Friday, September 29, 2023

All Summer in a Day: The Sweet (and SHORT) Journey of a Picture Book by Patti Richards

(This is part one of a three-part series. Read part 2 here.)


I think I was in middle school when I first read Ray Bradbury’s, “All Summer in a Day.” Then I got to study it in more depth in high school and fell in love with the journey of Margot, the girl who believed that the sun was going to come out after seven years of rain, and her classmates who didn’t. When their lack of faith and what she knew was true ultimately collided, she ended up locked in the classroom closet, just as the sun came out. The children, forgetting about Margot, ran from the school building and stepped out into the most powerful light they’d ever seen. Then, almost as quickly as the sun came out, one raindrop, then another and another fell, until the clouds rolled in and the sky closed over it again. How long did all of this take you might ask? One. Single. Day.


So, what does this story have to do with my publishing journey? I’m glad you asked.


Back in 2019, I participated in a Twitter pitch party called #Faithpit. Faithpit was designed for authors who write faith-based children’s books to share their pitches in the hopes of grabbing the attention of agents and editors. As you all know, finding an agent in this business is extremely challenging. Writing for both the main stream and faith-based markets makes it even more difficult. There are very few faith-based publishers that take unsolicited manuscripts, so I knew this Twitter pitch event was a good opportunity.

I had written the first draft of a manuscript called MRS. NOAH about eight years earlier, and after many rounds of critiques and drafts, I had a picture book I was ready to submit, and the #Faithpit sounded like a good place to begin. So, I pitched!

Miracle of miracles, I got a heart for MRS. NOAH and for another manuscript. I followed the submission instructions for the interested publisher, and in a few months, I got the email offer for both books. This was in October while at a writing retreat with my critique group! What a sweet moment I got to share with my dear friends. I had the contract in my hand by Thanksgiving, and by Christmas, I had signed a two-book deal with release dates planned for 2021 and 2022. This was in late 2019. Enter 2020 and. . .




In the first few months of 2020, I received my first round of edits for MRS. NOAH. Revising is one of my favorite parts of the writing process, so I was excited to dive in. By March, both of my adult daughters were back home, and now there were four of us working from all over the house. Thankfully, I had moved my office out of the corner of the dining room into a spare bedroom, so I could shut the door and enjoy the process of seeing MRS. NOAH come to life. No matter what was going on outside, I forged ahead.


It didn’t take long until the first interior sketches hit my inbox for my feedback. I still had to stop now and then, take a breath and make myself believe this was happening. I was running around in the sun like the children in “All Summer in a Day,” enjoying every moment of this thing I had worked so hard for and waited so long to come to pass.


More. Covid.


As the year progressed, it became clear the continued shut down was having a significant impact on the publishing world. Small houses were already having trouble staying afloat. My publisher began working on new projects to help increase revenue, while we continued getting MRS. NOAH ready for her debut. By the end of 2020, we were still on track for a Fall 2021 release.


But how would things progress given the continued shutdown? Would I make the release date, or would Covid stop me in my tracks?

Tune in next month to find out. . .


Patti Richards has spent more than 30 years writing stories and telling tales. Her first fiction picture book, MRS. NOAH (Little Lamb Books, October 2021) was a Selah Award Finalist, A Northern Dawn Book Award Winner for Best First Picture Book, a Purple Dragonfly Honorable Mention Winner, and a Royal Dragonfly Honorable Mention Winner. As a freelance writer, Patti has provided content for Capstone Publishing, Red Line Editorial, the Foundations Recovery Network,, The Lookout Magazine, Worship Leader Magazine,, Metro Parent Publishing Group, and various other local, regional and national newspapers and magazines. In 2003, her article, “Timing is Everything When Treating Infertility,” (Metro Parent Magazine) won a Gold Medal Award for Special Section Within a Publication (Circulation of 55,000 or more), from Parenting Publications of America. Patti also offers professional picture book critiques. Visit her website, to learn more!  

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Writer Spotlight: Shutta Crum

Yeah, Buddy!, war stories, schmoozes, and poetry as a career: working poet, picture book and middle grade writer Shutta Crum
Charlie Barshaw coordinates our regular Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet SCBWI-MI  legend with an unusual name, poet and writer Shutta Crum.

First, your name. You were far down the line of kids, and your Dad confidently said, “We’ll name her Shutta.” And that was that. They ironed out in the hospital how to spell it, and then you spent the rest of your life explaining your name. Did I miss anything?  Did he give any of your siblings unusual names also?

My name’s pronounced: shut-ta. It is unusual. It doesn't have any nationality per se. My father's nickname was Shutta. He was the baby of 12 and I believe others were always telling him to shut-up. (He was what we call a “big talker.” Had to be as the baby. Hence, he got his nickname, sometimes shortened to Shuddy.) When I was born, I was the oldest grandchild on my mother's side of the family. So, there was a lot of arguing about who to name me after. My father cleared all that up by saying, "We'll name her Shutta." 

