Monday, July 31, 2023

Book Birthday Blog with Lindsay Gizicki


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Lindsay Gizicki on the release of The Guardians of the Garden



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

My family loves planting and taking care of our fruits and veggies in our family garden. Last summer, my kids caught a squirrel stealing our cherry tomatoes and they were beside themselves! They couldn’t believe the animals outside were “robbing” us. They started trying to stack up their toys around our garden and using their bubble machines to try to keep them away. Which obviously didn’t work BUT it did give me an idea for my next book! 

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

This book really is about the joy of summer and the wonderful imaginations all children have. As kids, we’ve all made up games and explored new worlds right in our own backyards. I hope everyone who reads this with their family can relate to that childhood wonder. The Guardians of the Garden is also about family love. It’s a special time for our family when we come together to plant the garden, and we look forward to pruning it together every day throughout the summer. 



What are your marketing plans for the book? 

I’m so excited for what I have in store for this latest book! I’m happy to announce that 10% of my proceeds are going to the Detroit non-profit, Rescue MI Nature Now, Inc. Rescue MI Nature Now is dedicated to developing green spaces within communities and nature based educational programs. They began as a beekeeping family and wanted to expand their passions which include working in the community, uplifting the youth and lending a helping hand. I’ll also be doing workshops and readings at some local greenhouses.

In an earlier book birthday interview we learned about The Book Fairies Worldwide. For those who missed the interview, what is this organization and how can others get involved? 

The Book Fairies is an organization centered around the love of books and sharing the joy of reading. As the Michigan representative, I leave books around the state for lucky readers to find. Once the reader finishes the book, they are encouraged to leave it for the next person. Think of it as a traveling library! If you’re interested in hiding books or having your books hidden, you can contact me on Instagram at @bookfairies_michigan

What's next for you?

I’ve started writing my next book! I would love if I could publish that next year. Besides publishing more picture books, I’ve also started consulting some self-published authors, which has been so much fun. The more I learn about the industry, the more I want to help other authors fulfill their dreams. I’m honored that people trust me to bring their ideas to life.

A little bit about the book . . . 

Every summer, two children playfully guard their mother’s garden from cheeky critters that steal their fruits and vegetables. Their arch enemies—the squirrels—prove to be the biggest tricksters of all. 

Publisher: Hank A Roo Readings

A little bit about the author . . . 

Lindsay Gizicki graduated from Central Michigan University and pursued her passion for journalism. She is currently the editor of an architecture magazine based in Troy, Mich. In her spare time, she fishes with her husband, Cyle, and speaks nonsense with her 5-year-old daughter, Harper, and her 3-year-old son, Henry. Her previous self-published books include To the Moon and Back and The Pirate Doctor. In 2022, To the Moon and Back won an honorable mention in the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards.

Instagram: @elle_gizicki and @hankarooreadings
Facebook: @hankarooreadings
LinkedIN: @hankarooeadings
Twitter: @lindsay_gizicki


Friday, July 28, 2023

Hugs and Hurrahs

Welcome to this quarter's edition of Hugs and Hurrahs! It's such a pleasure to celebrate these talented Michigan writers and illustrators. Please join me in offering your congratulations!

Katy Klimczuk's poem “September” has been published in the 2023 Walloon Writers Review.  

Congratulations, Katy!

Diane Telgen’s The Ghostly Tales of Michigan's Upper Peninsula is coming out from Arcadia Children's on August 7.
Way to go, Diane!

an tadashi moore has had a collection of his artwork that is inspired by the characters and themes in his books placed in a microgallery (@creal_microgallery on Instagram) in Ann Arbor. 

Very cool, ian!

Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw is erupting with joy to officially announce her upcoming nonfiction picture book—THE SUPER VOLCANO: A HIDDEN HERO BELOW YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK! For a hint about the book, picture the word SUPER in the title written like the picture above. Publication is scheduled for October, 2024 by Science, Naturally.
We're excited for you, Suzanne!

Jean Alicia Elster served as a member of the panel choosing the 2023 Kresge Arts in Detroit Artist Fellows in Literary Arts and Gilda Awards in Literary Arts. The panel was comprised of a select group of writers from across the United States representing various literary genres.

