Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Book Birthday Blog with Tracy Detz


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Tracy Detz on the release of Valor & Victor and the Zombies from Earth! 

How did you come up with the idea for your book?

I started writing Valor & Victor and the Zombies from Earth in 2018. Technology with social media and the easy access to know what the world is doing via your phone at any moment is taking over the world. Along with the wise words and great ideas from a five-year-old boy, Ryder Privette, Valor & Victor was born. I love technology and find it helpful, but too many people abuse it when it comes
to the phone.

What is something you hope your readers will take away from your book?

Anywhere and everywhere throughout the world, everyone is looking at their phones. Through my travels, even on vacation, people just can't put their phones down. I would love for people to be in the moment. Communicate eye to eye. Talk to each other, not just texting. There is much more fun to experience without your phone.

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

There is always something new to learn. And good things take time, especially in
the publishing business. I have met so many amazing people in the writing
world. There is a vast amount of networking and resources available, people
who share a passion for words and stories. SCBWI is at the top of the list! They
are kind and happy to help.

What are your marketing plans for the book?

Spread the word! Marketing is so much work, but so much fun! Author signings,
bookstores, libraries, school visits, social media, blogs, accessible websites,
Pinterest, radio, e-books, trailers, Caribu app, and so much more. I always strive
to market my books in every way. Always have a few books on hand and tell
people what you do! Persevere. You can do it! I believe everyone has a story to

What’s next for you? Any events coming up, or new books in the works?

I have many books completed and in the works. But my latest passion is writing
MG. I am working with my editor now, developing a story dear to my heart.
Along with another 30k plus words rough draft MG book I am diligently working
on. I feel very passionate about both stories. I am one step closer to my dream
agent. I believe if you write what you know and love, the words will flow.

A little bit about the book . . .

Valor from Venus and Victor, his cat, fly to Earth to cause a BIG spat.
Scaring Earthlings is such a great TREAT but sadly, they learn, it’s no easy feat.
These humans are dull, they’re more like ZOMBIES, in love with their phones and
staring at screens! To scare them, the ALIENS devise a plan, that when thwarted, spreads
fun across the land.

Complete with whimsical illustrations, this funny and imaginative book is a reminder to
kids and parents alike that there is much more fun to be had on the other side of
the screen.

A little bit about the author. . .

Tracy Detz is an equestrian, photographer, and therapeutic riding instructor. She is the owner of Forever Free, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities overcome obstacles through the way of the marvelous horse. Tracy travels as much as possible and would love to live in a seashell house someday. She rides like the wind and loves to read and write. Tracy lives on a farm in Wales, Michigan with her horses, cats, dogs, and husband. She grows plenty of flowers and fields of hay. Tracy is the author of No Fish For Charles, and invites you to visit her at www.Tracydetz.com.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

7-Year-Blogiversary! Kudos to Our Team and a Fond Farewell from Co-Editor Kristin Lenz


It's been seven years!

When I transitioned the SCBWI-MI members-only newsletter into a public blog in August 2014, I wanted to continue many of our beloved Mitten traditions, but I was also energized to create something new with a reach beyond our Michigan membership. Here was an opportunity to nurture our community and showcase our members’ writing and artwork beyond our SCBWI borders; a chance to connect and interact not just with each other, but with teachers, librarians, booksellers, and readers around the world. Mitten newsletter co-editor Jodie Fletcher left to pursue other projects, but first she set us up on Blogger. (See what Jodie’s been working on since then at Devicconnection.com. Her new book, The Journal of a Spiritual Seeker is out now!). Nina Goebel and Patti Richards joined me to form our first blog team, and we met at a coffee shop in Royal Oak to discuss the shape and vision of this new blog-to-be. 

Over the years, our blog team has grown and shifted in new directions. Patti moved on to run the Farmington Hills Shop Talk and other projects (including her own blog and several published books!). After writing numerous guest posts, Charlie Barshaw stepped up to cover the Writer Spotlight interviews. Sarah LoCascio took on the Hugs and Hurrahs. Jodi McKay created the Book Birthday celebrations, which Lauren Nyquist later jumped into when Jodi became co-RA. Lauren moved out-of-state this summer, and Christy Matthes recently came on-board. Isabel Estrada O’Hagin and Angie Verges started the Equity and Inclusion Corner. Meanwhile, Nina continued to coordinate every aspect of the quarterly Featured Illustrators, even when she returned to school for a master’s degree in art therapy and pursued a new career. Congrats, Nina!

Our community is so generous. You’ve shared your time and knowledge and experience on our blog every week, including on-going features such as Dear Frida Pennabook (Jay Whistler’s alter ego), Ask the Editor by Katherine Gibson Easter, and Painless Self-Promotion by Debbie Gonzales. There are too many contributors to name, and I know I'm forgetting some because... 7 years! To date, over 400 posts have been written by Michigan members with hundreds of thousands of views!

