

For more information and to register click HERE.

 Being the co-chair of a conference forces you to wear many hats. What are some of the things, in order to prepare, that you’ve done for the first time?

It has been an eye opening experience for me. The heavy lifting is being done by the MI chapter leaders and a dedicated set of volunteers. I had the opportunity to identify some of the potential faculty, reach out to them to participate, coordinate their responses, prepare tutorials on Zoom, test the registration site, and I will also be helping out with managing critique submissions along with another volunteer. I have never done any of these tasks before, so it has been an exciting learning journey, Start to Finish!

 What special challenges come with a completely on-line conference

Many of us during the past year have used Zoom on a regular basis either for work or for seeing our families. Yet, managing multiple concurrent sessions, recording breakout sessions, and making them available post-conference are some new challenges, but not showstoppers. Despite the challenges, we have included lively sessions like Socials, Coffee Chats, Lunch and Journey Stories along with rich educational sessions. So, this conference is going to be awesome for many reasons and you don’t want to miss it for any reason!

 You can follow Arjun here:

 @ReviseLoop is my social media handle for Instagram and Twitter; is my website