Friday, May 28, 2021

Gratitude, Leadership, and a Call to Action from Isabel Estrada O'Hagin, the 2021 SCBWI Tribute Fund Awardee

This February, our Regional Advisors, Jodi McKay and Carrie Pearson, congratulated me on
being named the recipient of the 2021 SCBWI’s Tribute Fund Award. A complete surprise, I was
honored to receive this recognition and thought there were many others who deserved this
award. Being a volunteer means it’s a team effort and that someone else has been doing the
groundwork (more on this later) and for that I am grateful. Thank you, Michigan friends, for all
your well wishes posted on social media!

It’s been a joy to be a member of SCBWI and to serve as a volunteer. Getting the Equity & Inclusion Team off the ground in 2019 and serving as the Team Leader these past 18 months has been challenging yet rewarding. Some of the projects we worked on include the Members For Members
Scholarship Award, the Books With Barbers book drive, and the E & I Corner blog. Another aspect of my volunteer work has been to re-establish the Kalamazoo Area Shop Talks (KAST) with Melanie Bryce. We have enjoyed engaging our community and supporting our local members. 

Being part of the SCBWI-MI Leadership Team has been a real eye-opener, too. You probably already know this... it’s a group of super people who in their humility hide their masks and capes and the big “V” on their leotards. In all these roles one of my greatest joys is getting to know other people who love kidlit!

According to Carrie and Jodi, the SCBWI Tribute Fund commemorates members of the
children’s book community, their lives, and their work by funding all-expense scholarships to
the SCBWI International Summer and Winter Conferences for the general membership. The
nominations are made by the region and the awardees are determined by our headquarters. I
was fortunate to have been included in a group that includes volunteer extraordinaire, Charlie
Barshaw, who received this award in 2014.

From Charlie...
I began my journey with SCBWI in 2009, years after my wife, Ruth, went to a New York conference with an empty sketchbook and came back inspired to create Ellie McDoodle. Soon after I joined the
SCBWI-MI Advisory Committee (the former Ad Com) and helped to put together conferences. 
In 2011, Leslie Helakoski asked me to promote a program called “Networks Day,” when local
groups of SCBWI members would gather to network and get to know each other. In 2012, I
promoted it as “Your Area’s Got Talent,” and by January of 2013, writer Michelle Bradford
convinced me to work with her to create a monthly group in Lansing called the “Mid-Michigan
Meet Up.” In September of that year, former RA Ann Finkelstein took over to co-host our
meetings. Soon, other regions of the state formed their own “Meet-Ups” which over the years
morphed into “Shop Talks.”

In the intervening years I’ve helped run two conferences at Mackinac Island, and I’ve
interviewed editors, agents, illustrators and more writers, veteran and just-starting out, than
you can shake a pen at for The Mitten Blog. And I’ve met the kinds of generous and talented
people who populate SCBWI-MI. It was an honor to receive the Tribute Fund Award, but the
real honor has been working with the extraordinary creative talent here in Michigan.

Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Charlie. How many times have you heard that folks
in SCBWI-Michigan are a friendly, supportive bunch? Volunteering is a team sport. It is good
work that can leave you feeling satisfied to know you made a difference in supporting the
efforts of other creatives within our organization. Whether you’re an organizer, a presenter, an
educator, a tech-savvy guru, or an all-hands-on-deck volunteer, we all gain when we take the
time to lend a hand and become involved.

Take a minute to think about where your strengths lie and how you can share them with others
to make SCBWI Michigan a better team. Volunteer—find the time—the returns are great.

Will you join our team of volunteers? Let’s do some good work together!

Storyteller Isabel O’Hagin (Ph.D.), writing as Ysabel Estrada, has been a member of SCBWI since 2013. As a pre-published author, she writes stories steeped in Latino culture based in the southwest where she lived most of her life. She has written two middle-grade novels, several picture books and is currently working on a YA novel. In 2018 she was recognized as a runner-up in the SCBWI-MI Novel Mentorship Contest. Her publication credits include teacher education articles, book chapters in early childhood music, and serving as the editor for a state education journal.

