Monday, June 28, 2021

Book Birthday Blog with Baxter Bramatti

                         Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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

Congratulations to Baxter Bramatti on the release of

Shadow Songs

This was the write up in the latest “Hugs and Hurrahs”: Baxter Bramatti’s second self-published picture book, SHADOW SONGS (illustrated by Taylor J. Graham), will be released on June 15. It's a rhyming fantasy tale about a girl who awakes to a mysterious melody coming from a nearby forest. Guided by fireflies, she searches for the source of the sound, but what she sees in the forest might not be what they seem. Care to elaborate further?


Shadow Songs is a fun story that uses the element of surprise in a simple way. The main character is a girl named Flora Figglesworth, who wakes in the middle of the night to a song she can hear coming from a nearby forest. She enters the woods and encounters many different animals that she thinks are playing instruments, like a frog playing the drums or a woodchuck rocking out on guitar. But all she can see is the shadow of the animal with the instrument. Then, fireflies add light to her view and, as a reader, there is an anticipation to turn the page to reveal what Flora actually sees. 

As she journeys through the forest and the fireflies light her way, it seems as if all of the animals are snoozing with something near them that looks like the instrument she thought she saw. So, maybe that frog wasn’t playing the drums, maybe it was just sleeping among some mushrooms. Or that fox, it’s just sleeping by a fallen tree trunk that happens to look like a piano. Right? Maybe. I mean, she can still hear the music when she returns home. So maybe those critters really are having a jam session? The end of the book reveals the truth; I don’t want to spoil it for anybody.


Your first picture book was titled MOON PUPPETS  What did you learn in the publication of the first book that helped you put together the second?


Dimensions mostly. But that’s boring stuff. Although I really do like the actual designing of the books, the layout and all of that. Oh, and to look everywhere for errors. Then there were things I feel like I should have learned but didn’t. Like a timeline to release the book: when to submit to reviewers, when to start announcing and start promoting, when to schedule a release date in reference to submitting final files to IngramSpark and KDP to allow time for checking proofs. After two books, I still don’t feel like I’ve learned all that. Then there were things we thought we learned, like color, i.e. RGB v. CMKY, but had to relearn for different reasons with Shadow Songs because of the unique shadow/lighting aspect of the book. Designing on a screen and printing on paper can be drastically different.


SHADOW SONGS is a rhyming tale. Why did you tackle the added layer of difficulty of rhyme and meter in telling this story?


My first draft of the story was a poem. Same with Moon Puppets. It was suggested to me to switch the stories to prose. I did it with both and I thought they were terrible. They became too technical and lost their fun. For me, with projects like these two books, I feel that not having them rhyme is the more difficult way to go. I read stories to my kids most nights, and books like On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna and Big Wolf & Little Wolf by Nadine Brun-Cosme are brilliantly told with no rhyming and I’m wowed by the simplicity and preciseness of the words.

I guess I feel the music-ness comes a little easy to me to start with. And once I get  going with an idea, I can fit my words into a pattern, sort of hiding behind that rhyme. Maybe if I come out of that rhyme in a short story or children’s book, I falter.


What was your inspiration for writing SHADOW SONGS?

I wish I knew. I really do. I believe I finished the first draft of the story sometime in 2014. I could say fireflies inspired me. I always loved those little buggers (pun intended, probably). I just remember that once I had the idea of the shadow of one animal with an instrument, only to be revealed by firefly light that the instrument was something else,, I realized I could repeat the pattern into separate stanzas. I thought of books like Julian Donaldson’s The Gruffalo where the main character encounters different animals in the forest, but the setup of the story and rhyme is basic repetition, albeit brilliant, funny, and exciting at the same time.


You’ve got a “Real Job” and a young family.  How do you carve out time to create your stories?


Get the work done. Put the kids in bed. Turn off the TV. Attack the ideas if I still have energy. That sounds easy, but in reality all of it’s hard, including turning off the TV. When I get something going, I need to be obsessed about it to see it through. It needs to be the only thing I think about beyond my family (forget the “real job”). I need to eat, drink, and breathe it until it’s taken on its own life and can continue growing.


What is your writing and revisions process?