Crum is my maiden name. My husband's last name is Clark. I thought that was just too common to go with Shutta, so I kept my maiden name and I like it a lot. I didn't like it when I was young, because I wanted a common name like all my friends—Linda, or Debbie. But now that I'm older, I like being different. So many younger folks have unusual names these days—it fits right in. And no, none of my brothers, nor my sister have an unusual name—though most of our middle names rhyme: Kay, Gaye, and Clay.

You grew up in Kentucky in the Appalachian Mountains. Was the Trail nearby? Did you follow it very far?

I believe the trail goes past KY and through West Virginia. So, I’ve never gotten on it. But I’ve daydreamed about it!

What distinguishes, in your mind, Kentucky Storytelling?

It’s direct, funny, or horrific. And it twists and turns like the roads through the hollers down there. And no matter your age if you’ve got a tale to tell, folks will listen. I loved that as a child. Even very small children could command the attention of a circle of adults who would hear you out. Also, you gotta end your tale with these words “Yeah, buddy!” This tells the listeners that all you’ve just said is God’s truth. (HAH! And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I can sell you.)

You relied on the “oral tradition” of storytelling, because books were rare in the house. Did you find a library nearby? When did you first experience powerful storytelling in books?
Some Golden encyclopedias

We didn’t have a lot of money, but Mom brought home volumes of the Golden Encyclopedia whenever she bought a load of groceries. I believe there was a free, or almost free, vol. when you spent a certain amount. I read every one of those from cover to cover! Loved them. And I have fond memories of a dictionary I rescued from an incinerator when the school next door was burning old things from the end of the year. It had part of the “A” section missing, but we kept it and used it. In 2008 my parents died about three weeks apart. Cleaning out their house I found that dictionary. I still have it. 

So, yes! Books were very important in our home, partly because my father could not read. He’d had only about a 4th/5th grade education, and a spotty one at that. He could only attend school when the weather was bad. Otherwise, he had to stay home and work on the farm. My father realized all that he had missed, and he always insisted we attend school. And he never minded it if we were caught reading. But he was a great storyteller! (BTW: Here’s a link to an article I wrote mentioning that important dictionary and my love of thesauri titled Lexical Lust: An Ink-slinger’s Confession.)

In addition, we lived next door to our elementary school which had a library that stayed open all summer long, as there was no public library nearby. I haunted that library, reading—I think—almost every book it had. I remember thinking what a huge, wonderful resource it was.  But a few years ago, I did a school visit to my alma mater and was given a tour. I discovered that that library was now the janitor’s closet. It was small. But, oh, how big and important it was to me!

What stories from your childhood, either spoken or read, have stuck with you all these years?

This is a hard question to answer—so many. Some important, some not. But I will tell you of the importance of storytelling—a tale that involves my dad who was, as I said, a “big talker.” I was visiting Mom and Dad in their later years and Mom told me that Dad had gone to my niece’s high school history class and had talked to the students about what WWII was like. And what being a soldier was like, etc. They’d just gotten a lovely note from the teacher thanking him and saying that the kids had really enjoyed his enlightening tales of the war. I looked at Mom and said, “How could you let him do that? You know, he was never in the war.”

You see, near the end of his life Dad had Alzheimer’s and he believed a number of things that weren’t so. Three of his brothers had been in the war. But he had served in the army between WWII and Korea, missing both those wars. Mom laughed at my question, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “It’s [storytelling] what keeps him alive.”

You became a high school English teacher in Michigan. Care to talk more about your experience as a young teacher trying to wrangle your students’ attention from each other?

Hardest job in the world! Kids in the throes of puberty are dealing with so much. I only taught high school for a year. I am in awe of those folks who stay. I loved so much of it. Yet I often locked my door after the day was done, and put my head down and cried during that year. In addition, a beloved shop class teacher’s family was killed in a car accident early in the year. Later, a home economics teacher committed suicide. Many of the students were close to both those teachers. It was a year of much laughter and much anguish. Then I went on to get my master’s degree in library science at U. of M. But what a year of learning—for me!

You went on to teach creative writing at a community college. Did you get a better class of writing student when they had to pay for their classes? How was your own writing progressing while you were teaching young adults to write creatively?

First, you’re assuming the high school students I had were not “a better class” of students. They, in their own way, were wonderful! (If prickly and difficult. And some of them I loved dearly.) In teaching at a community college, you have students of all ages. And teaching the evening courses, I got a lot of older people who were going back to school for one reason or another. Very few were young adults. 

