Monday, January 31, 2022

Black History: A Celebration of Americans by Tara Michener

February is Black History Month! This tradition began in 1926 in America it was started as Negro History Week and was founded by Carter G. Woodson. The week developed into a month long recognition and in 1976 it was reinvented as Black History Month. This is a time to focus on the contributions, inventions, and efforts that have been lead by people of African-American Descent. Black Americans have contributed in great ways to our world but unfortunately because of historical and traumatic obstacles like slavery, Jim Crow, and other oppressive measures, many people have not been acknowledged for their work or they have had others take credit for it. As authors and illustrators, how can we make a difference in 2022? We can collectively make a difference by reading books by Black writers and illustrators and buying them for educators, students, and families. We can donate these works to local libraries and organizations to make sure that they get more eyes on them to be seen and more ears on them to be heard. It is a great idea to think of Black authors and illustrators when seeking out author visit rosters and making sure that paid events are offered to those that are highlighting diversity in kid lit. Take a survey of your personal you have children's books that have Black people as main characters? If so...add to those or review them...if not get started diversifying your collections. What creative ways can you make sure that this segment of Americans is highlighted and featured in your daily life? What more would you like to learn? What more would you like to do? Share it with us! We can inspire each other as we continue to be inspired by Black Americans from our past, present and those who we write and draw for...the future. 

Tara Michener is the author of six children's books that focus on self-esteem, diversity and anti-bullying. She is a TEDx speaker, therapist and owns her own private practice in Novi, MI. Tara has been recognized in publications such as Prevention Magazine, Essence Magazine, FREEP and more! She is the Committee Chair of E&I at SCBWI-MI. Her favorite days usually include spending time with her hubistrator, Jason, her son Cannon and her favorite snack Twizzlers and Diet Coke. You can follow her on Twitter @Taramichener. 

Friday, January 28, 2022

Writer Spotlight: Three Members "Speak" Sign Language

Writers Come to American Sign Language In Different  Ways, But Find it Boosts their Communication Skills Visually

Charlie Barshaw coordinates our quarterly Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet three SCBWI-MI members who know and use (in varying degrees) American Sign Language (ASL).

Melissa Bailey

How were you introduced to sign language? Why did you take it up? Where did you learn it? Do you use ASL on a regular basis?

I learned sign language about 15 years ago – a deaf friend taught me. While I did take an ASL class, I was mostly taught by the deaf. Since moving to be closer to family, now I mostly use ASL when I get together with deaf friends, so not much in the past two years!

Do you ever dream in ASL?

Yes! All the time, even though it’s been a while since I’ve been immersed in the community. ASL wormed its way into my heart and synapses and didn’t let go.

My daughter learned some sign language. She told me it’s a combination of painting a picture and directing a stage play. How might you describe ASL in action?

It’s very much like charades, but with grammar and vocabulary and structure—just as with any other language. Communication in ASL isn’t just with the hands; it’s been said that 80% is facial expressions. When chatting with a deaf person, you look in their eyes. You catch what they’re signing in the periphery of your vision; your focus is on their face and expressions. It’s a rich language based on concepts, not words, and is incomparable in conveying emotions and ideas.

The comparison to painting a picture is apt. ASL is structured very much like the process of drawing a picture. For example, in English, we would say, “The cat sat in the tree.” If you were to draw that, you draw the tree first, then place the cat in it. ASL grammar is exactly the same; you would sign ‘tree cat sit’. Actually, if I were signing it, I’d sign ‘tree’, then ‘cat’, then use a classifier to show the cat running up the tree and sitting in it (acting out the action like charades). I could also use expressions and body language to communicate the cat’s emotions or whether this scene is humorous, safe, mysterious, dangerous…

(A classifier is a hand shape that is used to represent something else. For example, the ‘number one’ handshape is often used to represent a person, and how you move the ‘person’ describes or communicates what they’re doing. They could be walking, running away, meeting another ‘person’, etc. – all depending on how you move that classifier.)

As a children’s book creator, does ASL ever work its way into your stories?

One of Melissa's covers
All the time! Not often directly with a deaf character or describing/illustrating the language, but indirectly it has influenced and affected every book I've worked on. Especially illustrating  I really focus on expression, emotion, and storytelling, and sign language is to thank for that.



Was there a moment when sign language was especially helpful to you?

