Monday, October 30, 2023

Book Birthday Blog with Shona Darin


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Shona Darin on the release of If I Lived. . .On A Farm!


What was the inspiration for your book?

Without sounding cliche, my inspiration to write books came from my sons. Covid no doubt wreaked havoc on all of our lives, but amongst the chaos of being home with my sons, I reignited my love for creative writing during this time. My sons have an unwavering love and curiosity for all animals. Our favorite adventure is always to visit the many wonderful farms that surround us in Metro Detroit.  From one of our first visits the conversation of imagining what it would be like to live on a farm started. As we further discussed each of our favorite farm animals, and the traits they possessed, we realized the unique purpose that they each bear. Thus, the idea of If I Lived…On A Farm! was born.

What was the most difficult part of writing the book? 

The most difficult part of producing a book was the notion of self-doubt. Will anyone like my story? Will I stand out in an over-saturated market? What makes this book special? Since I am not a writer by trade, but more so a writer by hobby, I had to dig deep to believe in myself and the story I was writing. I took a leap of faith, in an industry that I had much to still learn about and have never looked back. I decided that if I only ever sold one copy, then at the very least, I would have this example of passion and self-efficacy to pass down to my children.

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

My book is lighthearted and has a subtle message to our young readers that encourages self-acceptance of both their physical and personality traits. My hope is that all children can see the beauty and uniqueness that they all possess. We often strive to look or be like someone else, without realizing how special we are in our own skin. I sign each of my books with “Always stay true to being you.”

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

My book can be purchased on my personal website, Instagram/Facebook shop page and larger online stores including Amazon, Target, Walmart and Barnes and Noble. I will be collaborating with local kid friendly farms this fall and spring throughout Michigan for story times and themed festivities.

What's next for you? 

This is my second book, of what I hope to be many more! My plan is to continue to self-publish short rhyming books that promote positivity and self-acceptance in a kid- digestible format. I will continue to visit as many local schools as possible to tell my story and inspire young readers through literature.



More about the book . . . 

A horse? A cow?
A pig that lives care-free?
If you could live on a farm for one day,
Which animal would you be?
Discover through rhyme popular farm animals and the traits that make them unique.
Similar to humankind, we learn that it is the distinct talents of each animal that all lend to a thriving and happy community farm. 

Publisher: Library on Linwood

More about the author . . .  

"Library on Linwood" was completely fueled by my admiration for both of my son's imagination and love for reading. They had an intrigue to learn more about animals that was unstoppable. As a stay-at-home mum, I spent hours educating, learning, understanding and enjoying their newfound love of both animals and literature. Before I knew it, I started writing short rhyming stories about animals as my own creative outlet. This hobby soon snowballed into a passion project which I am now so excited to share with the world. With roots in Manchester, England combined with our local Michigan community, I look forward to reaching all young readers globally.


Instagram @libraryonlinwood

Facebook @libraryonlinwood




Friday, October 27, 2023

Hugs and Hurrahs

 It's time to celebrate our MichKids friends and colleagues!Welcome to this quarter's edition of Hugs and Hurrahs!

Wendy BooydeGraaff's short story, "The Michigan Triangle" is being published in the  The Haunted States of America, a  middle grade horror anthology with stories from each state in collaboration with SCBWI and illustrated by Solomon Hughes.  It'll be out July 2024. 
Way to represent Michigan, Wendy!

Patti Richards recently sold a poem, Snow Quiet, to Highlights High Five Magazine. She's also happy to announce that her picture book manuscript, IDA PLUCK'S CLUCK took 8th place in this year's Writer's Digest Fiction Contest in the Children's/YA category. 

Congratulations, Patti!

Molly David's first picture book, My Mischievous Wheelchair, has just been released and earned a 5-star review from Reader's Favorite.

Well done, Molly!

Joe Kimble has published another Mr. Mouthful book—this one called Mr. Mouthful and the Monkeynappers. The main character is back with his highfalutin talk that creates comical scenes with kids. Then his hotshot monkey, Dupree, goes on a romp and gets into big trouble—only to have kids once again come to the rescue. Joe is hoping, naturally, that this new book receives the same positive reaction that the first one did—from reviewers and readers.