SCBWI-MI welcomes new volunteers for ongoing and occasional needs! Read more and find a link to the volunteer form

Coming up on the Mitten Blog this summer:

A Writer Spotlight, Ask the Editor, E&I Corner, and our quarterly Hugs and Hurrahs! We want to trumpet your good news! To be included, please email your writing/illustrating/publishing news to Sarah LoCascio by June 8th.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Congrats to the 2021 Members for Members Scholarship Winners!


Last year, the SCBWI-MI E&I Team sponsored our first-ever Members for Members Scholarship Awards to support inclusivity in children's literatureThe scholarship awards a one-year SCBWI membership to a Michigan writer or illustrator. Thanks to generous donations from our members and community we were able to continue the tradition in 2021 by funding four more scholarships! We asked the winners to tell us what they're working on, what they're looking forward to, and how the SCBWI membership will help their author or illustrator journey. Meet the awardees below!

Orezime Uyeh

What I’m Working On…
I am currently working on a teacher’s guide and a coloring/activity book for my children’s picture book, “Girls For Medicine.”
What I’m Looking Forward to…
With my SCBWI membership, I look forward to attending various webinars, workshops and conferences. I am excited to interact with other indie authors in my region and get really helpful advice on getting my book(s) out there.
How the SCWBI membership will help my author-illustrator journey…
Being a SCBWI member will motivate me to take my writing and illustrations to another level! This membership will allow me to finally explore my interest in creating chapter books and graphic novels for kids. I cannot wait to learn more from other SCBWI members who are experts in these book formats.

Ann Dallman

As for what I'm working on? Well, this past year (and my mother's death) slowed me down a bit. I am almost through with the first draft of my second book about Cady, continuing where Cady and the Bear Necklace left off. It's really weird but I hear her voice when I'm writing so I'm working at her pace, that of a 13-year-old girl. Sometimes I want to keep going but it's as if I hear her say, "Nope, that's enough for today."

I appreciate the scholarship very much as it allows me to continue as a member of SCBWI. I am delighted and thrilled to be a member of this fantastic organization and have even brought in two new members! I have learned so much through their postings and, pre-pandemic, through area meet-ups. It's just an outstanding group.

How does it help me on my writing journey? SCBWI provides almost daily encouragement through its emails, postings and online conferences. I love it!

Amy O’Hanlon

Hello! I'm Amy and I am an author and illustrator passionate about creating introspective and empathetic stories that incorporate my love of fantasy and magical realism as well as my experiences as a mixed race person.  

Thank you SCBWI Michigan for the Members 4 Members scholarship. SCBWI has been an integral part of my journey and I am grateful to be able to continue to learn and grow from this community, especially as the interest and opportunities for graphic novels increase!

PJ Bass

I am working on a children's picture book depicting a week of fun-filled activities between an African American father and his son. I am looking forward to the SCBWI membership to cultivate and further enhance my writing and the outcomes it creates. I am convinced that social interactions between creatives can only be a mutually enriching and beneficial experience. I remain open to learning as a mentor and inspiring new authors.

Congrats again to the awardees! SCBWI and our Michigan chapter offer numerous scholarships throughout the year. Learn more at:


While you're on our SCBWI-MI website, explore the calendar on the home page to stay current on upcoming events. You can also find time-limited recordings to previous webinars such as this one from Dave Stricklen: How to Rock Your School Visits.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Featured Illustrator Alyssa Sidlosky



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?

Look for the positive

3. Where would you like to live?

Michigan is home

4. Your favorite color?


5. Three of your own illustrations:


6. Your music?

Country or classical

7. Your biggest achievement?

Parenting 4 kids

8. Your biggest mistake?

Spending too much time on stuff that’s not important

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

Benjy’s Dog House

10. Your main character trait?


11. What do you appreciate most in a friend?

Kindness and laughter

12. What mistakes are you most willing to forgive?

Mistakes that help people learn and grow

13. Your favorite children's book hero?

Nancy Drew

14. What moves you forward?

New inspiration

15. What holds you back?


16. Your dream of happiness?

Living with purpose

17. The painter/illustrator you admire most?

Margaret Bloy Graham

18. What super power would you like to have?

Ability to be in many places at one time

19. Your motto?

Be flexible

20. Your social media?

Instagram alyssajoybooks

Twitter @alyssajoybooks

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Book Birthday Blog with Tracy Bilen


 Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

Where we celebrate new books from Michigan's authors and illustrators.