One of my favorite students was 92! He could hardly hear and had to sit next to me while I lectured or led discussions. But what a writer! Partly because he had such a wealth of experiences to draw upon; working in his grandfather’s hardware store in the 1890s, farming, being young at the turn of the century. And having been married to two women in long marriages. 

BTW: I still have one or two folks in my writing circle who were my students. I loved teaching at the community college level. And teaching writing does inform one’s own writing—always being reminded of what good writing looks like.

You were the assistant editor of a literary arts journal. Did that mean you wore all the hats, journal-role-wise?

Mostly I helped on the layout of the magazine. It was the Ann Arbor Review published out of Washtenaw Comm. College. Fifty years+ later that magazine now is solely online as the AAR2. But it was through my work on this magazine and the poetry classes I took at W.C.C. that I met my own poetry man—my husband of almost 46 years. He was an associate editor on the magazine as well.

So, librarians are kind of like a secret religious cult, right? They know what the strange codes on the spines of books mean, and they know everything, or how to get the answers to everything. Seriously, what does it take to become a librarian?
Librarian Shutta

Mostly, it took a lot of hours at the libraries at U. of M. learning how things are categorized and how indexes, etc. work before I could get my master’s degree. I still want to pick up a Yellow Pages or a print index instead of going to the computer—sigh . . .

 But the best thing is being a children’s librarian. WOW! I have a couple of decades of wonderful experiences to think about and draw upon from my years of being a librarian and working with children. How open young children are about their curiosities. 

My favorite reference question: “Just what does God do all day long?” I wrote an article for a professional librarian journal on that and another favorite question I had. It’s here if anyone is interested: God and The Swearing Book. (Twinkly hearts at this point in the interview.)

You were a librarian in Ann Arbor for years. In 2002 you won the Michigan Library Association’s Award of Merit. What did you have to do to earn that award?

I’m not sure how I won it, except that my bosses had to nominate me. By the time I’d gotten the award, my first two books were out. That may have had something to do with it. At any rate, I was eating at the awards banquet at the annual Mich. Library Assoc. conference and was about to shovel food in my mouth when it was announced. (Of course. Spit! Spit!)

You sold your first manuscript in 1999. I could look it up, but I’d rather have you describe your first picture book, and what it took to get it published.

I’d been doing storytimes at the library for years at that point. I had more than 20 manuscripts circulating, hoping to snag a publisher. And I got over 200 rejections on those manuscripts. 

Then, one day I get the call! I did what any self-respecting author does first thing—I called my mom. We squealed and jumped up and down. Anyway, that story was noted as a “retelling,” because it was loosely based on several old tales I often told to older storytime audiences. 

My book was titled “Who Took My Hairy Toe?” The funny thing was, people would ask me the title of my book once they found out that I was a published writer. And when I told them, I’d get this funny look—especially if they didn’t know I was a children’s librarian. So, there was that to contend with, at first. As to “what it took to get it published?” Lots of perseverance! I didn’t get an agent until after I’d sold my first seven books myself. So I was researching publishers and submitting a lot. Just gotta stick with it for the long haul.

Everyone wants to talk about the book with 9 ½ words (Mine). But which is your favorite picture book, so far?

I think MY MOUNTAIN SONG and MOUSELING’S WORDS are my two favorite picture books. Mainly because they are autobiographical. I often visited my grandparents in Kentucky in the summers, which is what MY MOUNTAIN SONG is based upon. And I tell folks that MOUSELING’S WORDs is my auto-mouse-ography--me as a mouse. And SPITTING IMAGE is my favorite of the novels because it brings to life so many of the loveable folks of the Appalachians of my youth.

You used to host a regular writer/friend’s get-together on your property, which may have included a barn or some other outbuilding. Sadly, I never got to go. What did I miss?
The farmhouse in winter

You missed out on a lot of fun at those “schmoozes!” We had a garage we converted into a playhouse at the farm and once every summer for about 10 years we just had a big party which always included lots of food and a writing prompt, and getting to know each other. The schmoozes are where I met so many dear writing friends for the first time. I remember those times on the farm fondly—and miss them. But we live in town now. It got fairly difficult to keep up so much property and a large pond and barns. Sigh . . .

I first really met you years ago, when we walked ten minutes from our historic Detroit hotel to the aging but still majestic Cobo Hall during the Michigan Reading Association’s spring conference. The bus was full, and Ruth (on the bus) had the easel and maybe also the giant pad of paper, because that was pre-document camera and projector.

So you, instead of waiting for the next shuttle bus, decided to walk the blocks to Cobo Hall, and I walked with you. Mostly with some misguided male belief that I’d make sure you got there. But you also knew the way, to make sure that I got there, too. What I remember is that you told me you’d recently adopted a new health regimen. Looking back at it, I am tempted to call it Shutta’s Second Act. In Save the Cat, the second act is called “fun and games.” Would “fun and games” describe your output for the last twenty years?