Congratulations, Jean!

An audio version of Ann Dallman’s award-winning MG novel, Cady and the Bear Necklace, is now available on Amazon.

Cady and the Bear Necklace has received these honors:

Midwest Book Award for Young Adult Fiction

Historical Society of Michigan Book Award for Children & Youth

Upper Peninsula Notable Book Award

New Mexico-Arizona Book Award (multicultural category)

Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist

5-star review from Readers’ Favorite.

We're so proud of you, Ann!

Congratulations, Everyone! We are inspired by you all! 

Please look for the next request for Hugs and Hurrahs in your email, but please feel free to submit all your KidLit publishing news to Alison Hodgson ( ) any time.  I can't wait to celebrate you!

Friday, July 21, 2023

Book Birthday Blog with Isabel Estrada



Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Isabel Estrada on the release of La Mariachi


Congratulations on your debut picture book! How did you come up with the idea for your book?

Inspiration came from many sources, but the genesis for this story sprang from my love of music–it’s who I am at my core. I wanted to write a story about one of my favorite musical genres, mariachi. Mariachi in all its different styles tugs at my heartstrings and stirs up memories of home—a nirvana of nostalgia for my family and community. I recalled that the children’s mariachi group in our city was open to boys only (this practice changed in the 1980s). I began by brainstorming phrases that described how I/Tuchi felt when I/she listened to mariachi. Imagery, metaphors, and similes flowed through my pen. Musicality and sonority were key factors in deciding which lines to keep.
This story is set in the 1970s. Tuchi, the hero, shares my enthusiasm for music: con todo su corazon. She faces the gender discrimination in her life and bullying at school with perseverance and positivity. A second inspiration that gave birth to this story is personal. When I grew up, we didn’t see Mexican and Mexican-American/Latinx characters in children’s literature nor in mainstream media. Personally, I do not recall reading any story or book about Mexican or Latinx cultures in all my public schooling—and I could safely say the same of the humanities canon at the college level. We didn’t exist except for a few stereotypes on TV and film. Only recently, have we had more representation on the bookshelves. I became inspired to write a story where Latinx children (Mexican-American, in this case) could see someone like themselves on the page.

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

We need to find what inspires us and pursue that passion with all our being. Be bold. Be brave. Give it everything you’ve got and be creative! Another takeaway is to lean on others for support. None of us got to where we are on our own. Those are my takeaways—I’d love to hear what my young readers feel after reading LA MARIACHI.   

What inspires you to write?

I love words, images, and movement, and I’ve always loved a good story. My efforts as a writer, humble as they are, were inspired by all the greats on the bookshelf. Another great source is the people all around us. Human beings are complex beings wrapped up in emotions on the move, the highs and lows ever-changing. Oh, and animals, too (My two gatitos have inspired their share of stories.). Also, I’m blessed to be a member of two SCBWI-related critique groups that keep me going, and I’ve had the privilege of working with a few SCBWI-related consultants—true gems. I like to think we inspire each other to dig deeper and discover the veins of rich clay in the muck. Then, we gather our raw materials, spin-shape-and-mold, and fire up that story like no one else can.  

What are your marketing plans for the book and where can we find it?

Marketing is a new area for me--My first steps in social media have been daunting (new author pages on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, etc.). It takes skill and tech knowledge to get a successful promotional venture off the ground running. I reached out to our SCBWI-Michigan community to get the help I needed, and the response was incredible! I look forward to making new connections in this area. I’m also fortunate that my publisher, Sleeping Bear Press, does a fabulous job promoting their authors. There is so much to learn as a debut author—I’m taking it slowly so I won’t get overwhelmed. I think it’s important to enjoy this part of the journey. You can find my book where books are sold: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. You can help support our local indie bookstore in Kalamazoo and my pre-order partner: this is a bookstore/Bookbug, by ordering a signed copy of LA MARIACHI.

What's next for you?

