Friday, March 25, 2022

Featured Illustrator Gabrielle Slivoski


Exact-o stab wounds, design vs. illustration, "Mouse Meeting" and a 10-month old: Meet Featured Illustrator Gabrielle Slivoski

by Charlie Barshaw

What was your early life like? When did you know that you liked to draw?

My mom was a teacher and she taught me to write and draw very early. I loved it! Art class was always my favorite throughout school. Recognizing my passion, my parents enrolled me into summer art programs as well. I always drew cartoons of friends, family and teachers but didn’t know about illustration careers until college. I still draw humorous cartoons for my family members’ birthday cards each year. I’ve been told they actually look forward to them!

What were some of your favorite books growing up? Which illustrators were you drawn to?

My brother and I had a decent book collection. Our parents read to us often. I was always attracted to the illustrations in The Berenstain Bears and Syd Hoff’s books.

When I began reading on my own, my favorites included the The Beezus and Ramona books, the Amelia Bedelia series, and anything by Judy Blume.

What did it take to get your degree in Graphic Design? How did it prepare you for the real world?

I began taking Graphic Design classes in high school, as well as studio survey/multimedia classes. In my senior year I had the opportunity to do an independent study in art and design for college prep.

I went into college torn between a Graphic Design or Interior Design major (along with a dual-major in Architecture). In my sophomore year, I visited the Architectural firm my dad worked for on “Take your daughter to work Day” (yes, I was the oldest kid there). I job-shadowed Interior Designers to learn the “pros and cons” of their jobs. I then spoke with their in-house graphic designer who had only “pros” and no “cons”. That helped make up my mind to move forward with a degree in Graphic Design.

My degree involved learning about grid systems, layouts, color theory, visual hierarchy, contrast and balance, spatial awareness, visual communication, typography, branding, web design, illustration, marketing, etc. I also took painting, wood working and sculpture classes (where I caught on fire–another story for another time).

The design classes began without computers, and we had to apply those concepts learned by hand. It was frustrating (not to mention, painful and expensive) with all the Exact-o stab wounds, guache paint stains and re-do projects because of a slightly wrong cut or shade. Looking back, I’m thankful to have learned that foundation–but once we were taught how to use all the Adobe software, I appreciated the undo function! In 2005, I landed my first real job–the in-house graphic designer for a computer-connectivity company. Although I knew the “rules” of design, I still had a lot to learn about the real world of design.

You’ve got almost 20 years of experience in the design industry. What is the difference (for us non-artists) between illustration and design?

The new Mitten banner

I’m still learning all I can about illustration. I take several webinars a year. Although I took illustration classes in college, I honestly didn’t know anything about children’s book illustration specifically, until I joined SCBWI six years ago.

Illustration is occasionally used within graphic design. Graphic design is more layout-based for visual messaging/communication. Some examples are: logos, postcards, invitations, labels, infographics, children’s books, etc). Digital graphics can also be created for websites, apps or presentations.

Tell us about Breezz Designs.

The Slivoski Family

Breezz (my nickname since birth) Designs creates all of the above. Over the past couple decades, Breezz Designs has had a wide variety of projects ranging from food jar labels to event posters to t-shirt prints. Whether in need of a character design for an individual, swag for book promotion, or a book layout for a self-published author, Breezz Designs can do it.

On your website you mention “Wall Art.” What is it exactly? 

Wall art is basically digital art, with or without message, as room d├ęcor. My Etsy store has digital instant downloads (and some custom pieces), providing customers the option to print onto wood, canvas, metal, etc at a local convenience/office supply store or printer.

“Mouse Meeting” is a charming piece. Is there a story behind it?

Inspired by the videogame, Little Big Planet, I decided to create small items in a large-scale format for a mini-world and I figured mice would make a cute subject. No completed story, yet.

How did you get involved in 12 x 12 Challenge? What was the best thing to come out of your experience?

