Friday, December 30, 2022

Resolution vs. Motivation: Either Way, It’s Crunch Time! by Jay Whistler

I’m generally of the opinion that New Year’s Resolutions are a waste of time. You know the drill: make a hasty resolution at the end of December that this year, by gum, you WILL finish your manuscript/picture book dummy/query letter and submission packet, etc., repeat it to yourself as you raise your glass of sparkling cider at midnight, focus for approximately nine days, and by January 10, you’ve already “failed.” 

You could google how to make and keep resolutions. The results will provide lots of practical tips on how to reframe everything. They need to be measurable goals, with concrete steps you take over time. You have to create a game plan for how you will get yourself back on track when you stumble. And you need to remind yourself that there’s no such thing as perfect because you will stumble, blah blah blah. 

But none of that provides you with what you really need: motivation. 

That, my friends, is where I come in. After years as the SCBWI Michigan mentorship coordinator, Ann Finkelstein has stepped back for a well-deserved retirement from the position. Before she handed over all the files, Ann spent several months working with me to get me up to speed. So now, I am happy to share with you details of your newest New Year’s Resolution motivational tool: the 2023 Picture Book Mentorship. 

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Description automatically generatedFor 2023, we have two picture book mentorships available. The first will be with our own Leslie Helakoski, author of over a dozen picture books, including the upcoming When the Rain Came Down (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2023). If you are familiar with Leslie’s work, you will know she loves lyrical word play. So it should come as no surprise that Leslie will be mentoring a lucky member with their verse picture book. You can find out more about Leslie on her website.

cover image Just Like GrandmaOur second mentorship will be a prose mentorship with Kim Rogers, whose debut PB, Just Like Grandma, will be released in January 2023, and already has a starred review from Publishers Weekly and is getting great advance buzz. She has two more upcoming PBs, one scheduled for summer 2023, and a NF PB bio scheduled for winter 2024. Kim also a short story and a poem included in the anthology Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids. Check out her website to learn more about Kim and her projects. 

While our schedule is not yet set in stone, you have plenty of time to whip your manuscripts into mentorship-ready condition. In spring, we will share the full schedule, including the submission window (currently planned for the summer), when announcements of the winners will be made, and when the mentorships will begin (currently planned for fall). Also keep an eye open for mentor interviews on The Mitten blog.

If this doesn’t provide you the motivation you need to find a critique group, take that online course you’ve been eyeing, or dust off the manuscript of your heart, then perhaps your resolution should be for someone to give you a good swift kick in the behind to get moving! 

In the meantime, you can keep tabs on the mentorship by checking out the SCBWI Michigan mentorship page here

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Book Birthday Blog with Dawn Simpson


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Dawn Simpson on the release of Bug, Bug, Don't Bug Me


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

My youngest son was very bothered by bugs of all kinds when he was little. The book idea came to me around Christmas last year I thought it might be a cute way to help kids see that bugs aren't all bad.

I was originally going to write the story from a child's perspective, but the more I thought about it, the more the idea of using foals as the characters appealed to me. When I was introduced to Gary Millar, the director of the Arabian Literacy Program in AB, Canada, it sealed the deal. I fell in love with  Gary's program!

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

I hope littles and parents alike see that even the little things that bug us can sometimes be beautiful – so we shouldn’t let the little things trouble us. 

What inspires you to write?

My horses, nature, my friends, little things and big things. My second kids book ‘Flowers from Ella’ – was inspired by the simple gestures of my friend’s daughter who picks wildflowers for me every time she comes to ride. 

What are your marketing plans for the book?

I’ve been promoting a bit on Facebook. But honestly, I would love any advice!!! I’d really like to partner with some local bookstores or libraries. I am headed to Angel Heart Farm in January to do a book signing for the kids they work with who are struggling with chronic illnesses like cancer. 


What's next for you?


I have three full length novels in progress and two new kiddo books started.  The one novel I am working on getting ready first is in Developmental Editing right now. Part of my time in Nashville will also be collaborating with the Executive Director of Angel Heart Farm on a new book about the special ponies there that bring love and respite to the kids she serves. 


I’d truly love to get to a point in my writing where I could do it full time. 


A little bit about the book . . .


Follow a group of frisky foals who just want the bugs to stop pestering them.

Designed for early readers  – soon to become a favorite go to book you and your kids will read again and again.


A portion of all sales will be donated to "The Arabian Horse Literacy Program".

A little bit about the author . . .