I write a bunch of stuff then never revise it. Or, I revise it once or twice then lock it away forever. It’s not a good process. For the two books I did publish, it was basically write a story in a couple of sittings, then scream “Is this okay? Does this make sense? What’s wrong with this?” at everyone around me for five years or so until I felt comfortable sharing the stories with the world. I do not recommend using my writing or revision process.


I interviewed you last year as a new SCBWI-MI member (HERE). What has changed in your life since we last communicated with each other?

First, thank you for that interview and featuring my work. As for what’s changed, I’ve neglected my website. I know most of the time people have positive things to say to a question like this. But for me, all I can think of is that I neglected my website and I’m not pleased by that. I’m hoping to change that soon.  For anyone reading this, I could always use an accountability/writing partner!


After two picture books, do you still have stories to tell? What’s next?

Absolutely. What’s next is most definitely a third Flora Figglesworth Fantasy. Success or not, I’ve got another almost-complete tale that I have to share. Taylor Graham, the illustrator for Shadow Songs, is on board with it as well. I also have a draft of a middle-grade novel that is close to being complete after some professional grade edits. I’ve been sitting on it for some time now, but I feel it will do the main characters a disservice if I never share their story.


Where did you find your illustrator? Are they the same one who illustrated MOON PUPPETS? What does your working relationship look like?


I found my illustrator by asking a random stranger a few awkward questions on the internet. I’m fairly certain that’s how most relationships start these days so it seemed only natural at the time. And yes, Taylor illustrated Moon Puppets and Shadow Songs and I’m grateful he did. As for our working relationship, it looks like a series of text messages. I’ve never communicated with him in any other way, nor have I seen him or know what he looks like. Part of me thinks I’ll wake up one day and he’ll turn out to be a whole Tyler-Durden-Fight-Club concept and I was just having conversations online with myself and that I created all the art alone. But then I’ll remember I have absolutely no drawing capabilities so I’ll be quick to dismiss that theory. 

Taylor lives in San Diego, California, and I was going to visit him last summer, but the pandemic hit and spoiled my plan. Which now just enhances the mystique around our relationship. But I still would like to meet him one day. I mean, we would all like to meet those we admire, no?  And I absolutely admire Taylor. He’s put up with me through the creation of two children’s books and he designed images that brought my ideas to life.


A little bit about the author…

Baxter B Bramatti, the author of the Flora Figglesworth Fantasy series, lives in Michigan with his amazing best friend and his loving wife (hint: it's the same person) and their two daughters. He spends his time writing, dreaming, scheming, and eating. He does laundry, too, because food stains are natural consequences of his eating. 

A little bit about the book…

Guided by firefly light, Flora searches for the source of a mysterious melody coming from a nearby forest. But deep in the woods, things might not be what they seem. Is that bear playing the banjo? Or that frog, is it jamming on drums? Join Flora as she uncovers the secrets of the Shadow Songs!

Social media contacts:

Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram: @bbramatti

Where can we buy this book?

Shadow Songs is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, and pretty much anywhere books are sold.

If you've got a Book Birthday coming up, contact Charlie Barshaw @

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Selling a Picture Book - My Mini Book Tour by Linda K. Sienkiewicz


Let me first say that selling doesn’t come easily to me. The fear of rejection is real. In fact, I was reeling after the response from the very first independent bookstore I went in to cold. Luckily, after that initial snub, things went smoother, and now Gordy and the Ghost Crab is being carried at several stores in North Carolina. But I wanted to get my book into stores where I knew the book would sell well, which happen to be in the same area where I got my inspiration for the story.

My approach:
I made a list of about ten bookstores and shops. From prior trips down south, my biggest hope was to get into two Outer Banks indie bookstores, Buxton Village Books and Books to be Red. Don and I mapped a drive south on Highway 12 to Ocracoke Island, and planned to stop in any stores that looked like a good fit.

I called or emailed as many bookstores as possible a week before our trip and introduced myself as a children’s book author with a picture book of interest to their customers. I told them the story involves a boy’s first encounter with a ghost crab, it includes science facts, and it’s the only picture book with factual information on ghost crabs. I told the store owners I’d be in the area and could offer them signed copies at a wholesale price as well as wrapped play sets. 