I heard about 12 x 12 through SCBWI and as I come up with numerous story ideas, I struggle with completing one manuscript at a time before jumping into a new idea. I needed 12 x 12 to help push me to complete them! My awesome critique group, Suzanne, Sarah, Kat and Linda have helped me refine my manuscripts to query-ready pieces!

How do you balance life with family, full-time work and creative projects?

It’s a constant juggle, especially with a 10-month-old! But with support and encouragement from my wonderful husband and amazing parents I’m able to keep some sanity.

What are you working on now?

I’m querying a few Picture Books and a Middle Grade novel, revising a couple new Picture Books and finishing dummy illustrations. I have several new Picture Books in-progress and a very rough Chapter Book in the works.

What are your goals?

Becoming a published author-illustrator is my primary goal. I would like my work to allow children to become passionate about reading–including reluctant readers. When I moved from reading Picture Books to Chapter Books as a child, I missed the pictures. I lost interest as playing outside and bike riding with friends became more appealing. I preferred to write my own stories rather than read them.

In my creative writing classes in high school, I wrote young adult stories with illustrations (before graphic novels were popular). My job at that time was a library page within the youth section. There, I understood why I was drawn to certain books. I also aspire to write and illustrate a graphic novel one day.

You can follow Gabrielle here:

Illustration website:

Graphic Design website:

Instagram: @gSlivoski

Twitter: @BR33ZZ


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

It Starts with Hello with Tammy Layman Hall


Taking a step in a new direction can be daunting, but it often opens up a new pathway. This is my takeaway from this month’s It Starts with Hello story submitted by Tammy Layman Hall. Tammy responded to a call for SCBWI-MI volunteers, and wouldn’t you know it—Carrie Pearson responded with an enthusiastic hello, as did a few others. Those friendly greetings gave Tammy an opportunity to meet many of our members as she set up events for our regional chapter and continues in the position as Registrar.


Thank you, Tammy, for sharing your hello story! You, too, can submit your hello story (300 words or less) at: I especially would love to hear from new members!


- Isabel Estrada O’Hagin




How do you switch careers? How do you stop writing work instructions? How do you write stories for kids? Try writing for hire, I was told. Off to a workshop, I went. Join your local SCBWI chapter, I was told. Years ago, I joined. Not much came out of it. Besides, I was so far back on the path I did not feel I would ever catch up. How will writing fit into this already overfilled life? I will stay safe writing instructor guides to upload into learning management databases.  


Tammy Layman Hall

Then, SCBWI-MI posted a registrar position. Someone to set up events. I can do that! So, I sent an email. Carrie Pearson answered. She took the time to talk to me on a telephone call. What a difference! The time she takes with me each event we set up keeps me involved in SCBWI. Then, Ann Finkelstein said hello. She walked me through how to set up the mentorship. Isabel said hello. She invited me to KAST. I carved out time to go. Then, the Nonfiction Toolbox conference came. I had to put faces with the names from the database. Again, I carved out time to go. Then, COVID hit. Just as I was learning how! The world shut down. Why bother! Now it’s too hard to meet people, I thought. Yet, Zoom meetings meant more people saying hello. Conferences, webinars, and Shop Talks kept showing me how.  


So, that first hello pushed me to leap towards my dream. Now, so many hellos pull and prod me onward. Yes, my overstuffed life keeps pulling me from the writing chair. Still, deadlines are met. Submissions go out. Stories sell. Critique groups say hello. That first hello started to show me how.  




Tammy lives in southwestern Michigan with her family and a crazy menagerie of pets. She is married to the reigning neighborhood Christmas light grand champion and got talked into adding a garden train to her cottage-inspired tangled yard of blooms. When she's not writing, you can find her hitching a ride over to the local park on our scratch-built go-kart, Oliver. Her stories are pending publication in High Five Magazine and Primary Treasure. As a storyteller, she has told stories at city gardens, museums, and nature centers.    


Friday, March 18, 2022

Hugs and Hurrahs

Wow, our SCBWI-MI members have been busy! Your good news steadily arrived in my inbox for two weeks straight and brightened my days. Read on for your quarterly dose of inspiration and good cheer from writers and illustrators all around the state.