Dawn grew up in Western Michigan surrounded by the beauty of the Great Lakes with a family that nurtured her love for the outdoors.  A graduate of Western Michigan University, she earned her B.S. degree in Social Science/Communications with a Secondary Education Certificate. Her resume includes teacher, riding instructor and horse trainer turned technical trainer. After years in the tech industry she gained notoriety as continuity and resilience consultant.  She has written articles, whitepapers and technical documents on how to prevent and survive a disaster. The itch to explore less technical writing began about eight years ago with a stint as a freelance blogger and occasional 'how to' guide writer. She has a passion for future worlds, broken and damaged people and places that can be put back together and made stronger.  She attributes a love for dystopian stories, and a special fondness for zombies, to her kids. 
Simpson loves a good PSL, or a Manhattan, and robust discussions on horses or surviving an apocalypse.  Whether it's dystopian, tragic or futuristic, her stories and the characters she develops involve a passion for solving problems, helping others, improving relationships and looking for beauty in the ashes. 
She is surrounded by a household full of males, a patient husband and two sons, an ancient rat terrier named Snoopy, and her Arabian gelding, Drake. She's a little bit geek; little bit environmentalist; and a little bit country. When not writing or consulting, she spends her time with barn buddies and of course Drake.




Friday, December 23, 2022

Writer Spotlight: Vicky Lorencen


Granny Franny, Julie Andrews, 'Frog on a Dime,' and Acme anvils: Vicky Lorencen finds non-fiction on her quest to write a MG novel

Charlie Barshaw coordinates our regular Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet blogger, doodler and pre-published (for now) writer Vicky Lorencen.

 When did you know you were a writer?

Early edition of Vicky

I’ve known I wanted to write children’s books since I was a little girl, like five. Not just a writer, but a writer of that specific genre (even though I didn’t know that word back then). But why?

I blame it on a certain book: Childcraft, Volume Two, Storytelling and Poems, copyright 1949. It was part of a 14-volume set my Granny Franny originally purchased for my mom and her sister when they were little girls. Volume Two included poetry by Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg, among many others, and a stunning variety of illustrations by exceptional artists.

Page from Childcraft, 1949

My mom kept the set intact in the hall closet of my childhood home for years, but somehow that precious Volume Two vamoosed to WhoKnowsWhere. Over the years, I thought about Volume Two. It may sound silly, but I longed to see those images of Miss T. dining with her grandparents, an elephant on the telephone, the dancing potatoes, the tiny black kitten curled on the blue rug. And I wanted to read those poems again. Those amazing poems. The combination of art and rhythmic words was like an incantation. So powerful. So magical.

I’m sure that book is the reason I loved making cards as a kid. I drew an “illustration” for the outside and wrote a poem for the inside. Voila! A mini book!

I’m happy to report I finally found Volume Two online and it is now lives at my house. Sure enough, seeing it again takes me to the same place of contentment and delight that made me want to write for children, even while I was a child myself.

You’ve been a magazine editor, freelance newspaper reporter, feature writer, copywriter and college-level writing instructor. Whew! Can you describe a memory from one of those jobs?

Besides writing courses, I taught a class designed for students in need of extra help to get their reading skills up to college speed. I’ll never forget a student, a dad in his 40s, who made a point of telling me he’d finished reading the novel he’d selected for class. “It was the first novel I’ve ever read,” he said. “That wasn’t too bad.”

I imagined dominos (that looked like books!) in a line so long, I couldn’t see the end. Helping a dad discover reading for fun was the first domino to tip. Let’s say he keeps reading, his kids see him reading and want to read with him, they ask for more books and grow up to be book lovers . . .  tip-tip-tip . . . Yes!


You won the Shutta Crum scholarship? What do you remember most about your trip to the “Big Apple”?

I remember feeling overwhelmed. Visiting Winnie the Pooh in New York public library, falling in love with Grand Central Station, spending time with SCBWI-MI friends and making new ones, eating mashed potatoes out of a martini glass, and of course, meeting editors and hearing from top shelf authors like Jane Yolen and Mo Willems. 

I’ll be honest, the “authors” I was least anxious to hear were Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton. Don’t get me wrong. I think Julie Andrews is brilliant as a singer and actress, but I assumed she was writing children’s books on a lark and capitalizing on her celebrity. (Wrong, Vicky!) 

Julie and Emma (like we’re on a first name basis, ha) actually made a point of saying how they work hard to make sure their books are the best they can be and not rely on Julie’s name. The more they shared, it was obvious they were legit and had a real admiration for children’s literature.