Both Buxton Village and Books to be Red asked me to email them a sell sheet.

Buxton Village responded to my email on the same day by ordering 12 books and 6 play sets. Ocracoke’s Books to be Red didn’t respond to my email, but I knew I’d see her in person when we arrived on the island. I wasn’t able to reach all the bookstores on my list, which meant I’d have to go in cold to some shops.

I designed a sell sheet with ordering and contact information, details about the book, and author quotes. I bought gold “autographed by author” stickers. I packed up my play sets (the book, a little pail and shovel, and a windup crab). Then we hit the road with a positive mindset.

First on my travel route was an indie bookstore in Historic Winchester, VA. That owner would not look at or touch my book. When I leafed through it, hoping to engage her, she pointedly refused. She said, “I appreciate that you have a book. As an independent book store owner, I simply can’t take books from just anyone who walks in off the street.” She whisked the flyer I handed her off the counter and tossed it underneath as if I were peddling drugs. I said thank you and left. Once my anger faded, I laughed about it. Apparently, some indie bookstores adhere to strict policies! 

In Kitty Hawk, NC, I visited Gray’s Outer Banks Clothing, Kitty Hawk Kites, and two other gift shops and bookstores. I showed the book to the store associates, talked it up, and gave them a sell sheet. Gray’s marketing department emailed me a few days later to request signed copies at wholesale price. They have four stores in Kitty Hawk and Corolla, have been in business since 1948, so I did a happy dance. We dropped off a box of books for them on our drive home.

Once we were in Ocracoke, I made an appointment to talk to the owner at Books to be Red. The owner bought four books and four play sets. She orders books from Ingram on a weekly basis, so, fingers crossed she’ll order more books when those sell. I feel confident they will.

Then I posted on Facebook and Instagram how happy Gordy was to be in Books to be Red and Buxton Village Books, and tagged the post #Ocracoke, #OcracokeIsland, #Hatteras, etc. This move paid off when I went into the Ocracoke Preservation Society museum gift shop. The person behind the desk had seen my Instagram post and happily purchased signed copies for their gift shop.

As I took pictures of the book and play set at the beach, I realized I could take Gordy on a tour of Ocracoke. I cut his image from a book cover and glued it to a board I had with me. Now I had my own “Flat Gordy” to take around the village. I took enough photos to hopefully generate interest in the book throughout the entire summer on Facebook and Instagram.

Now that we’re home, I plan to follow up with phone calls to a few stores where I left flyers. I also need to visit indie bookstores in Michigan. Gordy and I will have to plan a few more trips.

Promoting yourself and your work is not always easy, but no one can promote your work better than you. And the good news is the more you do, the easier it gets. Try offering your books wholesale as opposed to consignment, especially when you’re dealing with stores that are out of state. Finally, don’t limit yourself to bookstores, either. Gift shops sell books, too. All you need to do is find the right fit.

Linda K. Sienkiewicz’s short stories, poetry, essays and art have been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies. Her newest release is a children's picture book, GORDY AND THE GHOST CRAB. Among her awards are five Finalist awards for her debut novel, IN THE CONTEXT OF LOVE, a Pushcart Prize Nomination, and a poetry chapbook award from Heartlands. She has three other poetry chapbooks. She studied at Cooper School of Art in Cleveland, Ohio, and earned a Masters Degree (MFA) from the University of Southern Maine. Linda lives with her husband in Rochester, Michigan where they spoil their grandchildren and send them back home.

Coming up on The Mitten Blog:

Another thoughtful post from our SCBWI-MI Equity and Inclusion Team and a few weeks off for summer vacation! But first, it's time for our quarterly Ask the Editor feature. Thanks to everyone who sent questions to editor Katherine Gibson Easter. Come back next Friday, July 2nd, to read all the questions and answers.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Book Birthday Blog with P.J. Bass


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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

Congratulations to P.J. Bass on the release of

Together with Dad!

Your first picture book is about to be published. Congratulations! What is the story, and what inspired you to write it?