Way to go, Joe!

Lauren Ranalli's fourth children's book, Snow Day at the Zoo is now available!

What happens when the zookeeper's children are snowed in with their favorite animals? Find out in this wonderful winter adventure!

Congratulations, Lauren!

In August, Paulette Sharkey’s picture book, A Doll for Grandma (Beaming Books, 2020), was selected by United Through Reading for their recommended book list. The organization ( provides deployed military service members with the opportunity to record themselves reading a book of their choice to their child, and the child then receives a free copy of the book to read along with the storytime recording.
That's wonderful, Molly!

Look for the next request for submissions in your email, but please feel free to submit all your KidLit publishing news to Alison Hodgson at any time.  Enjoy the rest of fall here in beautiful Michigan!

Friday, October 20, 2023

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

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


At the end of our first installment, I left you wondering, “Will the continued Covid shutdown mess with Patti’s release date? Will MRS. NOAH ever leave the dock? (see what I did there?), and does poor Margot ever get out of that closet?” Let’s find out!


Part 2


Story time at Baker Book House
in Grand Rapids

First raindrops fall.


For those of you who have been through the process of publishing a book, you know that just about anything can happen after the ink dries on a contract. Illustrators walk away, release dates change, marketing plans and budgets (if there are any) get reduced or eliminated. I knew this, and hoped none of it would be the case for my book.


First Week on Amazon!

But before we could get to release day, my editor left. Then the release date got pushed back, and we learned things weren’t improving for the publisher. But hey, I had a book coming out! I still believed that with a strong showing from MRS. NOAH and the publisher’s other fall releases, they would survive a little while longer. Their internal struggles also meant I was on my own when it came to planning release events. I’d helped so many others along the way get the word out about their books, I was not daunted. Head down. Swim on!

Then, on October 28, 2021, MRS. NOAH was born! She was the number 1 new release on Amazon for her category for several days, and she stayed in the top 100 in her category almost the entire time she was available. I was so excited!  


Diving In!

On the shelf
at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids

By the end of 2021, my fellow authors and I heard from the publisher. They were going to be doing a major restructuring of the company starting in 2022. When January rolled around, my publisher got sick with Covid. This, combined with their business woes, caused the marketing help promised in my contract to evaporate. What did that mean for MRS. NOAH? I needed to keep her strong start going.


So, I became a Canva expert and created engaging social media content to get the word out about my book. I researched contests, made a list of the ones I wanted to enter and how many books I’d need to make that happen. I ordered books from Amazon because I hadn’t received my author copies. I had done a blog tour the week the book released, so I put all of my energy into giveaways, holiday-themed Canva posts and the contests I mentioned above. I learned about organizations in the faith-based community and joined them. I bought more books and mailed out press kits to local and national bookstores. I blogged in places I’d never blogged before, and MRS. NOAH kept on sailing. I attended book-selling events that I never knew existed, and I got to do a couple of story times in places I wasn’t expecting. By the summer of 2022, MRS. NOAH was in several brick-and-mortar bookstores, and on her first birthday (which I celebrated on social media), I got to see MRS. NOAH on the shelf of our local public library. All of my efforts seemed to be paying off. But. . .


On the shelf at the 
Farmington Community Library

Cue Storm Clouds


During the summer of 2022, I received a letter from my publisher releasing the rights to my second book back to me. I no longer had a second book coming out. We still held out hope that with a plan to reduce the number of titles the publisher produced each year they would remain in business. But that was not to be. On December 31, 2022, one year and two months after MRS. NOAH’s release, my publisher was done.


But was this the end? What, if anything, was next for MRS. NOAH? Come back 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!  

Friday, October 13, 2023

Attendees Remember the 2013 Conference

Gothic vibes, shushing nuns, tai chi in the gardens, and shaking up picture books: The 2013 Conference in their own words

by Charlie Barshaw 

This is the second in a series of articles. You can read part 1 here.

Let’s go back in time 10 years. Where were you in your kid’s book writing journey in October, 2013?