Hmm . . . first of all, I did stick to my health regimen, at least for a good many years. Now, I’m kind of with it on some days. But then on other days I think what the heck let’s have some more chocolate. 

But as to “fun and games,” it certainly hasn’t always been that. There are days one wants to tear one’s hair out in frustration. But I do know that no matter how difficult this whole passion for writing for young readers is, I couldn’t stop it. 

I write for all ages, in a variety of formats: board books, picture books, MG, teen novels, poetry for adults and articles for professional journals and online organizations. What fun I’d miss if I ever stopped.
Shutta at a school visit

I equate writing a picture book to playing in a sprinkler on a hot day. I can jump around, giggle, chat with friends/family nearby. It’s play. Writing a novel is more like swimming across a lake. It’s a concentrated effort that’s deeply emotional. And I never know if I’m going to make it all the way across, until I do. But I keep stroking, hoping to hit the farther shore eventually. And when I do, it’s wonderful! How could anyone give that up?

Your website has a half dozen links to poetry you wrote (Rhymes and Elephants, The Scab). You teach workshops on nocturnes and aubades. Can a working poet pay their mortgage?

Absolutely not! 

But it is fun and keeps one’s brain agile. Never give up a good-paying day job. Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, T.S. Elliot, Lucille Clifton, and Robbie Burns all had day jobs for years.

In probably your most esteemed presentation, you were invited to the 2005 Easter Egg Roll at the White House. What do you remember about that day?

Getting invited was quite the surprise! I got a phone call one morning from my publicist at Knopf and she asked, what are you doing on March 28th? I said “nothing.” She said, “How would you like to read at the White House?” Then I thought the call was a prank and I handed the phone over to my husband and said, “Listen to this. Hah!” Turns out it wasn’t a prank. Laura Bush was the First Lady and she’d been a librarian. 
Not the White House event,
But Bravest of the Brave

Also, the book they wanted me to read was BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE, my book about a brave little skunk making his way through the forest. At that time, we were in the middle of the Iraq War and so there was a lot of emphasis on the bravery of our troops. Anyway, I went. 

Unfortunately, the weather was horrible. Lightning, storms. They had to call off the Easter Egg Roll, though some families had spent a rainy night waiting in line. I did get a lovely trip to Washington D.C. out of it, as well as breakfast in the White House where I actually used one of the restrooms (!), a number of good photo ops with the other writers (which included Mo Willems, Janet Stevens and Doreen Cronin), and some lovely gifts. However, I did not get to read on the outside stages due to the weather.

In 2010 you toured the Department of Defense military base schools across Japan. Was this your first visit to Japan? What were the military base schools in Japan like? Does one of the bases stand out in your recollections?

Yes. It was my first, and only, trip there—so far. It was also another surprise invitation! I simply got an email one day with the subject heading of: “Do you see Japan in your future?” Well, no, I thought at the time. It turns out a resource teacher for the Dept. of Defense had used one of my teaching articles (I also write a lot of professional articles.) and wanted me to come to Japan to present to students and teachers. I did—my hubby tagged along. What an experience! For a whole month we traveled around the country visiting schools at various bases. 11 or 12 bases in all, if I remember correctly. Evenings and weekends I had off, plus some extra time at the end. (My husband had the whole month to tour freely.) Just lovely.

The kids are all Americans, so no language problems. And their system is great! Because the military knows where everyone is at all times, no child falls between the cracks. No child is “left behind.” And the schools all had state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment. For teachers there was a certain freedom because they did not have to teach to the test—since it is federal and not state-run, there is no state-run testing required. The teachers loved teaching creatively and the students seemed to like being there.

I was impressed with how orderly and clean the country was, and how wonderful the schools were.

No one particular base stood out, except that the one in Yokohama was huge! About 1,200 elementary age students in five buildings. There were very few high school students as one can “retire” from the military after twenty years. So, most of the families only had young children.

Two personal highlights: visiting the country’s oldest
Kabuki theater
Kabuki theater where we sat on the floor and didn’t understand a word but laughed heartily, and luxuriating in a Japanese bath house. Wow! Also, we were there at cherry blossom time. We couldn’t have scheduled it better!

June 27, 2023 is the book birthday for two picture books, Grandpa Heaven and Grandma Heaven, written by you and illustrated by Ruth McNally Barshaw. (Full disclosure: she’s my wife, but I still think her art is marvelous.) What did it take to make these whimsical ideas about a wacky, comforting afterlife appear in book-form?