I’ll always be grateful to Shutta for making that whole experience possible. She’s a gem.

What WIP are you currently most excited about?

Right now, I’m working on two non-fiction projects. My comfy place is contemporary middle grade fiction, but then, I tripped over a couple of NF ideas demanding to be explored. I am so grateful for the non-fiction workshop hosted by SCBWI-MI in 2020 (just before “you know what” invaded!) I learned how to write a proposal, how to track sources and was exposed to the many ways to approach non-fiction.

You like to doodle in pen, creating paisley patterns. A form of relaxation, or focus, or just fooling around with pen and paper?

I discovered, entirely by accident, doodling helps me focus. Distracting my brain with doodling allows me to truly focus. Go figure! I might look like I’m bored and tuned out, but the reality is, I am more engaged. Without doodling, my overactive imagination gland goes into overdrive and distraction takes over. The trick for me is to doodle without any plan in mind. Just let it flow. Then I can focus. That’s normal, right?


You’re best known for your blog “Frog on a Dime,” which has been going strong for coming up on ten years. To what do you attribute its longevity?

Darcy Pattison presented at an SCBWI-MI conference eons ago, and she stressed the importance of establishing an online presence with a web site or a blog. I don’t have any published books to promote, so I decided I could start a blog that would be a source of encouragement, especially to pre-published writers like me. The need for encouragement is as strong as ever, so I that’s why I’m still at it. Plus, I’m certifiably stubborn. And that helps.

You’ve been pursuing publication for a long time. What keeps you going?

On a Saturday morning in January of 2022, I stumbled on this quote from Mary Oliver: “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

That flaaaaattened me. We’re talking steamroller followed by one of those Acme anvils. My poor husband. I was crying too hard to explain myself. Wow. When I finally got it together, I tried to express how painful Mary Oliver’s words were for me. For as much time as I’ve invested in my writing, it always needs more time than I can give. I’m never going to get there.

But by the end of that day, after I bought more Kleenex, I figured I could be miserable because I’m not published yet, or I can quit and be miserable wondering what would have happened if I’d kept trying just one more year. I chose the former because it has an ounce of hope left in it. The latter would be relentless torture.

In August of 2022, I got some unexpected encouragement. That’s all I want to say about that right now, but let’s just say, I may be glad I kept going.

Follow Vicky here:


@VickyLorencen (on Twitter)



Thursday, December 22, 2022

Book Birthday Blog with Lisa Wheeler


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Lisa Wheeler on the release of Dino-Valentine's Day


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

When my editor at  Carolrhoda asked me to write Dino-Valentine’s Day, I began pondering what that would look like in the world I had created for these characters way back in 2006. With all of the Dino-Holiday books, I include a “gag” that carries throughout the book. So while all of Dino-world is celebrating the holiday, one dinosaur deals with a problem or worry about the holiday. In this one, I decided that throughout the book readers would see Minmi making Valentine gifts for several different dinos and wondering if they would be her Valentine. Readers find out at the big Valentine dance who Minmi has chosen and it’s sweet and fun for all.

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

This series is all about fun. I never want to let my readers down and the kids who follow this series call me out if I get anything wrong. So I try to stay true to the character's natures so I don't disappoint.

What inspires you to write?

Breathing! Seriously, I am inspired by everything everywhere and never know when my next idea will find me. I also find that a healthy walk through nature is always beneficial for my writer's soul.

What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

These books, which seem very simple, are deceptively hard to write. There's the rhyme and the dinosaur names to contend with and then when you mix in all of the Valentine's Day jargon, it gets hairy. I approach each title with trepidation--"I'll never be able to do this!" And then after some walks to clear the cobwebs, I'll see my gag and know that I can do it.

What's Next For You?

Next year, I have three Dino books coming out. In February two more titles in the My First Dino series arrive--My First Dino-Racing and My First Dino-Wrestling. Then, next fall the dinosaurs will celebrate Dino-Hanukkah!

A little bit about the book . . .

Join the excitement as dinosaurs big and small decorate cards, shop for chocolates, bake heart-shaped treats, and boogie their hearts out at the Valentine Dance. A humorous and heartwarming look at the sweetest holiday of the year!

A little bit about the author . . .

