Friday, September 30, 2022

Hugs and Hurrahs

Can you believe September has already come to an end? The good news is it's time to celebrate the many literary achievements of our friends and colleagues. Welcome to this quarter's Hugs and Hurrahs post!

Jay Whistler, had a new book release in May 2022. THE GHOSTLY TALES OF PUT-IN-BAY was published by Arcadia Press. 

Ghost stories from Put-in-Bay have never been so creepy, fun, and full of mystery! The haunted history of Pudding Bay comes to life—even when the main players are dead. Visit Perry’s Cave to catch a glimpse of its mysterious, otherworldly glow. Or look for ghosts amongst the hallways of Cooke’s Castle on Gibraltar Island. Dive into this spooky chapter book for suspenseful tales of bumps in the night, paranormal investigations, and the unexplained; just be sure to keep the light on.”

What a perfect book for the season. Congratulations, Jay!

Lori McElrath Eslick has much to celebrate this quarter. Four pages of illustrations for the story:

The Trapped and Tangled Loon were in the April 2022 issue of Cricket Magazine.

Her cover art painting for Janet Heller's book; Nature's Olympics, was published as cover art for Cricket Magazine (pictured above), and was displayed at  ArtPrize 2022 iin Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Lori also won Best of Show in the 2022 75th Annual Michigan Watercolor Society Exhibition (and a $2000 prize) for her plen air painting "Fly Fishing the Platte River" that originally was commissioned to illustrate a story in National Wildlife Magazine. This painting is included in a touring exhibition (for the 2022-23 year) around to art centers in Michigan. 

We’re so proud of you, Lori!

Jean Alicia Elster's latest book HOW IT HAPPENS (Wayne State University Press, 2021) is a 2021 Foreword Indies SILVER Winner for Young Adult Fiction.

Well done, Jean!

Kristin Bartley Lenz's YA short story "Flirting with Danger" was published in the Summer/Fall 2022 issue of Lunch Ticket, the literary journal of Antioch University. “Lenz’s sympathetic portrayal of young people is an engaging and conversational story about assumption, rumors, and truth.”

Way to go, Kristin!

Kim Bartosch's debut novel Ask the Girl was published by Woodhall Press.


Murdered in 1925, Katy must seek the help of sixteen-year old Lila and her sister to save her from her demon prison.

It's a young adult paranormal mystery with themes of forgiveness, sisterhood, and coping with bipolar disorder. 

Congratulations, Kim

Cindy Schrauben received a coveted Kirkus Starred review for her picture book This Could Be You.

What an honor, Cindy!


Ann Dallman’s second book in the Cady Whirlwind Thunder mystery series, "Cady and the Birchbark Box," has been recognized by the Historical Society of Michigan with its prestigious State History Award in the Books: Children & Youth category.

Her earlier book, "Cady and the Bear Necklace," also received this award.

We're so happy for you, Ann!

Tracy Detz's Icky Berg, An Iceberg Tale (Smarty Pants Magazine For Kids) is being made into an informational audiobook.

Learn about icebergs and all the animals and creatures who love them. Complete with a game and a simple science experiment.

What a fun project, Tracy!

 Renee Bolla is excited to announce the release of her second book, Imagine That, which launched September 24.

Congratulations, Renee!


Ian Tadashi Moore's audiobook Where All the Little Things Live recently won Second Place for best audiobook in the Purple Dragonfly Awards!

Yay, Ian!

Melanie Hooyenga has a book releasing October 10th, Book Three in the Campfire Series: Chasing the Moon.

Two best friends. One tiny tent. An attraction that’s impossible to ignore.

We're excited for you, Melanie!

Monica A. Harris has sold 18 writing passages to Data Recognition Corporation. (DRC is a company that hires writers for various assessment testings around the country.) Her pieces have included such topics as biographies, history of various games, animal life cycles, and the invention of many modern technologies.  


In addition, her business as The Doodling Duchess has taken off!  She teaches her method of meditative doodling as a way to gain personal insight and relieve anxieties. She has done several workshops for kids including teenagers and they have found doodling a way to concentrate, deal with trauma, and a form of stress relief.

That's wonderful, Monica!