Patti Richards's latest picture book, Mrs. Noah (Little Lamb Books, October 2021) is a finalist in the 2022 Selah Awards. Winners will be announced in June. 
Also, her picture book manuscript, Ida Pluck's Cluck, recently won first place in the annual Detroit Writing Room Awards.

Double congrats, Patti!!

Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw’s second picture book Mighty Mahi (illustrated by Dorothy Shaw) about a tenacious sea turtle was released from Doodle and Peck Publishing on March 1st. The story is dedicated to Suzanne’s students who adopted and advocated for Mahi during the 2014-15 school year. 

Congrats, Suzanne!

Katy Klimczuk’s poem "Lake Treasure" will be published in the Walloon Writers Review this spring. 

We’re looking forward to this Michigan publication, Katy!

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the Detroit Historical Museum has invited Jean Alicia Elster to talk on March 26 about her latest book, How It Happens (Wayne State University Press, 2021), and how she creates historical fiction from her own family history.

What an honor, Jean Alicia!

Andrea Conto's third YA thriller, Tell Me No Lies, comes out October 18th and is available now for preorder. Riverdale meets Gone Girl in a shocking thriller about two sisters whose bond is tested when one girl's boyfriend goes missing... and her sister is the primary suspect. 

Shivers, Andrea!

Cindy Williams Schrauben’s debut picture book, This Could Be You, illustrated by Julia Seal, will be published by Cardinal Rule Press on April 1st

Save the date! Her launch party is April 2nd at Impression 5 Science Center.

Isabel Estrada O'Hagin received a book contract from Sleeping Bear Press for her picture book, La Mariachi. She's happy to announce the illustrator is Addy Rivera Sonda. La Mariachi will be published in 2023! Arriba! Arriba! 

We’re so proud of you, Isabel!

Monica A. Harris sold an additional six informational passages to Data Recognition Corp. and their work with South Carolina and Alabama assessment. Topics include: biographies of famous women, amazing animals, the history of the kazoo, Guatemala women weavers, and the history of glassblowing. 

Congrats on these ongoing publications, Monica!

P.J. Lyons’s newest book, All God’s Critters Sing Allelu, was released March 15, 2022 by Beaming Books! And in celebration/preparation, she has a new website:

Congrats, P.J.!

Vicki Wilke has a poem, “Egg”, included in a newly released book, Things We Eat by Pomelo Books (Janet Wong & Sylvia Vardell). All proceeds will be donated to the IBBY Children in Crisis Fund. 

Great work, Vicki!

Dana VanderLugt, a recent graduate of Spalding University's Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing, has signed with Rubin Pfeffer Content. Read more about Dana and her current project, a historical fiction novel-in-verse, at

We’re cheering for you, Dana!

Annie Croft applied and was accepted to be a featured artist at the Morey Gallery at Art Reach of Mid Michigan in Mt. Pleasant from June 3-23, 2022. Annie is a new SCBWI-MI member and this will be her first art installation/gallery show! Her show will be an exploration of nature and hope (with illustrations in watercolor and collage) telling a story in picture book style. 

Wonderful, Annie!

And finally, three cheers for three members who placed in contests:

Elizabeth McBride was awarded 19th place in the 2021 Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards! Plus, you can watch her do a poetry reading here:

Theresa Nielsen took 3rd place in the memoir category in the 2021 Rochester Writers Competition for her story, "Learning How to Paint." 

Marty Bellis received an all-around honorable mention for her story "Katie's Snow Creation" in the 2021 Holiday Contest for Children's Writers at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog.

Congratulations again and thanks to everyone for sharing your creative energy!

My temporary takeover of the Hugs and Hurrahs will be short-lived because we have a new volunteer. Meet the new Hugs and Hurrahs Coordinator: Alison Hodgson!