The name of my picture book is entitled, Together with Dad! Andy’s Adventure-Filled Week! This story was birthed 20 years ago in an early childhood education storytelling class.   I finally finished the book last year. I wanted to write a story that would teach children about family relationships and self-esteem.  Also, a story that would encompass educational concepts. This story features an African American Father and his son sharing experiences during a week. The book introduces days of the week, big and small quantities, and social-emotional interactions.  

What did you learn along the way in getting your first book published?

I have learned so many valuable lessons during the publishing process (That’s probably another book). One of the most important lesson is to have your manuscript finished and edited before you hire an illustrator.  I learned the hard way and paid extra money to have some of the illustrations redone. It all worked out in the end, but I wished I had known ahead of time.

Did you have a critique group to bounce ideas off of?

I had trusted friends, family, and beta readers to bounce ideas around.

When did you know you were a writer?

I realized I was a writer in elementary school. For as long as I can remember, I have loved nature and its beauty and wonder. I learned that not only could I behold the beauty of nature, but I could write about nature. I began to combine my passion for nature and writing together! My love affair for words began!  I started writing poetry, short stories, and now a children’s book!

 What is your writing and revisions process?

My writing and revision process is to carve out quiet time in the mornings to write and meditate for at least 30 minutes daily.  I have found many ideas flood my mind early in the morning. I finally understand the phrase, "The early bird gets the worm."

What are you working on next?

I am working on another children’s picture book.  I decided to create a series from my first book, Together with Dad. It will be the second book in the Together Series.  It will feature Andy with his mom experiencing new adventures. Stay tuned!

A little bit about the book…

The book takes young readers on captivating adventures filled with colorful scenery and interesting characters. Andy and his dad engage in various activities throughout the week. The book has child-centered language and exciting activities, introducing teachable moments where children will learn days of the week, big and small quantities, and social-emotional interactions. This book will empower young minds, teaching them life lessons that will follow them through their lives, inspire them to dream, explore, and always be uniquely themselves. My goal is that my books convey the importance of family, legacy, and literature.

A little bit about the author…

P.J. is an author and women's rights advocate. She proudly holds her Master of Business Administration Degree, but her greatest passion is and will always be children - especially teaching and working with them. She has been a part of a family-owned child-care business for over 30 years, and that is why she decided to start writing children's books. ​

 In 2020 P.J. started the Fueling Purpose clothing line to inspire people to engage with daily activities that ignite or fuel their lives with purpose. She promotes the importance that books play to help fuel purposes in the lives of her readers. She donates 5% of sales to the non-profit organization First which has distributed more than 200 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income communities in all 50 states and provinces in Canada. 


​She is an avid traveler who loves looking at nature and the wonders of the world. In her free time, P.J. loves to cook and bake. She also has a YouTube channel that promotes the importance of children reading books by featuring read-aloud stories from various children’s authors. She resides with her family and dog Milo.

Watch the short book trailer here:

Social media contacts:


Facebook: pjbassbooks

Where to find the book:

It will be available on June 17, 2021 on Amazon.

If you have a Book Birthday coming up, email to start the process of a Birthday Celebration.


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Eliminate the Buts by Karen Bell-Brege


What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do. – Timothy Ferriss

You want to create, but… (and there’s that ‘but’) there are so many excuses not to. Here are a few of the biggies, along with some ways to help you move past the ‘but’s’ toward following your goals and dreams.  

But I can’t help feeling overwhelmed… 

You dream of writing or illustrating a children’s book. It’s something you’ve wanted to do for, well, maybe as long as you can remember. If you recently attended the SCBWI-Michigan Spring Conference ‘Your Story Start to Finish’ you may have come away completely inspired to put your pencil to paper, fingers to the keyboard, brush to canvas or voice to recorder – whatever works for you to get your magnificent creative thoughts, words or sketches out. On the flip-side you may have come away disillusioned. Some of the stats were overwhelming. You may have heard agent Maria Vicente say she averages about 2000 query letters a month, and she’s still going through her inbox of submissions from October – and those are submissions she had requested! Other stats we’ve heard about, are those that are published it took them 2999 submissions to 900 agents and 42 years to get published. What? Seriously? No, but kind of…

Daunting, isn’t it? You may feel like everyone and their brother, and his brother and their half-brother from another mother, and distant cousin want to write or illustrate a book. That’s probably true... But they aren’t you. Somebody is going to get those publishing deals – so WHY NOT YOU?