It took a lot of patience!!! I knew they were good manuscripts, but they did not sell for about ten/eleven years ago. I had read Cynthia Rylant’s Cat Heaven and Dog Heaven and loved both those books. Then, one day while snuggling with my 4-year-old granddaughter she suddenly asked, “Are you going to die?” I told her not for a long, long time. That seemed to satisfy her, and we went back to snuggling. (Though she did comment that she was never going to die, and “not mommy.”) I’m not sure what precipitated that question, but it got me thinking about young worriers who might wonder where do dead loved ones go. Don’t we all wonder that? 

The reason it took years and years to sell these companion manuscripts, is they’re not exactly classroom books, nor story-time books. They are books that are needed, but they probably aren’t going to be best-sellers for a large publishing house.

But I have to say that this was the most collaborative experience I’ve had in my 20+ years of getting books published—and the most fun. Because the manuscripts ended up getting taken by a small publishing company out of Arizona (Lawley), they allowed me input into who should illustrate. And since the action takes place in heaven I felt there needed to be lots of white space. I could envision
Quentin Blake-style
by Quentin Blake

Quentin Blake
-ish dancy figures against all that white. So, of course, Ruth McNally Barshaw came to mind. I love how she draws people--all curvy, all oozing with love. As soon as they saw Ruth’s website, it was a resounding YES!

So, I was able to work with one of my dearest friends! Also, Lawley has a policy of collaborative work. They wanted, and set up, several zoom meetings with Ruth, the art director, the editor and me—all together to talk through how we saw the book developing. Believe me, that doesn’t happen with the big NY companies! I know from experience. This was heavenly. (Pun intended.) 

I got to see Ruth’s artwork at several stages. It was a lot for her to handle—two books at once. But I had faith in her, and I adore the results. I’ve also worked closely with the Spanish translator. The Spanish edition will come out next January. The nice thing about working with a small publisher like Lawley is that they kept us informed all along the way. I really enjoyed the making of these two books.

So, what’s next, Shutta?

Well, the paperback editions of Grandma Heaven and Grandpa Heaven come out in September. And the Spanish editions in January of 24. I will also have a new poetry book coming out early in 2024 with Kelsay Books. It’s tentatively titled MEET YOU OUT THERE to go along with my other “traveling” titles WHEN YOU GET HERE, and THE WAY TO THE RIVER. I guess, since so much about life and poetry concerns traveling through our days it makes sense. 

As far as children’s books go, I don’t have any more under contract, though I have had a verbal offer and am still waiting for the contract. I’m not sure about the publication date of that one. Info about my books is available at

And, of course, I continue to write new poems and work on new manuscripts for young readers. I LOVE all the ways today’s writers can approach a subject and use the page. BOOM! It’s like one’s mind is exploding with all that is happening in books for young readers and in poetry today. It’s just so exciting!

Please include any social media contact you wish to share.

twitter: @Shutta

Monday, September 18, 2023

Little Free Library Day

It’s September!

I love Autumn, don’t you? This time of year always reminds me of change: changing seasons, colors, and wardrobes too. For some, it may be the beginning of that time we take to reflect upon our experiences, goals, and accomplishments, as the end of the year scoots a bit closer than we’d like.

For members of SCBWI, our reflections often have much to do with children—our own, those in our families, our communities, and of course—those wonderful children we create books for! With that in mind, the Equity and Inclusion Team is happy to announce an exciting community event planned for September 30th. EVERYONE is invited to join us, but we particularly ask our Michigan SCBWI members to support us and participate.

On Saturday, September 30, 2023, we will celebrate the very first Little Free Library Day!

I’m sure you’re familiar with those unique little library stands scattered throughout our neighborhoods and communities. Some look like mailboxes, some like birdhouses, and others are over-the-top creative! What they all have in common is their purpose, which is to share the gift of books. Readers can borrow a book and return it for someone else to enjoy. Anyone can donate.

We’re asking you to join us in spreading love, literacy, and diversity! We are committed to every child being represented and seeing themselves in the books they read. Diversity truly matters.

Here’s how you can get in on the fun!

  • Purchase a children’s book that features main characters who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) or those from another underrepresented group (or donate one of your own). Here’s a list of recommended books you can choose from: SCBWI-MI Resource List (diverse books)
  • Find a Little Free Library in your community.
  • Take a selfie or quick video (30 seconds or less) when you drop off your donation. Have fun with it! Big smiles, happy poses, and even a little dancing would be very cool!
  • Post your picture or Reel on INSTAGRAM, FACEBOOK, or other social media platforms. TAG us @SCBWI_michigan and the Little Free Library organization @littlefreelibrary. They are as excited as we are! Use our HASHTAGS below:

#SCBWImichigan      #SCBWI                     #diversebooksforkids #littlefreelibrary         #diversebooksmatter  #weneeddiversebooks


Thank you for your support! Let’s help ensure that all children can find themselves and lose themselves in the wonders of a book.