Alison is a speaker and humorist, and the author of
The Pug List: A Ridiculous Dog, a Family Who Lost Everything, and How They All Found Their Way Home (2016, Zondervan). Her writing has been featured in Woman’s Day, Forbes,, and her essays have been published in a variety of anthologies. She is currently working on a middle grade novel.

Welcome to The Mitten Blog Team, Alison! 

You’ll hear more from Alison in early June when it’s time to gather good news for the next round of Hugs and Hurrahs. 

Keep up the great work!

~ Kristin Lenz

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Book Birthday Blog with pj lyons


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


 Congratulations to pj lyons on the release of All God's Critters Sing Allelu




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

I was inspired to write this story when a friend commented that her toddler loved silly noise books (Moo, moo, bah, bah, fala lala type stuff), but the mom wished they had some takeaway value. I had heard that Goodnight Moon had all the phonemes (smallest unit of sound) in English, but when I checked, it didn’t. Being a nerdy geek with an undergrad background in language and linguistics, I thought it would be a fun challenge. And animal noises was such a fun word palette to work with.

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

I hope they discover words are toys for the mind, and worshipping the Creator is fun and joy-inducing. Also, it took twenty years for this book to finally be published, so I hope anyone discouraged about getting published will take heart and never quit.



The first book you illustrated, Song of Hope, won an award. Congratulations! The illustrations appear to be 3-dimensional. What inspires your art?

Thanks. I must say, winning the award was very affirming. And working with the author, Joan Donaldson, was a wonderful experience. Drawing is hard work for me. At heart, I’m a maker. I have about a 15-minute attention span for drawing, but can spend hours cutting paper, building sets, problem solving how to make something and never notice the passage of time. When I was little and misbehaved, my mom took away my scissors and glue. 

I had planned to illustrate Song of Hope with a 2-dimensional cut paper approach. When I couldn’t get the depth of field I was envisioning, I built a theater, attached skewers to the back of the characters, poked them into a sheet of foam insulation, and photographed each scene. It was so much fun!

In addition to All God’s Critters Sing Allelu, you have written 2 other books. Do you have more books in the works? 

Actually, All God’s Critters Sing Allelu is my sixth published book. My first book was The Wonderful World that God Made (Kregel, 2004). It’s out of print. I also wrote The Little Chick’s and Little Bunny’s Bibles, illustrated by Melanie Mitchell (Zonderkidz 2015), and the two you mentioned, Thank You, Lord, for Everything and God Is Watching Over You, both illustrated by Tim Warnes (Zonderkidz, 2014, 2015). Those four are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. 
But to answer your question, I have nothing under contract at the moment, even though I am constantly working on something. Currently, I’m in the process of illustrating some of my own manuscripts. If any editors or agents are reading this, please contact me, I have a plethora of manuscripts looking for love!  

What are your marketing plans for the book?

First, reaching out to kind folks like you. I also am compiling a list of friends who will be sharing posts about the book on their social media. This is the first book for which I’ve been asked to participate in the marketing. I feel very awkward promoting my own work and am grateful for your help spreading the word. Here’s a link for those who are interested in ordering All God’s Critters Sing Allelu 

A little bit about the book . . .

Bow-wow, meow, cocka-doodle-doo. All God's critters sing allelu!
Dogs and cats, cows and sheep, frogs and crickets: all creation comes together in this rhyming picture book. All God's Critters Sing Allelu uses all the English phonemes, the smallest unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another word, to assist ages 0-4 in language acquisition and reading readiness. Follow along as lively illustrations depict each part in a harmony of sounds, encouraging kids to join in praising God.


A little bit about the author . . .