A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms. – Zen Shin

But what if it’s no good? 

We all know we’re unique little flowers (yes guys, you too). Each and every one of us has irreplaceable, diverse talents we bring to the world. Therefore, if you have an undying urge, a nagging, no matter what you do it won’t go away and it always resurfaces – then it’s your calling. Plain and simple. You can no longer ignore it, you can’t bury it under a rug, or try to put it out of your mind, because you know it will come back. The tiny little voice reminding you that this is something you want to do, you need to do, so you have to do it. There’s no way around it. It’s the law of the universe. You have to share your special talent with the world.

Genius is 1% percent inspiration and 99 % percent perspiration. – Thomas Edison

But the competition is so fierce…

Please ask yourself, ‘Where isn’t it?’ Where on this planet, for anyone who wants to accomplish anything, is it not competitive? There’s not one profession that doesn’t have unlimited competition, especially in the arts – actors, dancers, comedians, artists, writers, directors, producers, and equally in sports, for inventors, even You Tubers. It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s in anything worth doing. That’s part of the dream. It’s the way the universe tests you to see if you’re serious. This wonderful message came across loud and clear from some of the conference presenters – don’t give up, don’t compare yourself to others, don’t take your Barbie and go home (okay, maybe they didn’t say anything about Barbie). Hang in there, build the best damn dollhouse you can and share it with the world. There will be one agent or editor who sees your vision and you connect with. They’re out there for you. Because you’re never given a dream without being able to make it happen. Another rule of the universe. 

You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending. – C. S. Lewis

But I can’t do it…

How many times have you started, and then you stop? You know there’s laundry to do, the dog needs to be let out, the deck needs to be painted, you have to find a Goat Yoga class, you need a cookie. You were off to a great start, then you made excuses. But there are little signs that will encourage you to keep going, if you look for them. Maybe you see or hear your name somewhere, and then the word writer or artist shows up shortly after. Maybe a song comes on the radio about following your dreams or being strong. Did you see or hear the signs? If you ignore them, then you are ignoring what you’re meant to do. Your dreams are calling out to you, luring you to pursue your passion. Don’t ignore the signs. They’re telling you to do whatever it takes. Whether you need to have someone tie you to a chair, or you need to lock yourself in a room with a ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign, or maybe it’s by promising yourself a treat (Mmmm… ice cream). Do whatever it takes.

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. – T. S. Eliot

But I don’t know how…

Then reach out. You are a member of this wonderful organization. There is so much information, so many writing and critique groups, from motivation and guidance to actual ‘how to.’ Our SCBWI-MI leaders (Carrie & Jodi) and numerous volunteers have years of experience, and they are always here for you. Just go to for unlimited resources. Join the MichKids Listserv, read the wonderful Mitten blog posts – (oh, wait, you are!). Our magnificent leaders will tell you if they can do it, you can do it. This wonderful quote from Barb Rosentock at the conference should inspire you, “Publishing is a business and the way you get through the challenge is by time and effort. It’s not magic, there is no magic involved.”

The only magic that you have to believe in, is the magic of yourself.   I know people who started out creating for only five minutes a day. Start with those teeny-tiny steps, something doable – not overwhelming. Set a timer, guaranteed you will turn it off and keep going.

To succeed in life, you need two things ignorance and confidence. – Mark Twain

what will I do with my work? 

There are so many avenues to getting your work out into the world. Whether traditional publishing or self-publishing, find what’s best for you. Don’t give up. Do this for you, because you have to. Don’t be one of those people in old age who has one regret of something they didn’t do. Take it from Scotty P, “NO RAGRETS” not even in his spelling (from the kid in the movie We’re the Millers). This is your calling. It’s in your DNA. The world needs your creative genius, plus you need to do this for you. Now enough ‘buts’…except for the one you’re going to put in your chair.