My hope is to find a publisher for my next book. My desktop is filled with completed manuscripts—many more picture books and three middle grade novels—ready for submission. Agents—here I come! I’d love to work with an agent or editor who believes in me and will support my journey as a writer. In the meantime, my plan is to share Tuchi’s story with the rest of the world. I love her story! My dream is that children will be moved by reading and re-reading the pages Addy and I have knitted together (Addy Rivera Sonda, illustrator.). You can hear more about my story at my debut book launch party at Bookbug in Kalamazoo, Tuesday, August 1, 5pm. Please drop by if you’re in the area! Until then. . . ¡Sigamos soñando! 

More about the book . . .

More than anything, Tuchi longs to be a mariachi. However, when her teacher, Mr. Sanchez, announces he’s starting a mariachi group he tells her “It’s only for boys.”
But shouldn’t music belong to everyone?
When Tuchi shares her dream with her nana, she learns she’s not the first girl to be told she cannot be a mariachi. The two of them come up with a plan to make Tuchi’s dream come true. 

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press

More about the author . . . 

Isabel grew up in the desert borderlands of Arizona, dancing and singing her way through life. Always a dreamer, she blends her life experiences as a performing arts educator with her love of Mexican-American culture & folklore into stories. When she’s not writing, she loves to dance, cook, read, daydream, and play with her two gatitos, Dante and Cosmo. She also loves her volunteer work for SCBWI-Michigan as Outreach Coordinator and K.A.S.T. Co-Coordinator (A shout-out to my KAST friends—Where everyone’s a star!)  LA MARIACHI is her debut storybook!

Isabel would like to remind everyone that her author name is Isabel Estrada.

Facebook: Isabel Estrada Author

Instagram: isabelestradaauthor

Twitter: isabelohagin

Website coming soon!



Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Book Birthday Blog with Maura Dalian




Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Maura Dalian on the release of I'm Alright, Goodnight


Congratulations on your debut picture book! How did you come up with the idea for your book?

I enjoyed the challenge of connecting all of the letters of the alphabet. I actually wrote this book 40 years ago. I recently revisited the idea, rewrote the book, and turned it into a fourth-grade play! I had trouble sleeping one night and used my imagination to try and lull myself back to sleep.

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

First, I hope they enjoy it. I had so much fun playing with our language. I also hope they think about what a gift imagination is. 

What inspires you to write?

I just have to get the stories floating around in my head onto the paper. I want to bring children joy and share my world with them.

What are your marketing plans for the book and where can we find it?

The book is for sale at almost every online bookstore. We even discovered it in a smaller bookstore in South Africa! Delightful people have planned book signings for me. I also will go to some bookstores near Ann Arbor, Michigan to see if they would be interested in allowing me to sign my book.

What's next for you?

I have already started the next book which will also become a fourth-grade play. I learned so much and I am excited to repeat the process!

A little bit about the book . . .

Peter Kelley cannot sleep. It is the fifteenth time he has crawled out of bed, and his dad is losing his patience. He instructs Peter to recite his ABC's. To Peter's surprise, reciting the alphabet unleashes a magical power that brings his imagination to life. From encountering apes and gorillas to indulging in cookies and ice cream, Peter's room transforms into a world of adventure. With the help of his best friend, Sammie, Peter even takes a thrilling helicopter ride. I'm Alright, Goodnight is a delightful ABC book that tackles the common problem of sleeplessness with a touch of whimsy and fantasy. It's a charming reminder of the power of imagination and the importance of finding magic in the everyday.

Publisher: Self-Published

A little bit about the author . . .

Maura Dalian lives in Saline, Michigan with her husband, one daughter, Amy, and two dogs, Sophie, and Phoebe (Feebs). She is a mom to adult twins, Caili and Christopher. Maura is currently teaching fourth grade, as she has done for 41 years. She has written many plays for her fourth graders to perform. This book has become one of those plays! Maura has written children’s books since she was 13 years old. She loves writing for children and families. This is her first attempt at publishing, a lifelong dream!. Adding to the dream is that her talented daughter, Caili, is the illustrator of this book. She is proud to have her daughter Caili help bring her creative imagination to life!