So many moments! One moment was when our family went to Europe – being in Poland and Hungary, not knowing the language and needing to order food or get directions. Knowing ASL helped me communicate with acting and gestures, and we had a great time!

Another of Melissa's Covers

This isn’t a ‘moment’, per se, but the biggest help that learning sign language has given me is in personal growth. Learning a new language, and a new culture, has allowed me to see the world from others’ point of view and lived experiences. And I’ve also gained lifelong friends I never would have made if I hadn’t learned sign language.

Who inspired you to love books and writing?

I have always loved books and stories. My mom is a reader and made sure that plenty of books were available, but she didn’t push my sister and me to read. She said I’d spend hours looking at books (I remember laying on the floor, poring over illustrations by Beatrix Potter and Eloise Wilkins). According to Mom, I asked her to read to me so much that when I showed an interest in learning how to read, she taught me so that I could read on my own (and maybe give her some free time?). So though the love of books and writing has always been there, all thanks goes to my mom for encouraging us to be creative and promoting literacy (both my sister and I learned to read well before kindergarten).

And yet a third book cover

What is your Work In Progress? What are you working on now? 

Friday, January 21, 2022

It Starts with Hello with Lisa Wheeler

You’ve read about our new Outreach program, It Starts with Hello, in Carrie’s and Jodi’s monthly newsletters. Here it is! We kick-off the program with a post written by Lisa Wheeler. Our plan is to post these shared memories monthly throughout 2022, so please send me your submissions, 300 words or less, at:

We hope you’ll enjoy reading these mini-essays from your SCBWI-MI friends and may it inspire you to reach out to others in our organization. From “It Started. . . “ to “It Starts. . .”
we can continue to build and strengthen our relationships today through social media and online connections. We need each other’s support and encouragement more than ever!

Thank you, Lisa, for being the first to submit your Hello story! Each time I read it, it feels like a warm fuzzy! (Yes, going retro on you, but it fits!)

Stay tuned for our next Hello and the story behind the story!

--Isabel Estrada O’Hagin, SCBWI-MI Outreach Coordinator


It Started with Hello

Lisa Wheeler

Back in the summer of 1997--when dinosaurs roamed the earth--I went online. The first thing I did was look for My People. Typing the words 'children's writers' into the search engine brought forth a beautiful yellow message board (Anyone remember those?) for children's authors and illustrators. I started reading and fell down the rabbit hole. I was closer than ever to finding My People.

A week later, a message on the board said something like: If you live in SE Michigan you are invited to the SCBWI Schmooze!

I wrote to the poster immediately.

What's SCBWI?

What's a schmooze?

Can I come if I haven't sold a book yet?

The answers came back swiftly and that Sunday, I drove to the house of our very own Kathie Allen in Beverly Hills, MI. I walked in the door and knew, without a doubt, I had found them--My People!

We all spoke the same language--children's books! Everyone was so kind and helpful. Rhonda Gowler Green gave a talk where she shared her first two books. I appreciated learning that it takes time and that I was on the right track.

That week, I joined SCBWI and learned more in 6 months than I had on my own in 3 years.

So to all of you newbies who are reading this, "Hello! Come on in and meet Your People!"

Submitted by Lisa Wheeler

You can follow Lisa online at:

Instagram: @littlelisais6

Twitter: @lisawheelerbook

Facebook: Lisa Wheeler Children's Books  

Monday, January 17, 2022

The Dream Had Intention

By Tara Michener

Around our globe, the world is looking at our incredible leader... Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I have been thinking very intentionally about Dr. King's work, his life, and his legacy as of late. I have been following his daughter, Bernice King, who leads the King Center and does amazing work on Twitter. Her efforts to uphold and preserve who her dad was and his vision is inspiring. One of the reoccurring themes that Bernice reminds often of in her tweets is that those who invoke King's name should do it respectfully. She is clear that he would not be pleased with watered-down perspectives of his message, his heart towards change and equity, and the fact that he was killed because of his work. When we talk to young people and use children's books to paint a picture of who Dr. King was, it is important not to take away from the fact that his legacy is still in need of protection but also the fact that we all can make a change in small or larger ways towards the footprint that was left for us by Dr. King. As creators, we can ask ourselves if we help with equity and inclusion in our own ways. Do we take opportunities to stand up for others? Do we look at how our work can leave a legacy for our readers? Do we think about how our words and images have an impact on readers who may not look like us and try to see things from their lens? We all have work to do and an incredible dreamer and leader set the stage for us to grow...let's do it together. This day is not just for a day off, a sale, or a vacation. It is for us to remember that a caring man died for freedom and that freedom has not yet been realized for all just yet. We have work to do. 