E&I Team, SCBWI-Michigan Chapter

Naomi V. Dunsen-White, Chairperson


Naomi V. Dunsen-White is an award-winning, independent children’s book author writes books that promote diversity, uplift self-esteem, and inspire discovery of one’s purpose. Naomi has a passion for closing the diversity gap in the children’s book industry and believes all children deserve to have books with characters who look like them and stories that positively represent a world to which they can relate. She also believes that all children have a gift within, just waiting to be discovered. It’s up to us, the adults in their lives, to help them discover it.


Naomi is also an editor, writing development coach, and author coach. She takes great pride in amplifying diverse voices and helping others fulfill their dreams of becoming published authors, leaving a legacy for the next generation. Understanding that the published word is a gift that lasts forever, she prepares her clients to make an impact by building a following for their books and a business from their message. From children’s books to non-fiction to memoirs, Naomi’s clients come from all walks of life, yet have one thing in common: they have found their purpose in the power of their pens.


Naomi serves as Vice President of LiteracyNation, Inc., a nonprofit organization and Affiliate of the American Library Association (ALA). Promoting diversity and equity in literacy, they bridge the gap between independent authors and the library community. She serves as Chairperson of the Equity and Inclusion Team for The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Michigan Chapter, is a member of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and the Editorial Freelancer’s Association. 

Friday, September 15, 2023

For National Latinx & Hispanic Heritage Month: An Introduction to Las Musas! by Isabel Estrada O'Hagin


In late August I received the thrilling news that I was accepted into Las Musas. Why was I so excited? I’d been fortunate to have met many wonderful people in SCBWI Michigan these past years, but I didn’t cross paths with many other Latinx KidLit creators (although many members of Las Musas are also members of SCBWI). As a writer, I needed that connection and now I’m meeting many Latinx writers, several who are debut authors as well.

What is Las Musas? (The Muses) Las Musas is the “first collective of Latinx women and otherwise marginalized people whose gender identity aligns with femininity, writing and/or illustrating in traditional children's literature who have to come together in an effort to support and amplify each other’s debut or sophomore novels in US children’s literature.”

As posted on our website: Our mission is “to spotlight the contribution of Las Musas in the evolving canon of children's literature and celebrate the diversity of voice, experience, and power in our communities.”

Las Musas debuted in 2018 with 12 women and now boasts 100+ members. Our Latinx community includes a vast and diverse group of people with cultural ties to Latin America. “We are not one voice, but many.”

In addition to this dynamic advocacy and the support offered to debut authors, I find the idea of being a part of a collective attractive. Too many organizations seem to be top-down hierarchal power structures where decisions are made at the top. The possibility of having my efforts make a difference beyond being a volunteer is energizing. Each Las Musas member is asked to serve on one or two teams to remain active. We--and only us--are the ones who make the various benefits of membership and programs offered thrive. We are challenged with this ideal that WE ARE the organization, and it will only be as strong as our individual efforts toward keeping the collective strong.


In Las Musas, decisions are made by the group: As a collective, Las Musas works with a close-to-consensus ideal as we can get. If a new venture or sponsorship is proposed it must be voted on. Similarly, anything that proposes a change to standards, voting, or membership acceptance must also be brought to a vote.


The benefits of being a part of Las Musas are many. There’s the Las Musas website with 1000+ visitors a week. Active debuts/sophomores have their own author page featuring their book and bio. They are active on social media, sponsor a newsletter, have a professional Canva account open to all members, organize panels/workshops/virtual events, help with school visits, host a podcast and book club, and collaborate with the Latinx KidLit Book Festival, a virtual celebration of Latinx KidLit books, authors, and illustrators.


This year’s LKBF’s free workshops and presentations are truly amazing (You can also access previous LKBF’s presentations on YouTube.). Find information about this year’s Festival Schedule at:


You can join LIVE from your classroom, library or home for FESTIVAL FRIDAYS starting September 22nd through October 13th! Meet your favorite Latinx creators of picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, poetry, comic books and graphic novels! 


Enjoy four Fridays (September 22, September 29, October 6, and October 13) of creative language arts and visual arts content for students of all ages. In addition, there are Educators’ Nights and Writers’ Nights that begin Sept. 20.


Special note: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor opens the LKBF with a discussion of her NYT bestselling children’s books! She joins Rafael Lopez and Angela Dominguez on panel to discuss their series: How to Build a Better World, September 22, 11 a.m. ET


You, too, SCBWI-M­­I, can help support the work of Latinx KidLit creators by purchasing our books, asking your local library to order our books, and by checking them out! You can support us through social media as well. We have room for all of our stories, and strong alliances will help lift every single voice in solidarity to better provide a broader understanding of Latinx diversity to young readers.