Friday, July 14, 2023

Writer Spotlight Revisited: Ruth Behar

Musicality, handmade books, a suitcase by the door, and bebita: Ruth Behar enjoys her dance with children's books

Charlie Barshaw coordinates our regular Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece,  revisit cultural anthropologist, poet, and children's book author, Ruth Behar. 

We interviewed four years ago. One of your memorable quotes (among many) still moves me to this day: [On switching from recording the fact-based research of Cultural Anthropology to writing middle grade fiction] “I had the power to embellish reality and make it sweeter than it really had been. I had the power to invent things that never happened and make them seem utterly true. Words I had wished had been said to me could be said at last and make my heart so happy.”

Ruth in Havana, photo courtesy of May Reguera

No question. Just, wow!


When we last communicated, you were contemplating an epistolary novel based on your grandmother’s life of resettlement from Poland to Cuba. Since then, that book has been published to much acclaim. Did you have some of your grandmother’s letters to work from?

Yes, that book, Letters from Cuba, was published in 2020 with Nancy Paulsen Books and in paperback in 2021. I actually didn’t have any of my grandmother’s letters to work from. I only had a few postcards from Cuba with her youthful photo on one side and a brief message in Yiddish on the other side, but that was all. So I had to imagine the letters she might have written. I did draw inspiration from published letters by immigrants who found their way to the United States. I hope one day the letters of immigrants to Cuba will be collected and published.

Lucky Broken Girl and Letters From Cuba were based on your life and heritage, but they are works of fiction. How do you know when and where to leave the actual events and explore the essence of the thing?

With both Lucky Broken Girl and Letters from Cuba, I turned from actual events to fiction when there were gaps in the historical record or gaps in my memory, or if I simply wanted to imagine what might have been. Writing dialogue for my characters is another moment when I need to lean into my imagination. In anthropological writing, I’m drawing on transcripts of recorded interviews. For my novels, I work with the words I’m hearing in my head. I have to listen closely to these words to arrive at what I think my characters would say if they were real people.

Tia Fortuna’s New Home: A Jewish Cuban Journey is your first picture book. You’ve written scientific papers and novels for most of your life. How did the constraints of the limited word count and vocabulary of the picture book genre change your writing style?

It definitely was a challenge to write a picture book! You have to make every word sing, like in a poem, so that the story can come alive in unison with the illustrations. Tía Fortuna’s New Home went through several revisions as I added and trimmed, added and trimmed, over and over, until the story flowed and I was able to compress all the action into a single day. 

On this one day, Tía and her niece, Estrella, are saying goodbye to Tía’s beloved seaside casita and getting Tía settled into her new home at a retirement center where the sea is far but there are banyan trees and butterflies. I read aloud everything I write before letting it go, but with the picture book I realized the story had to not only make sense when read aloud but it needed a strong sense of musicality. 

Tía Fortuna’s New Home is a bilingual book; I incorporated the repetition of words in Spanish, so that kids could enjoy saying them aloud and learning those words if they’re not Spanish speakers.

When Tía Fortuna is leaving her casita, she says goodbye to the palm trees that respond with “adios, adios, adios.” In turn, when she arrives at her new home she greets the banyan trees, and they respond with “hola, hola, hola.” 

I hadn’t used this kind of repetition in my novels, so this was an enjoyable departure from my usual writing style. When I read the book aloud to groups of children, we repeat the Spanish words together and they love that so much; it feels as if we’re singing.

You have published a volume of poetry: Everything I Kept/ Todo lo que guardé in English and Spanish. (You are your own translator.) But you also have a number of your poems bound in rare and valuable “homemade” journals. Can you talk about those, and the amazing artist who creates them with you?

I am fortunate to have worked with Rolando Estévez, the amazing Cuban artist who crafted handmade books, some in small editions and others completely unique and one-of-a-kind. Estévez and I met when I began to travel to Cuba in the 1990s to get to know my native land and engage in projects creating bridges between Cubans who live abroad and Cubans who live on the island.

I dared to tell him I was writing poems about the emotional experience of returning to Cuba after growing up in the U.S. and he insisted I write them in Spanish as well as English, which I did. He was an amazing reader and encouraged me to keep writing poems. Many of those poems ended up in his beautiful handmade books.