Finally, the Critique Carousel Co-Coordinators, Alicia Curley, Wendy BooydeGraaff, and Natalie Aguirre would like to congratulate Dionna Roberts who will receive a critique from Janine Le and to Valerie Kemp who will receive a critique from the agent of her choice from SCBWI-MI's Critique Carousel Equity and Inclusion Scholarship for historically marginalized or underrepresented writers.


We're celebrating with you, Dionna and Valerie!

Congratulations, Everyone! Watch for announcements of Hugs and Hurrahs deadlines here on The Mitten, listserv, and the Michigan SCBWI Facebook page. Meanwhile, please feel free to submit all your kidlit publishing news to Alison Hodgson at Have a wonderful fall here in beautiful Michigan!


Saturday, September 24, 2022

Book Birthday Blog with Renee Bolla



Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Renee Bolla on the release of Imagine That!


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

I am a mother to three strong and talented daughters, and they have been my inspiration since day one. I have always been that mom who kept journals, attempting to document their everyday moments along with their big milestones. I found so much joy in preserving the memories we created together. When I made the bold decision to resign from my corporate job at the end of 2020, I had the time and the creative freedom to run with these ideas. My debut book, Finding Bunny, was inspired by my youngest daughter and her love for her best friend, Bunny. It is a heartwarming story about friendship and the emotional journey a little one experiences with losing and finding her best friend. My newest book, Imagine That!, was inspired by my first born. She was adventurous and fearless from birth but has always struggled with bedtime because of her fear of the dark. She has a vivid imagination which takes her to magical places but at the same time can make the dark a little spookier. We would make up stories together at bedtime to help ease her mind and from that Imagine That! was born.

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

I want my little readers to understand the power of their mind and their imagination and use that in all aspects of life. I want them to feel empowered to conquer their fear no matter how big or little that fear may be. And that being brave doesn’t mean you don’t experience fear. That bravery is having the courage to try something despite being scared. Your mind is a powerful tool, be proud of that.

What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

When I started this book, I started in a completely different direction. The premise of it was the same, battling fear of the dark through the power of your imagination. But it was lighter and more dreamlike. Think rainbows and unicorns. But I was challenged to stretch myself and tackle deeper feelings children experience about the dark and bedtime. It was hard because I started writing what I literally would tell my daughter at bedtime and that didn’t necessarily translate to a picture book. It was descriptive bedtime story telling not picture book worthy at first. But with the talented writing community that surrounds me pushing me out of my comfort zone, I was able to think beyond that literal story I told my daughter and Imagine That! took form.

What are your marketing plans for this book?

I am passionate about connecting with children through events and promoting the joy of reading through fun and engaging activities. I am partnering with local bookstores, libraries, schools, toy stores, kid’s boutiques and other various locations that children go to find joy such as art studios, bakeries, donut shops, parks and sports facilities. I will tailor each event to the specific location, but every event will center around the message of the book, fear and bravery. I have a page on my website that highlights upcoming events and will share my journey through my social channels.

What's next for you?

When I started my writing journey my goal was to write a book for each of my daughters. So, my next book will be dedicated to my stepdaughter. This book will highlight the relationship between a stepdaughter and stepmother. There are not many picture books out there that focus on this relationship and I think it is something to celebrate and share. I have a few more stories in the works. My goal is to release two more picture books in 2023. So, stay tuned.

A little bit about the book . . .

Imagine That! is a story that will spark imagination and empower children to creatively conquer their fear of the dark.
Emma, an adventurous little girl, is fearless during the day. But nighttime is a different story. She is terrified of the dark. The dark is where spooky things live and take over her room every night. Emma knows she can do challenging things but sleeping in her room all by herself seems impossible.
Her mom insists her imagination is playing tricks on her. Like her imagination has magical powers? But wait! Is there something about her imagination she hasn’t quite figured out?
Imagine That! is a story about the power of a child’s mind and their imagination. As quickly as it can create fear it can turn that fear into happy thoughts. Will Emma learn to use her imagination to help conquer her fear of the dark?
Find out in Imagine That!

A little bit about the author . . .