*Las Musas Books website:

Instagram: #lasmusasbooks

               Facebook: Las Musas Books


Latinx KidLit Book Festival

Instagram: @latinxkidlitbf  #lkbf23

Facebook: Latinx KidLit Book Festival

Isabel Estrada O'Hagin 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!


Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Book Birthday Blog with Dana VanderLugt



Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Dana VanderLugt on the release of Enemies in the Orchard


Congratulations on your debut novel! The book is based on stories passed down in your family. Tell us more about what inspired you to write the book.

Thank you! My grandfather managed a Michigan apple orchard for most of his life. I grew up calling it Grandpa’s Orchard, though technically the two hundred acres of apples never belonged to our family. My dad and his siblings were raised on that farm, and in many ways, I was too. While in an undergraduate creative nonfiction class more than two decades ago, I interviewed my dad about our family orchard and he told me a story: that during the Second World War, a decade before Grandpa and his young family came to live on the farm, German prisoners had been hired to help pick that fall’s crop of apples.
While the original college essay I wrote only included one paragraph about the POWs, my dad’s story planted a seed in my mind, and in 2019, while enrolled in an MFA program, I began researching more intensively and found that here in Michigan, 32 base camps housed German soldiers — some of whom were still teenagers — plucked out of war and in many ways, saved by being captured. I had intended to just write only 20 pages for a writers workshop assignment, but knew almost as soon as I started drafting that I’d need to write this novel. The main characters, Claire and Karl, were immediately real and vivid in my mind. 

What was the most difficult part of writing the book?

Writing in verse was one of my favorite parts of this project, but also challenging. When I first begun, I was incredibly lucky to be assigned to work with author (and SCBWI member!) Lesléa Newman, and she was honest that if I was going to write in verse, my poetry had to get stronger. I worked hard to make sure every word counted and to be sure the book is lyrical, emotionally layered, and carefully crafted.
When I taught middle school English, I often was able to sway readers to try a novel-in-verse because all the white space alleviated some pressure for them. For me as writer, I wanted to make sure every bit of text earned its space on the page. 

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

In my acknowledgements, I write that the students I was entrusted with over the years as a middle school teacher sat on my shoulder as I wrote this novel, and my hope for my readers is the same hope I had for those students when they picked up a book: that it would move them to think more deeply.
This is a book about World War II on the American home front, but more than that, it’s about empathy, grief, and forgiveness. It’s about looking past assumptions and stereotypes to understand people’s stories and wrestling with one’s own
mistakes and shame. And it’s about the realization that there are no real winners when it comes to war.

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

I hope to see fellow SCBWI members at my book launch on September 12 at 6:30 p.m. at Schuler Books in Grand Rapids! I’m also looking forward to school visits this fall, as well as events at libraries, bookstores, and Michigan orchards and wineries, such as Anderson & Girls in Stanton and Bos Wine in Elk Rapids. While my book is a middle grade book, I expect to have a lot of adult readers, as well, especially due to the Michigan history connection. Events are added to my website as I book them.

The book is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or any online retailer, though I would love readers to support their local, independent bookstores.

What's next for you? 

In my day job as a literacy consultant, I’ve been working on some guest blogs and articles for youth literacy sites. I also contribute to the Reformed Journal as a blogger. I'm beginning to explore the possibility of a companion novel to Enemies in the Orchard, and hopeful that research will propel me forward as it did with this novel.

Thank you for the chance to share about my book and journey! I'm looking forward to hearing from readers, and encourage any SCBWI members to reach out to me anytime. I'm always happy to talk about writing, publishing, and youth literacy!

More about the book . . . 

It’s October 1944, and while Claire’s older brother, Danny, is off fighting in World War II, her dad hires a group of German POWs to help with the apple harvest on their farm. Claire wants nothing to do with the enemies in the orchard, until she meets soft-spoken, hardworking Karl. Could she possibly have something in common with a German soldier?

Karl, meanwhile, grapples with his role in the war as he realizes how many lies Hitler’s regime has spread—and his complacency in not standing up against them. But his encounters with Claire give him hope that he can change and become the person he wants to be.

Inspired by the little-known history of POW labor camps in the United States, this lyrical verse novel is told in alternating first-person poems by two young people on opposite sides of the war. Against a vivid backdrop of home front tensions and daily life, intimate entries reveal Claire’s and Karl's hopes and struggles, and their growing friendship even as the war rages on. What are their chances of connection, of redemption, of peace?

Publisher: Zonderkidz

More about the author . . .  

Dana VanderLugt is a writer and teacher who believes firmly in the power of stories to change hearts and minds. She descends from a family of apple growers in Michigan, where she lives with her husband, three sons, and a spoiled golden retriever. And yes, she makes a mean apple pie.