Dave Stricklen: Two hardcover books written in the Blackwater Pond Series.

Julie Angeli (left) and Heather Meloche
photo from Heather

Julie Angeli:
I think I was trying to put the finishing touches on my humorous middle-grade science fiction novel.

Isabel Estrada O’Hagin: I had just begun my journey as a writer. This conference allowed me to meet with my first-ever critique group. All I had were a couple of scenes from my new novel (in my head), and I shared them with my assigned group. We've stuck together since that conference. (And I learned it's not a good idea to start your story with a car ride or a dream/flashback.)

Leslie Helakoski: I had several books published by 2013—Big Chickens, Big Chickens Fly the Coop, Big Chickens Go to Town, Woolbur, and Fair Cow. I had just finished the artwork for Big Pigs in summer of 2013.

Kris Remenar: At this point, I had a contract with Charlesbridge for GROUNDHOG’S DILEMMA but I didn’t have any traditionally published books yet.

Amy Spitzley: My first novel was published in 2013. I believe I had copies for sale at that conference. I remember putting them on the table and being all proud of myself.



Group photo of the 2013 conference
by Deborah Halverson


Why did you decide to attend this conference?

Dave Stricklen: It was my second conference right after the big multi state conference in Fort Wayne (I believe). I made no meaningful connections at the large conference and decide to try a small conference before throwing in the towel.

Julie Angeli: I was interested in speaking to Deborah Halverson

Heather Meloche: I usually attended conferences after conferring with my writing bestie, Julie Angeli. We both like our weekend writing retreats away from other distractions.

Isabel Estrada O’Hagin: It was near enough to Lansing/Williamston where I lived at that time--an easy ride. Also, a new writing friend agreed to be my roommate so I felt I could make it work.

Leslie Helakoski: I was Regional Advisor at that point with Monica Harris and we wouldn’t miss a conference if we could help it, no matter what.

Kris Remenar: I’d been attending SCBWI-MI conferences regularly since 2000 and I was eager for this soul-enriching time with my writer/illustrator friends. Plus, Audrey Vernick was speaking and I was a huge fan of hers!

Amy Spitzley: I honestly can’t remember. Seemed like a good idea on the promotional end, I guess.


Ten years is a long time, but what do you remember about the venue? Did anyone ever find the fabled maze?

Dave Stricklen: At night it was dark…I mean dark like looking into a black piece of paper. I was expecting a maze like in “The Shining”. However, it was mowed sections of grass where you were supposed to ponder life and not speak.

Julie Angeli: I remember it being very spartan but comfortable.


Leslie Helakoski
: I remember the fall colors being beautiful on the grounds.

Isabel Estrad O’Hagin: Yes, I found the labyrinth. Really cool, but I remember it was a weedy patch. The grounds were a bonus. I remember seeing Diana Magnuson doing her tai chi movements in the garden.

The rooms were austere as were the dining hall digs. I recall (amiright?) that the nuns ate on one side of the hall. I slipped into the sanctuary and got a good gothic vibe--almost spooky in its stained glass shadows. The moment inspired some creative writing--I used that passage in my Haunted States short story submission two years ago!  I recall the crammed room where we made collages, storyboards, etc. I also remember the room in the basement (I think???) where Deborah and Audrey spoke to us.

Kris Remenar: I remember the nuns. And the food. Oy. (Asked to explain Oy): The food was definitely basic and we were discouraged from taking too much

Amy Spitzley: I feel like there was a small maze out back? I did go out exploring with my roommate instead of attending a session. She was nice and I totally forgot her name now. I remember finding some walking paths and that was what I needed much more than being inside. Introverts. What can you do?

We had Deborah Halverson and Audrey Vernick as the two cross-track presenters, both middle-grade and picture book. Anything that sticks with you about the writing lessons?

Another group shot
by Deborah Halverson

Dave Stricklen:
Deborah had written a book about a hot dog eating contest. It gave me the Idea to find the weirdest contest in the world and wrap a plot around it so tightly that winning the contest was the most important thing in the world. Years later I wrote my KIRKUS recommended (on the “Great Indie Books Worth Discovering” list) MG book “Ripley Robinson and The Worm Charmer”.