Renee Bolla, author of the debut children’s picture book, Finding Bunny.
As a former retail executive, Renee led merchandising and brand teams for 20 years before trading in her fashion career for sweatpants and a pencil. A curious human with a passion for learning new things, Renee embraces life’s journey as a mom, wife, entrepreneur, writer, and coffee lover.
Before resigning, writing was a hobby that filled her creative soul. And while it started as a hobby, it has evolved in to much more. Now, inspired to write stories about her three strong and talented daughters. Each being unique to their individual personalities and real-life experiences of being a kid. It is the beginning of her writing journey, and she is looking forward to sharing her stories with you.
You can connect with Renee on the following social platforms:
Instagram: @reneebollaauthor
TikTok: @reneebolla
Twitter: @RBollaAuthor
Facebook: @ReneeBollaAuthor
Or visit her website,, to continue following her journey.



Friday, September 23, 2022

Critical Race Theory: What’s the fuss about? by Susan Santone

With a new school year underway, classrooms and libraries are once again at the center of culture wars, particularly the furor over “critical race theory.” Critics claim it’s infiltrating books, curricula, and libraries with ideologies that divide kids and teach them to hate the country. The backlash has spawned a flurry of state-level legislation that put teachers, authors, and librarians in the crosshairs of censorship and book-banning. But what do we actually know about critical race theory and its place in curriculum and kids’ books? Are critics right? In this blog, I address key questions, misconceptions, and offer additional resources. Let’s start with the basics.

What is Critical Race Theory? (CRT)

CRT is a framework for analyzing the role of race and racism in society. With roots in the field of law, CRT posits that racial discrimination is embedded in schools, housing, and other aspects of everyday life. CRT offers a lens to examine structures and institutions, going beyond individual acts of bigotry often associated with the term ‘racism.’ 

What’s an example of systemic racism?

For example, after WWII, the Federal Housing Administration backed loans to ease the path to homeownership. But racial discrimination was baked into the policy; 98% of loans went to white people, fueling “white flight” to suburbs and disinvestment in previously-thriving urban cores that were “redlined” on maps as “slums.” Though such practices are now technically illegal, people of color still face well-documented barriers to safe and affordable housing. And, with home equity a key inheritance asset, the FHA policies directly created today’s wealth gap.

How many states mandate CRT in the curriculum?

None. “Critical race theory” is not in any mandated state standards, including Common Core. That said, a growing number of educators are integrating books and curriculum that reflect human diversity and address systemic racism in honest, age-appropriate ways. This builds on decades of reform efforts to reckon with white-washed history, monocultural book shelves, and persistent discriminatory practices. Thus, while the phrase “Critical Race Theory” may not be in the curriculum, robust anti-racism efforts utilize a critical race lens to uncover and disrupt discriminatory practices. 

When racism is understood as individual acts of bigotry or discrimination, we can excuse ourselves from the problem as long as we don’t say the ugly things. But we can’t excuse ourselves from racist systems--and that calls us all to reckon with the problem and examine the systems we all participate in, whether we know it or not. Returning to our housing example, white people benefitted from the racist policies, even if they weren’t aware of it and/or didn’t engage in individual racist acts. Tackling racism thus involves everyone. By casting this as “woke” or “indoctrinating,” critics can divert attention from unequal systems, all while asserting “colorblindness” or “we’re all just people” (both problematic, but that’s for another time).

What are specific criticisms of a critical race lens?

Critics claim this perspective is dividing school kids by race. But the educational system by design creates and maintains racial disparities in multiple ways, including unequal access to high-level courses, disproportionate suspensions, inequitable funding, and segregation within and across districts. Since a critical race lens by definition aims to dismantle these divisions, accusations of “divisiveness” are disingenuous at best.     

Another argument is that teaching about race is teaching kids to “hate America.” Hardly. A more complete, honest view of history encompasses harms of the past and progress made through our democratic institutions. With a critical lens, we lay bare where we went wrong, analyze how to make change, and commit to co-creating a society that fulfills the promise of equal opportunity enshrined in the Constitution. That makes challenging racism an act of citizenship, not indoctrination. As I tell my students (future teachers), a critical race perspective is not teaching kids to hate America, it’s teaching them to love--and practice--democracy.