A New Year can be known for bringing forth new goals and challenges. As the E&I Chair, I am inspired to highlight books and authors that are allowing readers to both learn about cultures and people different than them but also to embrace the importance of representation and for each reader to have the opportunity to see themselves showcased in books as well. As leaders in kid lit we get to have a lasting impact on kids' impressions of themselves and others. I want to begin a new corner where we highlight and embrace what is on my bookshelf. I am calling this feature “On the Shelf.” If you want your book highlighted please let us know! Please be sure to look out for reviews and also for ideas that can allow you and your network to embrace and encourage the beauty of children’s books. The writers and illustrators creating bridges to empathy, understanding and equity are worthy of being acknowledged but they do not always get the author visits, the reviews or the positive feedback…I plan on using my 2022 to help to make that a goal.


Read Something Great!

Tara Michener is the author of six children's books that focus on self-esteem, diversity and anti-bullying. She is a TEDx speaker, therapist and owns her own private practice in Novi, MI. Tara has been recognized in publications such as Prevention Magazine, Essence Magazine, FREEP and more! She is the Committee Chair of E&I at SCBWI-MI. Her favorite days usually include spending time with her hubistrator, Jason, her son Cannon and her favorite snack Twizzlers and Diet Coke. You can follow her on Twitter @Taramichener.  

Friday, January 14, 2022

Critique Groups: The How and the Why


How to Find a Critique Group. And Why You Should Go to the Trouble to Do It.

by Charlie Barshaw

When I was asked by a friend how to find a critique group, I was stumped. I’d managed through good fortune to find several groups of writers who agreed to let me be a part of their group. But how to start from scratch?

Luckily, our chapter is populated with knowledgeable and helpful members, especially our Co-Regional Advisors Carrie Pearson and Jodi McKay. Carrie replied to my friend and me, and her answer, on how to find (or form) your own critique group, is just too good not to share.

Carrie writes:

Thanks so much for reaching out. We're happy you are part of SCBWI and SCBWI-Michigan and would love to help you find a critique group! At this time, we don't have a mechanism to directly connect people who want to form a critique group or enter into an established group. However, we do have some good suggestions for how you can accomplish this in the Michigan chapter:

1. Write a request to join a critique group (or start one) and post it on the MichKids listserv.  Be sure to say in what age category (picture book, chapter book, middle grade, young adult) you write and if you'd like to meet in person (when we can) or just want to meet online.  Both types of critique groups are an option. If in-person, ask for people to contact you directly to sort that out. You may need to post this a couple of times as newer members join MichKids and are also looking for critique groups. 

* If you aren't yet familiar with listservs, it's a way of grouping people who have a common goal. In our case, the MichKids Listserv connects all of the SCBWI-Michigan members who choose to join the listserv. When someone posts, that post is delivered to your email inbox. Click HERE for easy directions to join. It's always free and you can set it up so you get posts from MichKids as they come in, or once a day or even once a week so your inbox doesn't get too full for your liking. You'll find that MichKids is a welcoming and helpful place.

2. If you haven't already, get involved in your local Shop Talk. Our Shop Talks meet in person and now online. There are often critique opportunities here and/or people looking to form a group. Click HERE for Shop Talk information.

3. Post your request on our Facebook page. Click HERE for information about our Facebook group page and other social media feeds we host. 

4. Use the SCBWI Blueboard to search for a critique group. This is a perk of your membership and is a vast resource. Remember that you'll be connecting with people from all regions of SCBWI, not just Michigan, but that is great, too.

* If you don't get responses to your reach outs right away, remember to re-post after some time has passed because new members are always joining. Sometimes a critique group loses a member or wants to add a new member. Timing is everything!

5. Check with your local children's librarian. They are often asked about critique groups and may have a mechanism for people to connect. 

I hope this helps. Feel free to connect with any further questions or concerns. Watch for the monthly newsletters from SCBWI-Michigan that share information about upcoming events and helpful information. Keep creating and building your community. We are here and want to help you succeed!

Thanks, Carrie.