Julie Angeli: I don’t remember the writing lessons, but I do remember my conversation with Deborah and her encouraging words and suggestions regarding my pages.

Isabel Estrada O’Hagin: Mostly, Deborah. Probably because I was solely focused on middle grade novels at that time. I caught every word she said and bought her book the next week. She walked us through so many examples of not-so-good-writing and how to transform the excerpt. I could go on and on, but for some reason a lot of her writing exercises and examples have stayed with me: to watch out for redundancies, cliches, dialogue tags, efficiency, etc., but mostly how to make your writing stronger! I remember she had a thing about overuse of italics.

Leslie Helakoski: I remember Audrey talking about shaking up the standard picture book structure which still sometimes comes to mind when I feel bogged down in a familiar pattern.

Do you remember any of the other attendees?

Dave Stricklen: I was VERY impressed with Carrie, Leslie, Anita, Charlie, Ruth and Lisa.

Julie Angeli: I remember a few of the people from my breakout critique session who I still see from time to time at events.

Isabel Estrada O’Hagin: Yes! My first-ever critique group (four other women, including Pat Trattles! ) who have stayed together since that conference. My roommate, Angie Verges. The Lansing Meet-Up group who attended that weekend. I met Dave Stricklen for the first time. Leslie and Carrie!

Leslie Helakoski: Pat Trattles, Ruth Barshaw, Marty Graham.


Kris Remenar
: Anita Pazner made me snort-laugh with her inappropriate humor and I fell madly in love with her! David Krzisnick got us all giggling during mealtimes.

Amy Spitzley: My roommate was nice. I can’t remember her name! I knew other people, but I can’t remember which other people. For some reason my brain is mushing this together with the Mackinac Island conference.

Any particular nun memories?

Dave Stricklen: One of them shushed me for talking while walking in the maze.

Isabel Estrada O’Hagin: No--just one-too-many stern looks. They didn't seem too happy we were in their space.

(However, I found an old email from Isabel, where she wrote):It was cool to be with the nuns.  On my final elevator ride, I told a group of them (sorry, can't help it--a group of wispy thistle heads slightly bent over) that they would soon enjoy peace and quiet again. One of them looked at me with a mischievous grin, and raised an eyebrow, "Oh, so that's what you think goes around here?"  We laughed.  It was a perfect moment.  There's a story there. . . . the nuns' ---------? 
(fill-in the blank: adventures, escapades. . .)

Kris Remenar: Just felt a lot of judgmental stares in the cafeteria.

Amy Spitzley: I saw one in the elevator and she was really nice. I have to say, it was a little weird for me. I’m agnostic and was raised that way, but my parents were both fallen Catholics who had been a nun and a priest! So I kept thinking of my mom, which probably wasn’t the experience anyone else had.


Do you remember any of the extracurricular activities?

Dave Stricklen: It was Halloween and we had a crazy hat contest. I went all in with my steam punk 150 year old coat, hat, buckle boots etc. Also, we had an exercise that involved to making a book collage (I still have mine).

Dave's collage

Julie Angeli: No. Though I do remember spending a ridiculous amount of time making a hat using an old baseball cap, magazine clippings, and Mod Podge prior to the conference. Possibly the least comfortable hat I’ve ever worn, but I still have it.

Isabel Estrada O’Hagin: The post-it compliments shared in one of the last sessions. Sort of an open-mic session. Those who volunteered to read were showered with notes from everyone else in attendance. I read a scene. The feedback was very meaningful and encouraging.  I remember the art activities and a counter full of snacks. I recall making a collage of sorts -- something about our book cover. Was there something about hats? I don't recall making or bringing a hat, but some people wore them.

Dave's hat

Leslie Helakoski: I remember the costumes and Dave in his top hat. I think we had some kind of cut out paper activity.

Amy Spitzley: I remember something about hats or something we were encouraged to wear. I don’t think I went along with it!




What has transpired in your dreams and your realities since then?