Perhaps the strongest argument comes under the banner of “parental rights” and transparency in what their kids are exposed to. Clearly, parents are essential stakeholders in education; no one is questioning their rights. The debate lies in the limits of those rights, and at whose expense. Moreover, the right to weigh in on any public issue carries the responsibility to be informed, undercutting the credibility of CRT critics who can’t even define the concept. Finally, rights for one parent do not include the ability to undermine rights of other parents.

Decisions about what, when, why, and how to teach are the foundation of educational practice. But the CRT conversation is not a reasoned debate about these perennial questions. The firestorm, often presented as a grassroots movement, is actually an act of arson. The culprit? Christopher Ruffo, a political operative who seized the term and transformed it into a rage-inducing rally cry. Having effectively agitated the culture wars, CRT has emerged as an all-purpose condemnation of anything related to diversity, including gender. Riding that wave, anti-CRT crusaders have spread trumped-up accusations that teachers and librarians defending LBTQIA+ kids and content are pedophiles out to “groom” and sexualize children.  

To be fair, I’ve seen ham-fisted resources about race and gender --books or curricula that lack scaffolding, are didactic, or talk down to kids. Parents, educators, and authors should all aim for thoughtful, meaningful, and age-appropriate content. That makes quality content creation for kids so essential. But this is exactly what is under attack. 

What are the threats to creators, authors, and educators who value diversity and anti-racism?

The misinformation and hysteria over CRT has sparked a flurry of legislation that muzzles, bans, or even criminalizes access to diversity-related books and classroom resources. Intentionally vague, many laws offer few clear lines to guide different instructional contexts. Is it okay to have books that represent students’ identities, even if the book isn’t about that identity? Can race be addressed when it’s central to historical understanding of say, the Civil War? These are the tricky waters educators, authors, and librarians must now navigate. 

The world of children’s literature has joined hands with partners around the world to protect the right to read. Here are a few key efforts:

  • SCBWI is a member of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and its working group, the Free Expression Network (FEN), an “alliance of organizations dedicated to protecting the First Amendment  . . . and opposing governmental efforts to suppress constitutionally protected speech.” 

As the cornerstone of democracy, schools should prepare students as thriving members of our democratic, multicultural society. That means today’s children must co-create a future where everyone has access and opportunities to fulfill their potential. By presenting stories and information where all children are included and valued, children’s literature equips youth to not only appreciate differences, but to identify and dismantle barriers based on these differences.


Additional resources:

Susan Santone is an instructor at the University of Michigan School of Education, where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in educational policy and practice through an equity lens. She is the author of
 Reframing the Curriculum: Design for Social Justice and Sustainability (Routledge), a book based on thirty years of curriculum development for clients including the United Nations. A lifelong writer and artist, she is shifting her focus to children’s fiction and nonfiction as she eases into retirement. She thanks the SCBWI-MI leadership and community for their support and inspiration on this new journey. She welcomes questions via email (susan ‘at’ or Twitter.


Thursday, September 22, 2022

On the Shelf by Tara Michener: Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes

What makes a good kid a good kid? 

In Property of the Rebel LibrarianJune Harper is considered a good kid by many parents, educators, and most adults because of her propensity for obedience and having a clean record, never getting into any type of trouble. This all changes when her parents discover that she has a book in her possession that they consider too scary. When her parents find out the book came from her middle school the plot thickens and fast forwards into many layers that many people can relate to today. 

This book brings up the aforementioned question of what makes a good kid good? Does it mean that they are quiet? Does it mean that they are compliant? Does it mean that they don't speak up even when they want to be heard and create dialogue? 

June was faced with so many opinions, and all of this impacted her ability to participate in her favorite hobby...reading books. 

A love of literacy can teach us to think critically, to discern our own convictions, and to question. In this phenomenal book by Dr. Allison Varnes, we see the presenting problem begin with the "scary" book, but it does not end there. What can I tell you, Reader, without spoiling the plot? I can tell you that this is a must read. It describes the powerlessness that many young people feel when they cannot voice their concerns and choose their own books due to factors that may be arbitrary. 

This book creates the opportunity for discussion on who should decide what a child reads. I think it is timely, especially during Banned Book Week.      

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.