My favorite part of the job is corresponding with members from around the state—learning from you, helping you learn, and feeling inspired by your growth and success. Mitten posts have been written by seasoned professionals making my job a snap, as well as novice writers who took my requests for revisions in stride as they earned their first publishing credit. Way back when I was a new SCBWI-MI member and the Mitten was a snail mail newsletter, I submitted my first article, Cook Your Book, to editor Kris Remenar. She responded with interest and encouragement, and asked me to add “more meat.” She was a good role model, and I’ve shared her advice many times.

Nina and I had planned to hand over the blog reins a couple years ago, but new partnerships continued to develop, and then the pandemic turned everything upside down. 

Alas, it is time. 

The Mitten blog needs the fresh eyes of new leadership, and I’m excited to see the changes that develop from the enthusiasm of new co-editors. They’ll be walking into an established routine with a supportive team but will have the opportunity to create new features and explore new directions and formats.

What’s next for me? I’m still writing everything from YA novels to poetry. My agent has one novel on submission (please send good vibes!), I’m drafting another, and I have a poem in a forthcoming anthology (Rhyme and Rhythm: Poems for Student Athletes). But I’m also excited to move in some new directions, including teaching a Creative Writing Workshop for Social Workers. I’ll still be here for SCBWI-MI events (I’m presenting on a poetry panel with Shutta Crum and Heather Meloche on Sept. 11th for the Farmington Shop Talk), and I’m looking forward to writing an occasional Mitten blog post - something I rarely had time for as co-editor!

Who will be the new Mitten blog editor(s)? I can’t wait to find out! 

Look for the position descriptions and application link in the SCBWI-MI monthly newsletter that RA's Carrie and Jodi will email to all members next week. I’ll be standing by to answer questions and provide as much support as needed during the transition. 

Thank you again to everyone who has contributed to our SCBWI-MI blog over the years. What a grand team effort! The blog calendar is already filling up for fall, but we're always looking for guest posts. Learn more on the Submissions page

With much gratitude,
Kristin Lenz

Kristin Bartley Lenz is a writer and social worker who has lived in Michigan, Georgia, and California. Her debut young adult novel,
The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, was a Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize winner, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and an honor book for the Great Lakes Great Books Award statewide literature program. Her fiction, poetry, essays, and articles have been published by The New York Times, Writer's Digest, Hunger Mountain, Great Lakes Review, The ALAN Review, Literary Mama, Women On Writing, and The New Social Worker. She also writes freelance for Detroit area non-profits and manages the Michigan Chapter blog for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Our humble beginning seven years ago: 

Our first Featured Illustrator and blog banner from Heidi Woodward Sheffield: 

Neal Levin shared dozens of his Kiddie Litter cartoons:

Flash back to a few of our most popular posts with thousands of views:

*Find posts on any subject using the search box in the right sidebar.

Coming up on the Mitten Blog:

Kidlit horror, faith-based writing and publishing, plunging into Michigan history, website tips, a Writer Spotlight, Book Birthdays, Equity and Inclusion Corner, and another round of Hugs and Hurrahs. We want to trumpet your good news! Please send your writing/illustrating/publishing news to Sarah LoCascio by Sept. 7th to be included. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Writer Spotlight: Dionna Roberts Makes SCBWI and MRA Better

 Baskets of Poetry, Little Free Libraries and Summer Writing Camps: Dionna Roberts



I was lucky enough to interview you for the Michigan Reading Association’s blog (Read it HERE) Your mother taught you to read before Kindergarten. Was she your first inspiration to be a reader and a writer?

My mother equipped me with the foundational skills needed to be a capable reader, but moreover, she gave me an appreciation for stories. I enjoyed those she told from books, but it was the family stories of down south and her growing up that inspired me most! I wanted to write stories the way that she told them with an authentic voice, dialogue, and people who were like us. I looked for stories like this to read growing up. Needless to say, they weren’t always easy to find.

In fourth grade, you also experienced your first male teacher, Mr. Hayes, who you said “made everything we learned cooler than COOL.” Now you teach fourth grade. Is cooler than COOL your goal for your students, too?

Cooler than COOL has never been my goal. However, I strongly believe that when teachers put building relationships at the heart and as a top priority of their teaching, “being cooler than cool” or “ice cold” as Outkast rapper Andre 3000 would say, becomes an unintentional, positive outcome. I decided to ask a former student of mine from the 2003-2004 school year if cool would be a word they would use to describe me as a teacher.

Their response: “If cool means relatable; yes. You were good at teaching at grade-level, but made things easy for all of us to understand whether we were at grade level or not. Your approach was on point because you took the time to get to know us and our cultures. This allowed you to relate to and communicate with us effectively. We loved you and knew you loved us This is better than just being cool.”

Teachers seem to have influenced you throughout your life, so much so that you remember their names. In second grade, Mrs. Kaye instilled in you a love of poetry. Do you still keep notebooks full of poetry?

I do. I have notebooks and journals that live in baskets and on the bookshelves in my home. Each school year, I set up and use writer’s notebooks alongside my students as I model what it looks like to be a “teacher as writer” during our workshop times. There are also random ramblings and pieces of poetry that take up space in the notes app of my phone. You never know when inspiration will present itself.