So now you know the HOW. But WHY

Friday, January 7, 2022

Interview with Kristen Uroda, BIPOC Scholarship Awardee and Featured Illustrator

In a series of quarterly interviews, we’ll introduce you to the four new members who were awarded the 2021 BIPOC scholarships. We begin with Kristen Uroda, an illustrator who harkens from Detroit, MI. Welcome to SCBWI-MI, Kristen!

Kristen Uroda's Winter 2022 Mitten Banner

How will the SCBWI membership be useful to you?


Even in the short time since I received the SCBWI membership, it’s been an incredible resource to learn about the children's book industry, different ways to level up my skills, and discover other illustrators in my own backyard. There’s such a wealth of information and opportunities to connect with the larger community that is rare to find if you’re doing this all on your own. I’ve learned so much already from the digital workshops, I wish I could have joined sooner!


Southern Poverty Law Center
2022 Calendar
We’d like to get to know you! Tell us about your past creative work in the area of children’s literature or related areas of interest or expertise.


I am a Michigan native, born in Detroit. I like to say that I’m a creator, innovator, and storyteller passionate about art and design that makes a difference and makes the world a more beautiful place. I love turning problems, stories, and abstract concepts into illustrations that inspire reflection, action, and social and civic change.


The Skillman Foundation Annual Report:
Celebrating 60 Years of Service (cover)

For the last decade, my sweet spot has been in editorial illustration, mainly for news sites and publications, but I originally went to art school (Massachusetts College of Art and Design) with the intention of focusing on children’s books, comics, and narrative illustration. While I do love the editorial world because I come across a lot of unique stories that I have the honor of visualizing, I’ve been waiting for the right time and opportunity to jump into the children's book industry. I recently got my chance with my first picture book deal that should be completed this coming year. 


What in your childhood or youth piqued your interest in writing or illustrating? What were some of the major influences that led you to this road?


Short Wave Celebrates Black Excellence
In Scienc
The first time I can remember really being in awe of what hands could create with a simple crayon and paper happened one day when I was practicing drawing stars. I was young, maybe 5, and at the time, the best I could do was drag the crayon across the page to make messy lines-criss-crossing stars. And I clearly remember at one point, asking my mom if she could draw stars with me, so she sits down, grabs a crayon and then draws this perfect, no crisscrossed lined star flawlessly and that absolutely blew my mind.


Chemistry textbooks still lack gender and racial representation
At that point, I was forever hooked to the pursuit of understanding the connection between the mind, the mind's eye, and mark making. Every time I came across someone who could draw well, I thought, “I want to do this too.” I think that desire also helped open my eyes to the artists that were around me, mainly in my picture books, which I had a ton of. My favorites were Eric Carle, Don Freeman, Ezra Jack Keates, Dr. Seuss, Marcus Pfister, Ludwig Bemelmans, Tomie de Paola, Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, E. H. Shepard, the incredible duo Leo and Diane Dillon, and many more. A lot of these illustrators inspired me to read, write, and draw stories.


If You Feel Thankful, Write It Down.
It's Good For Your Health
Even today, I’m still a pretty big nerd for picture books, comics, and animated films. I can’t go into a bookstore or library without stopping by the children’s section and being in awe at the number of amazing artists and storytellers out there. And it’s great seeing such a diversity of artists these days too. Throughout childhood and even college, it was rare to see female illustrators and illustrators of color in the spotlight. It’s only within the last decade that I’ve seen illustrators like myself becoming more visible.


Please share anything about your current projects or what’s ahead in your creative work? We’d love to hear about it!


Stop being so mean to yourself.
Here are 5 tips to help you break the cycle
I’m not sure how much I can share as the official press release hasn’t come out yet, but I am currently working on illustrating my first picture book that should be coming out in the next year or so. It’s based on a poem written by a Black artist and activist. It was a product of the grief she felt after Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in 2014 but it’s a really joyful and playful vision of community-building and healing. 


As it’s my first picture book, there’s been a lot of learnings gained, but I’ve had so much fun and the team I’m working with have been great! I’m excited for it to enter into the world and excited for whatever stories I get to illustrate next. 


Thank you, Kristen, for sharing your story and illustrations with our SCBWI-MI community. We look forward to seeing more of your creative work!


 --Isabel Estrada O’Hagin, 

SCBWI-MI Outreach Coordinator