Lisa Wheeler is the award-winning author of over 50 children's books including Someone Builds the Dream, People Don't Bite People, and the popular Dino-Sports series. The Christmas Boot, was the 2017 SCBWI Golden Kite Award winner for Picture Book Text. Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum was the 2017 Michigan Reads! One Book, One State Children's Book recipient. Her awards include The Michigan Mitten, Texas Bluebonnet, and the Theodore Geisel Honor given by the American Library Association. Lisa shares her Michigan home with one husband, one dog, and an assortment of anthropomorphic characters. Check out Lisa's website at:

Instagram: @littlelisais6
Twitter: @LisaWheelerbook 



Friday, December 16, 2022

The Return of the Country's Largest Jewish Book Fair by Alice Blumenthal McGinty and Lisa Rose

 At seventy-one years old, The Detroit Jewish Book Fair is the oldest and largest Jewish Book Fair in the nation. Authors from all over the world are invited to the fair to talk about and sell their books. This annual community-wide event attracts 20,000 people each year. After a two year hiatus due to Covid, this year it was back LIVE, offering both in-person and virtual events. 

Alice Blumenthal McGinty, Lisa Rose, and
Suzanne Jacbos Lipshaw at the 2022
Detroit Jewish Book Fair

Organizers weren’t certain about how to plan…would people come in-person?  Online? Would people buy books? Thankfully, people did all of those things. As authors, we were pleased to be a part of the local author schmooze, where attendees could talk with us and get their books signed. 

During this event we loved the chance to reconnect with each other and with members of the Jewish community. We also made new connections with other authors and attendees, each carrying potential for new opportunities. As author Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw said, a book event is not to be measured only in numbers of books sold, but by the connections that happen. Hopefully, we come away from every book event with at least one “moment” to be treasured. 

At the same time, we can’t help but think about the larger picture that this event represents in the push for diversity in children’s publishing. Children need both mirrors and windows in the literature they read. The literature at the book fair offered mirrors in which Jewish children could see themselves and their families and communities, as well as windows into new aspects of Jewish life. 

However, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the book fair could extend its reach to offer these books to Jews and non-Jews alike, bringing these windows and mirrors to people of all religions? While the focus on diversity in children's literature began with racial diversity, religious diversity is a crucial part of this need as well. It's not that this need isn't being addressed. More religiously diverse books have been published recently. However, there is more work to do in making sure that these books reach a wider audience. It’s still rare for someone who is not Jewish to attend the Jewish Book Fair. And in recent years, antisemitism has exploded—just this past week there were two bomb threats at Metro Detroit Jewish Day Schools. Through stories, children learn about others. They find connection and create empathy and understanding. The need is there. 

While we loved our chance to celebrate Jewish books and Jewish authors, we hope to also create opportunities to share these books with the wider world, creating more religious diversity and opening new windows to children of all races and religions. 


Alice Blumenthal McGinty is the award-winning author of 50 fiction and nonfiction books for children, including Jr. Library Guild and P.J. Library Selection, A Synagogue Just Like Home (2022, Candlewick Press, illustrated by Laurel Molk), My Israel and Me (2021, Kalaniot Books, illustrated by Rotem Teplow), and Jr. Library Guild Selection and New York and Chicago Public Library Best of 2022 List, Bathe the Cat (2022, Chronicle Books, illustrated by David Roberts)

Alice recently moved to Michigan from Illinois and is Regional Advisor Emerita of the Illinois SCBWI chapter. She looks forward to being a speaker at the Michigan Reading Association conference in March and the SCBWI Michigan Spring Conference in April.   

Lisa’s latest book Senor Saguaro The King of Desert will be published by Little Fig January 1, 2023. It is available for pre-order now! She is the author of The Singer and the Scientist (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2021). It was a National Jewish Book Finalist and Bank Street College Best Book. It also was selected to represent the great state of New Jersey at the National Book Festival at the Library of Congress. Shmulik Paints the Town (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2016) was a PJ Library Selection in 2016 and 2020. A Zombie Vacation (Apples & Honey Press, 2020) was also a PJ Library Selection in 2021. Lisa also has many other titles. Lisa is a teacher, reading specialist, literacy coach, and librarian. Please learn more at

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Book Birthday Blog with Andrea and Braden Kurth


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Andrea and Braden Kurth on the release of Zac's Mighty Wheels and the Case of the Missing Grannies


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

As a special education teacher, I learned how important it was that all kids were represented in books. This was a very important message of diversity that I believed I needed to incorporate into my classroom. As I started reading books with kids of different races to my students, I realized that my students' disabilities weren't being represented, so my students couldn't see themselves in the stories.  More recently, I found books that explained various disabilities, which are important to have in classroom libraries, but I wanted to read fun, exciting chapter books to my students in which they also could see themselves.