You’ve attended nErD Camp and MRA conferences, paid attention and took notes. Works by Donalyn Miller seem to have  changed your style of teaching. Can you explain?

Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp changed what teaching reading looked like in my classroom tremendously. They both provided me with a profound revelation of the power of building reading culture and community in my classroom. Going back to my belief that building relationships and getting to know my students should be at the heart of my teaching, this is inclusive of getting an understanding of their reading lives.

I learned from Donalyn and Colby how as teachers, we need to provide young people with choice and access to a wide variety of texts. We must make space and opportunity for independent reading and book sharing each day. They reminded me that read-alouds are magical times of connection between the stories being told across pages, a teacher, and their students.

After learning from them at various conferences, including those you mentioned, I saw the importance of being intentional with building and organizing an accessible classroom library reflective of the readers in my classroom and what they were interested in reading rather than simply displaying and housing books on shelves.

I was inspired to breathe life into the act of reading by making being a reader in my classroom an unforgettable, positive experience.

You helped to start Little Free Libraries throughout Kalamazoo and lower Michigan. (Read more about it HERE.) How did you become involved in this project?

The Art of Planting Little Free Libraries is a collaborative project that is the result of my passion to “end book deserts” in my community and my colleague, Kellen Deau’s desires to lift up the work of community artists and use art as a way to inspire a love of literacy.

When brick and mortar schools were initially shut down as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, some of my immediate thoughts were, what are my students reading and how were they going to have access to books with schools and libraries being shut down indefinitely. That thought then grew deeper and considered not only the students at my school but the families in my neighborhood.

I remembered the story in the book Game Changer: Book Access for All by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp, and how Little Free Libraries provided book access to families within a small community. I wanted to be a catalyst for making this happen in ALL neighborhoods in Kalamazoo, regardless of the socioeconomic status of families who live there.

I designed a t-shirt and hosted an online fundraising campaign through www.teespring.com during July 2020 in hopes of raising money to purchase and install at least one or two Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood, just as I’d seen in more affluent parts of town.

Well, I did that. By October 2020, two LFLs had been planted in my neighborhood and were stocked with quality texts for young people.

However, it wasn’t until Kellen Deau and I talked in early Fall 2020 about expanding this effort more widely, submitted grant applications that were awarded in full, that this amazing movement took root and began to really bloom!  

To date, 23 Little Free Libraries have been built by a local carpenter, The Dapper Hammer, painted by a host of talented local artists, planted and stewarded by book-loving community members, and stocked with books provided by individual donations, and support from our local independent booksellers at Bookbug/This Is a Bookstore.

You are on the Board of Directors for Read and Write Kalamazoo, and you conduct summer programs for creative writing for children. Why?

There was a quote shared online by the organization We Are Teachers that reads: Reading is like breathing in, writing is like breathing out. I serve as a board member of RAWK and support youth in creative writing camps deeply believing in this idea. I want to help facilitate and advocate for programming and spaces for our young people to be able to breathe in this way. I understand the power of it, having been a young person who benefited greatly from spaces such as these growing up.

How about your own writing? What are you working on now?

I am currently working on building routines and habits for myself as a writer. I have found it challenging to write consistently while also taking care of my family and working full time. I do love it though. We make time for what we love, right? There are two solid drafts that I am giving considerable attention to. One is a book of poetry inspired by students I’ve known over my 19 years in education and the other is a picture book about studious, socially awkward groundhog named Gideon and their backyard adventures. I also recently became part of a critique group through SCBWI. My goal is to build accountability to myself as a writer, by working alongside and sharing with other writers.

You are a member of SCBWI and MRA. If your life was a Venn Diagram, what would be at the intersection of those two organizations?

 At the intersection of both of these organizations is the love of literature and the empowerment and celebration of individual stories. I am grateful to be a part of both.

Follow Dionna: 

Blog: www.literacyadventures.com

Twitter: @Deesigned2teach

IG: @dee_the_teacher

Facebook Page: @LiteracyAdventures

If you've got a suggestion for a future Writer Spotlight interview, contact me, Charlie Barshaw, at cjbarshaw523@aol.com.



Thursday, August 5, 2021

Congrats to the 2021 SCBWI-MI Illustration Mentorship Winners!


SCBWI-MI congratulates the winners of the illustration mentorships!

Rebecca Howe won the middle grade/young adult illustration mentorship with Bea Jackson.

V Gray won the picture book illustration mentorship with Dow Phumiruk

Runners-up are Rachel Seeger and Anna Lunt.

Here's a message from SCBWI-MI Mentorship Coordinator, Ann Finkelstein:

Thanks to everyone who applied. The judges commented on the high quality of the submissions. Putting your work out for review requires courage and strength. I applaud you. 
Thanks to the judges (Heidi Sheffield, Brianne Farley and Amy Nielander) for writing detailed and constructive comments on each submission. I feel like I took a graduate level illustration class by reading the judges' feedback. 

The 2022 mentorship will be for middle grade and YA novelists. It's never too early to begin preparing! Stay tuned for more information via email, social media, and our SCBWI-MI website.