These books incorporated elements of the Cuban environment, such as seashells, leaves, and rocks, as well as things like antique cigar labels, and bits and piece of lace, and even a kiss from an author, imprinted with lipstick onto the page.

In the book you mention, Everything I Kept/Todo lo que guardé, the original handmade version has a three-dimensional suitcase on the cover. Inside, it is lined with sand from Varadero Beach, where my parents honeymooned, and the suitcase opens and closes with two little pieces of Velcro, which had to be brought from the United States since it’s impossible to find in Cuba.

I owe so much to Estévez and I am sorry to say that he passed away on January 17 of this year. We were planning to travel together to the Library of Congress for an upcoming exhibition of treasures from their collection that will include a poetry dress that Estévez made to fit my measurements, an astonishing work bringing together forty-five poems by Cuban and American women writers. 

Sadly, we won’t be able to go together, but I hope to be there to celebrate his memory and the love of books that he shared with me and the world.

Readers can learn more about Estévez’s books on my website:

To experience the awe of the poetry dress, formally entitled Otra piel para otra entraña/Another Skin for My Insides, have a look at this video:

Your maternal grandparents emigrated from Poland to Cuba, and your paternal grandparents from Turkey to Cuba, where you were born. But after the Bay of Pigs incident, your family moved to an Israeli kibbutz until ultimately moving to New York City. You said that traveling was one of the allures to becoming a Cultural Anthropologist. This wanderlust must affect your view of the world, and of “home.”

It is true that I had a lot of wanderlust as a young woman and wanted to travel, especially to Spanish-speaking countries. Cultural anthropology gave me the passport I needed, allowing me to spend extended periods of time among strangers who kindly took me in and shared their life stories with me. 

Every place I went became “home” for a while, and even after leaving, the memories of my experiences stayed with me, and continue to do so to this day. So “home” for me is in many places. I’ve lived with a suitcase by my door, awaiting the next journey. Because I was an immigrant child, I think I’ll always have a nomadic soul.

Photo by Gabriel Frye-Behar

New York is where your son Gabriel now lives. A celebrated filmmaker and writer, Gabriel is now collaborating with you in writing some children’s stories. What is it like working with your little-boy-turned-grown-man?

Curiously, Gabriel now lives in New York where I grew up, while I still live in Michigan where he grew up. I’ve loved being his mother and it’s been wonderful to enter this new phase of our relationship where we’re writing children’s stories together. 

We’ve always enjoyed talking about books and watching and discussing movies, so being a writing team is a natural outgrowth of those experiences. Gabriel helped me make the book trailers for Lucky Broken Girl, Letters from Cuba, and Tía Fortuna’s New Home, so we’ve been collaborating for some time on projects relating to children’s literature, but now we’re writing books. 

He’s a terrific editor and has a great ear for dialogue, which come from his filmmaking experience, and I learn a lot from him and feel immensely proud that he is as passionate about storytelling as I am.

With Gabriel, you co-wrote the upcoming (Fall 2023) picture book, Pepita Meets Bebita. Please tell us a little about the story, and how you came to work with your son.

We are both so delighted about our upcoming picture book, Pepita Meets Bebita! The story emerged from the big change that took place in our lives when Gabriel became a dad and I became a grandmother in 2020, an event that brought light and hope to our family in the midst of the pandemic. But it also brought some confusion to the sweet little dog that Gabriel and his wife, Sasha, had treated as their “bebita” before they had a human baby girl.

I noticed that Pepita was looking rather sad once the baby arrived; they could no longer give her the same attention she’d received before because the baby took up all their time and energy.

It seemed there was a story to tell about transitions and rites of passage as a family integrates new members. I asked Gabriel if he wanted to write that story with me from the point of view of the dog, Pepita, and fortunately he said yes, and that’s how our collaboration came to be.

Here’s a blog post we wrote together about the experience of writing the book:

You also have a WIP middle grade Sephardic novel. It sounds very ambitious: four different characters from four different time periods, and from four different countries. How goes this project?