Twitter: Danavanderlugt




Sunday, September 10, 2023

Book Birthday Blog with Mimi Olson


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Mimi Olson on the release of Middle School is No Place for Magic


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

Several years ago, my husband and I took our daughter to a magic show at a summer festival. The magician had his young son in the show, acting as his assistant. That ignited my imagination. I couldn’t help but envision what it might be like to:

a. Have a dad who’s a magician,
b. Grow up helping in the magic business, and,
c. Enter middle school, a time when the smallest things can be mortifying. 

To be that age and have to perform, possibly in front of your peers…my brain was buzzing. 

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

I hope my middle grade readers will see that they can and should express themselves, whether that is about heavy expectations, worries, or other issues they need help with. I also think the novel shows a realistic vision of what life is like for a middle schooler today, through the trials and joys of being that age. Lastly, I hope they see a character who leans on his friends, grows, and chooses to be brave. 

What inspires you to write? 

The literary heroes that I grew up reading (and my current favorites) inspire me: Judy Blume, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Maya Angelou, John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison, Kate DiCamillo, Shutta Crum, and so many more. The books I’ve read over the years have shaped me in so many ways. I grew up in a village of 800 people and books helped me see life through other’s eyes and glimpse new worlds. Books have always felt like friends to me. That is what I hope my writing will do, in some small way. And since I was very young, I’ve processed the world through writing, which often feels like joy. There are certainly times that have been difficult in my 20-year journey to become an author. Looking back, though, I appreciate all the direction, critique, and encouragement I’ve received from many people. Being published at this time in my life has the bonus of getting to experience this thrill with my daughter, who is 19. Every revision, and rejection, has been worth it! 

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

Primarily, I’m planning to launch a “grassroots” marketing campaign visiting middle school classrooms virtually to give my Short Story/Author Talk Workshop. The workshop is geared toward encouraging middle schoolers to write their own fiction. I was able to pilot the workshop earlier this year with three sixth grade classes in Columbus, Ohio, and it is the best thing I’ve experienced since starting this publishing journey. I love connecting with youth and was delighted to hear from the teacher that they have since been very engaged in writing their own stories.
Other plans include:

An in-person book tour to various areas of Michigan and the Chicago area. 

I was fortunate to find the very magician who inspired this novel, Boyer the Magic Guy! Jeff Boyer has been a consultant on my novel and we are developing a middle school assembly that will be a combination author talk and magic show.

I've been building my social media presence and will be sending out press releases, flyering, and attending as many book fairs and conferences as possible.

Fifth Avenue Press is hosting a Book Launch Party for their 2023 authors during this year’s Ann Arbor Community Bookfest (formerly Kerrytown Bookfest) at the district’s downtown library Sunday, Sept. 10th from 1-2 p.m. I’m also hosting a Zoom Book Launch Party Sept. 9th (email for more information).

I have recruited a Book Launch Team to assist with publicity and provide reviews.

What's next for you?

I wrote a novel that’s been through many revisions before I started working on this one and, a few years ago, I decided to set it aside. Knowing what I do now about craft, I am going to complete another revision and start querying agents. I’m also working on the outline for a sequel to this novel titled High School’s No Joke. The main character of the sequel is introduced in the last chapter of Middle School is No Place for Magic, so the setting (Ann Arbor) will be the same and many of the characters will be reappearing. Having so much support from Fifth Avenue Press, my writing community, family, and friends through this publishing process has motivated me to move forward!

More about the book . . .

Eighth grader, Jay, has been his dad’s magician’s assistant for the last five years. He mastered spoon-bending by the age of eight, silk tricks by ten, and has become a talented cardician. But no matter how fun it used to be when he was younger, being in the family show business is growing OLD!
Jay wants to try out for the basketball team and spend more time with his friends. He wants to be his own person. However, with so much weighing on his family - his parent’s talk of separation, his grandpa’s bad health, money struggles – the last thing Jay wants to do is disappoint the people he loves.
The clock starts ticking when his dad signs them up to perform their magic act at his school’s talent show. Will Jay find the courage to speak his mind, or will he end up being the laughingstock of Barrington Middle School?
Sometimes, Jay wishes he could disappear for real!

Publisher: Fifth Avenue Press

The book will be listed with IngramSpark, Amazon, and Goodreads.

More about the author . . .

Melissa Cunningham is an award-winning writer, recipient of the Bear River Writers’ Merit Scholarship and recognized as Highlights Magazine’s Author of the Month. A former journalist and communications specialist, Melissa has been writing professionally for 30+ years. Publications include pieces in Metro Parent, Jack and Jill, High Five Magazine, Pulse and Highlights. Melissa lives in Ann Arbor with her husband, daughter, and two very spoiled cats. Middle School is No Place for Magic is her debut novel.

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