Congratulations to Tracy Bilen on the release of Whisper! 

Congratulations on the release of Whisper! What inspired this YA mystery thriller?
Thanks, Lauren! When I was a kid, I used to notice this high-pitched whining noise that the T.V. would make when the volume was turned down. It always drove me crazy, but it never seemed to bother anyone else. I got to thinking, what if that sound wasn’t mechanical, what if that was the sound of a thousand people talking at once…make that a thousand dead people…and they were all trying to talk to the one person that could hear them?
Both your most recent release and your previous book, What She Left Behind, have a strong sense of suspense and mystery. They also explore themes of grief and trauma. What is it that draws you to writing about these topics?
I have always loved FBI stories, which explains why I made Jacob’s mom an FBI agent. And I devour books that make you desperately need to figure out how all of the pieces fit together. As for the grief aspect, I lost both my biological father and stepfather unexpectedly when I was relatively young, so I find it easy to tap into those feelings and unresolved issues in my writing.
How has marketing and promotion gone for Whisper? Do you have any advice for newly published authors looking to promote?
I had a blast making the book trailer for Whisper with the software on Biteable. I also did a Goodreads giveaway, which helps build your book’s presence on “to-read” shelves and often leads to reviews. I used Xpresso Book Tours to organize a book blast (where bloggers sign up to feature your book on their site on a specific day or week). And I ordered bookmarks just because they’re fun (you can get one, while supplies last, by sending me your address through the contact form on my website or via my Goodreads mail).
When it comes to planning out your books, are you more of a pantser or a plotter?
A pantser all the way! Usually the first 50 pages come to me all in a rush and I also know what the last scene will be. Next, I write scenes that I know I want to include. I give them fun titles using the “Heading” designation in Word. That way I can drag them around to where they fit best using the navigation pane that shows up on the left of the screen when you hit “Find”.
Who are some authors that you look up to?
  • Julia Walton for Words on Bathroom Walls
  • Kathleen Glasgow for the beautiful prose in Girl in Pieces
  • Harlan Coben for his character Myron Bolitar, basketball (almost) star turned sports agent / detective
  • Susan Vaught for Trigger, about a boy with a devasting injury and no memory of how it happened
  • Karin Slaughter because I adore Will Trent, who is deeply flawed but loves unconditionally
  • Kelley Armstrong for her books about a place where victims and criminals hide from the world in the Canadian wilderness
  • James Patterson for his short chapters and awesome plotting.
  • Jennifer Niven because of the voice in All the Bright Places
  • And of course, Shutta Crum, my former SCBWI Michigan novel mentor, for all that she taught me!
What’s next for you? Any fun ideas or projects in the works?
I’m working on a YA romantic thriller about the daughter of an American actress and the son of the president of France.
A little bit about the book:
Stop him.
After her friend Samantha is murdered, seventeen-year-old Olivia is the only one who still hears her voice.
Years ago, Jacob closed his eyes. In a park. Playing hide-and-seek. His little brother is still missing. And Jacob’s mom is the FBI agent who couldn’t find him.
Now Jacob has dreams he can’t explain. And draws faces of those about to die.
In a town terrorized by a serial killer, Jacob meets Olivia. Sparks ignite.
Until the voice in Olivia’s head echoes the warning in Jacob’s dream…
You’re next.

A little bit about the author: 
Tracy Bilen is the author of What She Left Behind (Simon Pulse) and Whisper (Mirette). She is a high school French teacher in Michigan where she lives with her husband and children. Tracy studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and taught Spanish at a high school ski academy. She loves biking, traveling, and red velvet cake.


Friday, May 7, 2021

Interview with Bea Jackson, Mentor for the 2021 Middle Grade – Young Adult Illustration Mentorship

SCBWI-MI is hosting two illustration mentorships this year. Today, we have an interview with MG/YA illustration mentor, Bea Jackson. Last Friday (April 30) we had an interview with the picture book illustration mentor, Dow Phumiruk. 