Karen Bell-Brege is an author, comic, voice-over artist and public speaker. She (along with her illustrator husband Darrin) is the Michigan Reading Association’s 2021 Gwen Frostic Award Winner. Karen is also the author of 14 bestselling children’s books, both picture books and chapter. She has also written for the MEAPS and ELAP tests, and did copywriting for numerous companies. She has done voice-overs for Hasbro and Universal. She is also a Telly Award recipient. Karen’s motto is, if it’s not fun then what’s the point? As a team, Karen and Darrin collaborate on numerous projects, and they love to make people laugh. They have a very creative son they adore, and they happily live, love, and laugh in the mitten. And, on occasion, Karen has been known to tie herself to her chair.

Learn more at

Friday, June 11, 2021

Hugs and Hurrahs

 Summer is here! As kids (and teachers and parents) across Michigan celebrate the end of a very unusual school year, I’m happy to be able to celebrate some good news from some of our members.


Tracy Bilen’s YA romantic thriller, WHISPER (Mirette), came out on May 8, 2021. You can see the book trailer here.

How thrilling, Tracy!

Neal Levin’s poem “When Midas Met Medusa” was included in THE BEST EVER BOOK OF FUNNY POEMS, a children’s poetry anthology edited by Brian Moses (Macmillan Children’s Books). His rhyming story “Billy McBeal and the Best Part of Art” was published in the May/June issue of Spider, his poem “Rain Music” was published in the April 2021 issue of Babybug, and his short story/tall tale “Breakfast in Fastbreak” was published in the April 2021 issue of Spider. Two of his poems, “Cats across the Internet” and “Family Reunion,” were published in the May 2021 issue of the literary journal Better than Starbucks.

Wow, Neal!

Leah Rose Kessler’s debut picture book, RAT FAIR, illustrated by Cleonique Hilsaca and published by POW! Kids Books, is coming out Tuesday, June 29, 2021.

That’s exciting, Leah!

Diane Telgen, a former MichKid now living in Tennessee, wrote a book about Michigan that debuted in May: THE GHOSTLY TALES OF MICHIGAN’S HAUNTED LIGHTHOUSES. Signed copies are available to order on her website.

Yay, Diane!

Kinyel Friday’s book SWIM LIKE THE FISHES, illustrated by Robert Roberson, Jr., comes out on June 15.

That’s fabulous, Kinyel!

Baxter Bramatti’s second self-published picture book, SHADOW SONGS (illustrated by Taylor J. Graham), will be released on June 15. It's a rhyming fantasy tale about a girl who awakes to a mysterious melody coming from a nearby forest. Guided by fireflies, she searches for the source of the sound, but what she sees in the forest might not be what they seem.

How fantastic, Baxter!

Kristin Bartley Lenz (the editor of THE MITTEN) received an honorable mention for her work-in-progress, NEXUS: A NOVEL, in the Springfed Arts 2021 Writing Contest judged by Jacquelyn Mitchard. The New York Times published one of her poems for a special April Poetry Month feature on the theme of renewal. Poems could only be a maximum of 15 words! 

That’s amazing, Kristin! 

Lisa Wheeler’s newest books, SOMEONE BUILDS THE DREAM, illustrated by Loren Long (Dial/Penguin) has received starred reviews from Kirkus, The Horn Book, and Publisher’s Weekly. The book honors the hard work and dedication of folks in the skilled trades as well as laborers, the working class, and the blue collar people who keep our world running. Named an Amazon Best of the Month as well as a Kids Indie Next Pick, it was on the Indie Bestseller List for over a month. What a DREAM come true!

Yes, that sounds like a dream come true, Lisa!

Kat Harrison's sophomore picture book MIGRAINE AND MIA will be released this fall by Warren Publishing Inc.. Illustrated by Lisbon-based artist Marusha Belle, the story explores a migraine attack through the five senses.

I’m so happy for you, Kat!

Cindy Williams Schrauben is now represented by Hannah Mann of Writer's House Literary. Her debut picture book THIS COULD BE YOU will be published in April 2022 by Cardinal Rule Press.

That’s great news, Cindy!


That’s it for this time! Have a great summer, everyone! Please send your good news for the next Hugs and Hurrahs post to