I am happy to say that this Sephardic novel, Across So Many Seas, is done! I feared I wouldn’t be able to write it but somehow I did. As you note, it takes place in four different time periods and in four different countries (Spain, Turkey, Cuba, and the U.S.) and is told from the point of view of four twelve-year-old characters, Benvenida, Reina, Alegra, and Paloma. 

You need to read to the very last page to see how it all comes together. My agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin, says it’s like Alan Gratz’s Refugee (a book I love) but told entirely from the perspective of girls. The novel will be out in February 2024 with Nancy Paulsen Books.

One big reason I wished to reconnect was to examine your journey into children’s literature. Back in 2019, you were an acclaimed and published poet and anthropologist dabbling in middle grade fiction. Today, you have three titles published, with more in the pipeline. You have fully embraced the kidlit world, and it has embraced you back. What have you discovered since we last met?

Young Ruth 1996

I’ve discovered that I still have so many kidlit stories to tell and feel immense gratitude that I have been embraced by the kidlit world. Finding the child’s voice in my fiction has been a gift, a totally unexpected, beautiful gift. I marvel that children read the books I’ve written and find life lessons that uplift them. There’s nothing more amazing than having a young reader ask for sequels to my books because they want to continue being in the world of Ruthie in Lucky Broken Girl or Esther in Letters from Cuba.

I’ve witnessed firsthand how children experience the stories in books with such intensity, with the fullness of their hearts. I guess that’s why some adults want to ban books, because they can’t bear to see children engage with books so deeply. But that experience is one of the sacred wonders of childhood. I hope as a society we’ll find ways for children to read widely and diversely so they feel at home in our big wide world.

As a certified non-dancer, I am fascinated by those who lose themselves in the music. From that traumatic car accident which left you in a body cast for a year (from which arose Lucky Broken Girl), you worried that you might break your leg again. But you found the cha-cha and tango to be exhilarating. What is dancing to you?

Dancing is pure joy. Moving to music that I love allows me to forget all my worries and fears. In partner dancing, there is the beautiful trust that develops with another person, where you agree to move together through space for the length of a song. It’s magical when you and your partner understand each other and communicate without saying a word; at most, you both sing aloud the words to the song you’re dancing to. I am grateful for those moments. I feel I find that girl I was before the car accident, the girl who’s still intact, the girl who never broke a leg.

Please share any social media links:

Twitter: @ruthbehar

Instagram: @ruthbeharauthor

FB: [official author page]

FB:  [personal account]


Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Book Birthday Blog with Sondra Soderborg



Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Sondra Soderborg on the release of Sky Ropes



Your debut novel includes real places in Michigan. How did you come up with the idea for your book?

This book grows out of the first (unpublished) novel I wrote, called Hey, Eyeball. Breanna, a secondary character in Hey, Eyeball, kept stealing her scenes. It became very plain that she needed her own book. For a Highlights Foundation Full Novel Workshop, Patricia Gauch asked us to prepare by drafting a short story that could become our next book. I wrote two short stories. One of them centered Breanana. In Hey, Eyeball, her whole persona is fearlessness. As I considered a story for her, I knew I needed to challenge that claim. The short story I wrote was about Breanna frozen with terror on a high ropes course. It was an effective way into a probing and personal story about the difference between courage and fearlessness.

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

I hope they will take away a better idea about the power of the stories we tell ourselves and how we are the ones, ultimately, who can choose and shape those stories. I also hope they take away a sense of the power of friendships grounded in genuine kindness. 

You've worked as a teacher and a lawyer. What led you to write children's books?

Honestly, I’ve wanted to write children’s books since I learned to read. The world opened up to me when I was six years old and I felt it happen. It’s been a deep drive all my life that I have sidelined as impractical over and over. The fact that my first book debuts the year I turn 60 makes me realize how stubborn, powerful–and useful–our longings can be. 


Your book has received some positive buzz. What are your marketing plans for the book?