Bea Jackson loves telling stories through her art, from dynamic and diverse character design, to delightfully fun and energetic children’s book illustrations. She attended the College for Creative Studies and is the Grand Prize Winner of the L. Ron Hubbard’s Illustrator of the Future Award of 2007. She has illustrated several books including the New York Times best seller, Parker Looks Up, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Children’s. In addition to her work as a children’s book illustrator, character and concept artist, Brittany’s work has been featured on the covers of books, comics, and in various magazines and articles. 

What do you like best about illustrating?

What I like best about Illustration, is the process of completing a work. It can be challenging, frustrating and exciting, considering all the little things that go into bringing what’s in my mind onto the canvas. Sketching, finding references and inspiration, building a composition, finding the right colors, and just getting lost in the zone is very mentally stimulating for me-- and to see the final product at the end of it all is the cherry on top.  

How do you know when an illustration is both good and done?

I struggle with knowing when an illustration is good and done, especially with personal work. Most personal projects I do as an exercise to learn or put something into practice, so I always feel there is room for improvement, which makes it hard to settle. Though once I feel like I have a strong concept and colors that I can work with, I feel like I’ve hit a breakthrough where I can take the idea to completion. From there, I’m very strategic about how I complete my final render, by choosing different areas of the illustration I want to work on, gradually working through it till each part of it is rendered.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about illustrating?

As an introvert, I often struggle with my words. I learned that for me, the most important thing about Illustrating is that it is a form of communication. Illustrations can connect with people without words to express a feeling, an idea, and or tell a story.  It can break the ice when it comes to connecting with people, and for me has bridged many gaps when it comes to discussing difficult topics, opening discussions with people that would otherwise be hard to get into. For people like me who struggle with casual conversation, using illustration to communicate has made it easier for me to reach out, connect, and be connected to. 

What is a typical illustrating day like for you?

A typical day of illustrating for me usually involves juggling multiple projects- usually 2 or 3 in one day. On average, I will spend a few hours working on one project before putting it away to work on the next after a break. It is a bit hectic, but by shuffling through it keeps me from overthinking one project, and I always come back to it with fresh eyes the next time I visit it. 

Art by Bea Jackson

What are your favorite art forms, software and media? 

Digital is my favorite art form, purely for its versatility, but I have a love for traditional in all its forms. There is something very beautiful about tactile art. I especially love traditional artwork that is rough, and sketchier. I love seeing the process in an artist’s works, their rough lines, and the character that comes with art that is less polished. 

What will you expect of the mentee?

I expect the mentee to feel free to ask questions, even the more difficult ones that often times artist avoid asking, like how to price your work. I wish to be as informative as I can, sharing the good, the bad and the ugly with the hopes that my experiences may help others, so feel free to ask the often-avoided questions. 

Do you have any advice for applicants?

Use these classes as an opportunity to connect and network with other artists. Much of the work I have found was the result of other artists giving me a hand up or opening the door for me. No matter what level you are, introvert or extrovert, connecting with good people is essential. 

Thank you, Bea, for chatting with us. 

The submission window for both mentorships opens May 17, 2021 at 8:00 am. The submission window closes when we have 30 applicants or June 7, 2021 12:00 midnight – whichever comes first. 

***Everything you need to know about applying for the PB illustration and MG/YA illustration mentorships can be found on the SCBWI-MI Mentorship page

If you missed Deb Pilutti's Zoom presentation on formatting your mentorship submission, go here for a link to the recording: 

For questions, contact SCBWI-MI mentorship coordinator, Ann Finkelstein

Ann Finkelstein is a former scientist who discovered that writing novels is more fun than wrangling test tubes. Aside from coordinating our mentorship program, she helps Charlie Barshaw organize the Lansing Area Shop Talk (LAST).

Coming up on the Mitten Blog:

Picture book inspiration, interviews with scholarship and award winners, Ask the Editor, and a round of Hugs and Hurrahs. But first, it's time for a new Featured Illustrator! Join us next Friday to see our new spring/summer blog banner and read the Featured Illustrator interview.