After my husband, Eddie Eicher, and I moved to Michigan in 1988 for his job, I was praying for direction in my life. One morning, while reading Tomie dePaola’s Book of Bible Stories, I had an epiphany: picture books combined my two loves: words and art. I enrolled at Calvin to add an Art major to my BA in Spanish/Linguistics. At that time I was quite active in the Irish music scene, where I met Joan Donaldson, a Fennville author and musician. She told me about SCBWI, and invited me to join her critique group when there was an opening. I heard about Vermont College of Fine Arts from group’s hostess, Karmen Kooyers, and subsequently got an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I am so grateful for Joan, Karmen, and all the generous volunteers in SCBWI who have helped me achieve my goal of being an author and an illustrator. You can see more of my artwork at 



Friday, March 11, 2022

You think the vocabulary in my picture book is challenging? Thanks for the compliment. By Cindy Williams Schrauben

I recently received a review of my new book, This Could Be You, that stated, in part, ... the vocabulary is advanced for a typical read-aloud picture book audience. 7-8 year olds may enjoy.” After initially scoffing at the 3 out of 5 rating, I smiled and thought, “Perfect! I am stretching little minds. I’m okay with that.” 

As a former educator and growth mindset fanatic, I love to challenge kids – both in their educational endeavors and their everyday lives. I want kids to know that it is important to dive into the unknown, to make mistakes, and to try again. Do we, as adults, only read novels that contain words we are familiar with? That would be a short reading list – for me, anyway. Do we only speak words to a baby or toddler that they already understand? I hope not. Growth mindset principles teach us to replace an “I can’t” attitude with a “not YET, but I’m still trying” outlook  – in other words, to strive and persevere. Bravely facing the unfamiliar, experiencing failure, and learning from our errors are valuable assets. 

I agree that Easy Readers and Chapter Books shouldn’t be packed full of difficult words – we don’t want to discourage children when they are just beginning to read independently. However, picture books are different in a number of ways.

  • Illustrations help with context. One of the first comprehension skills we teach is to ‘read the pictures’. To use them as clues to unknown words and to assist in decoding. 

  • In most cases picture books are read to the child first, or at least in the presence of an adult. The adult can guide, encourage observation, and define unknown words when necessary. 

  • Picture books are often read multiple times, which makes them the perfect tool for building vocabulary. Recollection and retention of new language is supported through repetition, and with each subsequent reading, the adult can decrease their involvement and encourage the child’s own memory and decoding skills.

Though the word ‘persist’ may be difficult, seeing it in the following context makes all the difference:

Empowering children to tackle challenging vocabulary will also help them to be more comfortable doing so in the future. There is no question that they will encounter newspapers, directions, and other informational text that requires extra effort – they need to know that’s OK. 

I am surprised every day by the moxie and curiosity that kids possess – so don’t underestimate them. Go ahead and use challenging vocabulary in your picture books. A teacher will thank you.

Cindy Williams Schrauben lives in Michigan where she writes books for kids that range from the truly serious to the seriously silly and is currently working on a Partners in Literacy Program to get books in the hands of kids - especially in low-income areas. Before embarking on this path, Cindy held positions as a preschool administrator, teacher, and assistant director of a children’s museum -- always striving to empower kids. When not writing or honing her craft, she might be found dissecting her grandsons’ shenanigans for story ideas, reading on the floor in the bookstore, or eating ice cream… ideally all at once. 

You can connect with Cindy at  

For more information see

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

On the Shelf by Tara Michener: How It Happens by Jean Alicia Elster

Jean Alicia Elster invites the reader into her own historical journey that is profound, educational, and inspirational. Jean has the ability to give the page turner the opportunity to get to know several characters and the many challenges they faced up close and personally.

 I am touched by the dialogue, because for me this story is both a window and a mirror. I recognized some familiar mentions when it came to Michigan landmarks and institutions and found a mirror in some of the background that I could relate to but I also found a window in understanding more about customs and traditions that I was not privy to even in my own state of origin. I found this read an honor to be able to review as the details are passed down with care like that of a special wedding dress or heirloom. 

Jean Alicia Elster
This book gives us the privilege of being able to follow a narrative beginning with Addie Jackson and ending with a promise that the story continues as I write these words. We are in Women's History Month. We are in March is Reading Month. This is a fantastic book to celebrate both. The content is YA so not for the younger ones but perfect for anyone else. 

On the Shelf is a monthly feature by E&I Chair, Tara Michener, highlighting books and authors that allow 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.

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.