My sense is that there is very little information available for writers to know the best way to market. I feel like I’ve done what made sense to me and what was possible. I established a social media presence and I’ve stuck with that. If nothing else, it gives me practice with putting myself out there. I have contacted library systems, bookstores and schools. I began close to home and will continue to radiate my contacts outward. I organized signings and will continue to do that. I hope by the fall to be doing middle school events. I sent out a bunch of snail mail postcards to friends, family and colleagues. That took a lot of time and may not yield much, but I found it quite fun to remember and contact people.


What's next for you?


Great question! Sky Ropes is the third novel I’ve written. My first two, Hey, Eyeball and Ruby, are unpublished. I would love to sell them and have a chance to bring them to readers. Ruby is especially close to my heart. I’m also working on a new book, Barnabas. I wrote it through to the final draft stage (I’m an intense reviser), then put it in a drawer for seven years because I knew it didn’t work. I think that I’ve had enough practice since then that this challenging, strange and funny story finally knows what it is and I can kind of wrangle it. This is the most joyful writing experience I’ve had so far. I want to keep writing. I hope to do school visits because they seem like so much fun. And I wouldn’t mind finding opportunities to teach and discuss craft with other writers, too. 


A little bit about the book . . .


Breanna Woodruff is fearless–everybody knows that. Except, she’s about to go to 6th grade team-building camp, where the big event is the highest high ropes course east of the Mississippi. She is terrified–terrified–of heights; she has her reasons. Somehow, she has got to get through camp without anyone, especially her softball nemesis Cami, finding out her secret.


Publisher: Chronicle Books


A little bit about the author . . . 


I have always wanted to be a writer but have done lots of other things instead, including practicing law, teaching (at a high school and a prison) and raising three kids. Through it all, I was writing, but without direction or training. It took finding the right teacher and community of writers to make the changes and progress I needed to finally break in. I’m originally from Utah and have lived in Ann Arbor, MI for 37 years.


Instagram: @ssoderbee

Facebook: Sondra Sumsion Soderborg





Thursday, July 6, 2023

Featured Illustrator Sara Kendall

Sara Kendall is a freelance illustrator based in Ann Arbor, MI. She works mostly digitally and is always looking for middle grade projects featuring the weird, the ridiculous and the fantastical (bonus points for all three).

Sara has a BFA in Illustration from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, and enjoys reading speculative fiction, looking closely at bugs, and playing Jenga with the stack of unread books on her nightstand.

Hi Sara, we are excited to get to know you a little better. Are you from Michigan? Did you go to school for art? 

Hello Darren, and greetings to the Mitten readers! I was born and raised right here in Michigan. Specifically (but vaguely) I grew up in a rural bit in the Southeast of the state, where I could catch frogs in my family’s pond and try to make dragonflies land on my finger (it works more often than you’d think!)

My art education career has been a super long one. I went to college for art—twice in fact! I started out at U of M Flint with an aimless but determined desire to make representational art. A million thanks to my instructors, who taught me the basics and introduced me to the greats of illustration when I didn’t know what part of the art world I could fit in. 

With this new zest for art, I later transferred to the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, to study illustration specifically, and graduated with a BFA in 2017. 

I also did an extracurricular stint at the Illustration Academy in Kansas City, MO, in 2016, where I was able to learn from a lot of the same people I idolized when I first learned illustration was a viable career. 

Oh, and last and most, I was the recipient of a mentorship program through SCBWI. My mentor Kirbi Fagan helped me immensely in figuring out the direction I wanted to go, and the steps to take to get there. (From grade school to college, there are way too many dedicated and kind art teachers in my life to thank individually. I hope I was appreciative enough at the time, but regardless if you’re reading this please know that I’m forever grateful.)

Your art is highly stylized (and beautiful). What has inspired or helped shape your work?

Being an artist for me has been a long path of picking up what aspects of other artists’ work tickles my brain and discarding what I don’t enjoy. 

My Pinterest account can attest to me obsessing over a bajillion different artists over the years, but as far as whose influence I still see most clearly in my work, there are a few that stick out. As was true for most people my age, Mary Grandpre’s illustrations for Harry Potter, and Bret Helquist’s work for A Series of Unfortunate Events took up permanent residence inside my skull. Also, pretty much anything by Lane Smith always wowed me (his paintings also scared me, but hey sometimes kids like that!) In college, Mark English, Gary Kelly, and Charlie Harper steamrolled over my little gray cells and jump started my obsession with shapes and puzzle-like compositions. 