Then I met Zac, a hilarious kid who had an effect on everyone he met. I’m not sure what it was, but while I was teaching him, I felt like God told me I needed to write a book that represented Zac. He was in a wheelchair, like a lot of my students at the time, but had a degenerative type of MD called Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Unfortunately, Zac was 5 months shy of seeing the actual book come to life, but I’m sure he is happy that other kids in wheelchairs are being represented in books, and more importantly that he is the main character who’s a superhero. 10% of our profits from books one and two are donated to DMD.

I also wanted to show other disabilities and decided two of my former students, Anna and Cody, would be great representatives. Anna has cerebral palsy and uses leg braces and a crutch to help her walk and Cody has Down syndrome. Both are spunky kids who I loved to teach. I wish I could put all my students in my books, seriously, I really wish I could, but after 21 years of teaching, I really had too many students that left an impact on my heart. So although all my students inspire me, I decided to end there as far as using real names, except for one last person.

The person who inspired me to be a special education teacher, my brother Bobby. My brother has a severe intellectual disability called cri-du-chat syndrome and is featured in our second book. He is now 42 and continues to bring joy to the people around him. In our story, Cody doesn’t seem like he has an intellectual disability, but I wanted Bobby to, and I think we were able to find that balance without making the book about the disability.

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

My goal for the books is to add different disabilities into each book so that by the time the series is complete, everyone will feel represented. Currently, disabilities are only represented in 3.4% of children’s books while 25% of the population have a disability. The more disabilities that are represented the more inclusive the world can be. We also try to represent different races and family structures. Single moms and adoption are included in our books as well.

After our first book was published last year, I loved hearing from other special education teachers that their students told them, “She has crutches like me!” and "He's in a wheelchair like me!"  I also heard from a parent who ran field day who realized she needed to make it accessible for a student who was in a wheelchair, just after reading our book. Zac’s Mighty Wheels is not about disability or race, it's about the story, so it can be read in every house or classroom and help everyone be a little more inclusive.

The two of you collaborated to write the story. Can you walk us through your creative process working together?

My younger son Owen helped me write the first book, giving me ideas that would appeal to younger readers. At the time we started he was only 8 and very imaginative (still is!). We worked on it so slowly that by the time I was really serious about it, he forgot we were writing a book! He was 12, almost 13, when we published Zac’s Mighty Wheels and the Giant Problem.  My older son, Braden, who is now 16, helped me write our second book, Zac’s Mighty Wheels and the Case of the Missing Grannies. He helped create the outline, story ideas, and provided valuable feedback to make it the book we have today.   

What are your marketing plans for the book?

I just finished a Kickstarter and had 103 backers that helped bring the book to life. The book is currently being printed and the plan is to launch on Amazon and Barnes and Noble on December 6. We would love to see the book in every classroom and every bookshelf of children that love chapter books.

What's next for you?

As soon as this book is launched, and we have time over Christmas break, book three of Zac's Mighty Wheels will be started. My goal is 10 books in this series. I would love my sons to continue writing with me and we will see what the future holds. I also have written a picture book with my mom about my brother. We will be publishing that within the next six months as well. Hopefully, Zac's Mighty Wheels will become as popular as the Magic Tree House and help our world be a bit more inclusive.

A little bit about the book . . .

Zac and his friends are back for another exciting adventure!

It seemed like a normal day—school, hanging out with friends, flying through the sky with Zac and his wheelchair—until the grandmas start disappearing. Luckily, Zac and his friends are on the case. Trying to find the person behind the mask leads them on a brave quest, but will they find their grandmas or will the masked person keep the grandmas to himself forever? 

A little bit about the authors . . .

Andrea Kurth, a special education teacher from Michigan with more than 20 years of experience, realized her students weren’t often represented in books and wanted to change that. Inspired by her students, she set out to create a fun series where the story is the focus, not the disability, and is filled with adventure for younger children but exciting enough for the older struggling reader. Everyone should be represented in books. When Andrea isn’t teaching or writing, she enjoys traveling with her wonderful husband and sons. Find the books at and for free lesson plans. You can also connect at: 

Braden Kurth is a high school student who enjoys hanging out with friends and family, playing video games, and many other things. He aspires to be an entrepreneur.

The picture is also with my other son, Owen, because he helped write the first book.