And, of course, my college art teachers played a huge role in helping me discard what wasn’t working and stick with what was.

Tell us about your process and tools. 

These days I work mostly on my iPad Pro in Procreate. I miss working traditionally, and I love my adjustable drafting table that I got for cheap on Craigslist, but you can’t beat digital for speed. 
For fancy Procreate brushes, I can recommend the Retro MaxPack by Max Ulichney, and the Vivi brushes by Vivien Mildenberger have some lovely textures. The brushes that come with the program work just as well, though. Generally, for most of the painting before I get to the details, I use the “Dry Ink” brush that comes with the program. I modified it to be bigger, so it doesn’t cramp my hand, but it’s a versatile tool at any size. Recently I tried out blocking in shapes on different layers using a digital airbrush. I don’t usually do this, but it was very satisfying and it might stay in my repertoire.

When it's time to draw, how do you prepare and set up your space? (Or are you more spontaneous?) Sometimes I have to trick myself into getting to work.

Oh tricking is the only way to get to work! I have a problem with perfectionism, and that can make me think myself into inaction, especially at the start of a project. The most foolproof way for me to get working is to have another task that I’m procrastinating on. Barring that, a reliable way for me to get my juices flowing and start ideating without overthinking it starts with sending a playlist to my bluetooth speaker, cranking it up and zoning out. Sometimes singing along is in the cards as well (I live alone, so I’m free to be super annoying about it.)

I do all early thumbnails and character designs on paper, because it’s easier for me to relax and be spontaneous when I’m not staring at a blank document. My sketchbook will never be one of those fancy ones you can display in galleries, but I like it that way. 

Once I have a few thumbnails, I take a photo of them with my phone (doesn’t need to be good) and import them to my iPad. I put them into a file on Procreate that’s the right aspect ratio for what I’m working on, but only at about 10% the size of the final so that I have access to more layers and I don’t get too stuck in the details, and I warp the original thumbnail  and draw on top until I like the result. Then, I start blocking shapes in black and white. When I have a design I like, I add color by putting adjustment layers over top, and then painting over them. When I like the sketch, I paste it into a document that’s the final size or larger, always at least 8 inches wide and 300 dpi. Then it’s just painting and dealing with an inner monologue alternating between “I’m a genius!” and “Wait, I forgot how to paint!” until I run out of time or ideas.

Where in your art can we find hints about who you are? Are there underlying themes you hope people pick up on?

It’s very important to me to avoid gendered stereotypes when designing characters, and I make a real effort to unlearn any that might creep into my drawing. When I was growing up in the 90’s, it always upset me when character design for cartoon animals had a “male design” which looked pretty much like the animal, and a “lady design” where the animators would add long eyelashes and an hourglass figure. There is a lot of this in human kids’ designs as well, where the girl characters will look like they’re wearing makeup as a baseline. No shade to people who draw kids that way, but it did always upset me that even when going on adventures and being the hero, girls were always expected to be pretty and put together, and boys weren’t ever allowed to be. Even the way they pose, in cover illustrations for middle grade fantasy books for example, are often gendered: boys are posed to emphasize power, with a wide stance, and girls are often drawn more gracefully, and in a way that flatters their angles. That’s not fair to any gender. When I design kids, I always do my best to imagine that gendered stereotypes don’t exist, because that’s what I wish I’d have more of when growing up.

Tell us something(s) about you that people might not know…

I like gardening and planting native wildflowers in my spare time, and I’ve plowed up a lot of my lawn to plant a native prairie from seed. (It takes several years for everything to come in, but this year the black-eyed susans and tickseed are really coming into their own, and it makes me happy to look at.) The eagle-eyed (or even bat-eyed, really) can probably tell I like monarchs from this month’s illustration, but what you might not know is that I love watching those chonky caterpillars chow down on milkweed, and later seeing if I can find their chrysalis.. The very hungry caterpillar was very effective propaganda, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks Eric Carle!

Thanks for sharing with us, Sara! 

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