Dave Stricklen: I have several more books out. I have become a seasoned school presenter and seem to have a knack for large book sales.  School visits seem to be in my wheelhouse.  I also learned that I have an aptitude for 3D reverse perspective painting and have won several contests. I am surprised as anyone…still hard to call myself an artist…but I am working on it.

Julie Angeli: My middle-grade novel never did anything (still considering self-pub), but I did manage sell a 3-part story to Cricket. Also, I recently had a non-fiction story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul about the first time I swam with a mermaid tail.

Isabel Estrada O’Hagin: 2023 -- ten years later -- and my first book is published! Yay! As a ten-year veteran, I'm happy to know many more writers and illustrators who continue to amaze me! And--can't say it enough--our critique group has stayed together since that conference so there's magic there!

LeslieHelakoski: I’ve continued to publish picture books and be part of SCBWI.

Kris Remenar: Since then, I’ve published GROUNDHOG’S DILEMMA and DRAW WITH A VENGEANCE. SQUIRREL NEEDS A BREAK will be published by Charlesbridge in May, 2024 as part of a two-book contract. I’m repped by Fuse Literary.

Amy Spitzley: I had two novels published with Curiosity Quills, which was a small publisher that then went under. I own the rights to those novels and would love to get them out there, even in a revised version, but I don’t know how to do that. 

I’ve begun various projects that have gone nowhere, though I do keep trying! Currently I’m working more on art than writing, and have improved a lot in that field. (Though again, submissions are a bitch.) 

I’d really like to try book cover work, or art licensing. So far, no luch, but hey, onwards and upwards. Writing-wise, I’m trying to turn my second novel into a screenplay. DO I know how to do this? No. Does that really matter? Again, no. J

I also have a novel I think of as a female Jack and the Beanstalk meets Tam Lin sprinkled with Led Zeppelin. It’s rough, but I do like the idea. 

I’d really love to have a writing partner, someone who would be willing to write a book with me in two parts, you know? Chapter by chapter. I think that would be both fun and motivational. Anyone interested? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?


Transformations Spirituality Center
photo by Kristen Remenar

(When Kris Remenar sent this photo of Transformations Spirituality Center, she also sent this remembrance): Sadly, I couldn't find any photos of people from the retreat but I did find this one. I remember I read aloud a poem during a breakout session and people said, "Where's the rest of the story?" It was called "The Other Princess and the Pea" and it was about a real princess who'd slept on the tall stack of mattresses, felt the pea, and didn't complain because she'd been raised to be polite, and so was turned away as not being sensitive enough to be a real princess.

I loved hearing feedback that it was good enough writing to be expanded into a midgrade novel, something I'd never thought I have the talent to be able to write. But I did start working on it that weekend, and when I saw this architectural feature, it reminded me of a pea, so I took a photo to remind me. Now I think I might need to dig that manuscript back out!

Anita Pazner I have a ton to say about the 2013 conference. My costume was completely inappropriate and I want to address that, perhaps in a lengthy article. (She's busy co-running SCBWI-MI.)

Charlie Barshaw
conducts interviews for The Mitten. He's blessed to know many children's book writers and illustrators because of his association with Ruth McNally Barshaw and SCBWI. 













Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Book Birthday Blog with Kelsey E. Gross


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Kelsey E. Gross on the release of Winter: A Solstice Story


Congratulations on your debut picture book! Where did you get the idea for your story?

I’ve always enjoyed marking the change of seasons, and especially the arrival of winter. In early winter 2020, I found myself imagining how woodland animals might observe the winter solstice. Many traditional celebrations across cultures feature light, such as bonfires or candles, along with feasting, storytelling, and gift-giving.
An image of a “solstice tree” came to mind, with various animals offering well-wishes and gifts to decorate the tree. I was toying with this idea when Susanna Leonard Hill announced the guidelines for her annual Kidlit Holiday Writing Contest; that year, all entries had to focus on “helping.” The line, I can help to shine the light! came to mind, and I soon had a draft featuring this repeated line. I was thrilled to be a finalist in the contest and lengthened the story before submitting it to my agent. 

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

In the story, each animal offers a gift of hope and light for all creatures. In turn, I hope the book encourages children to think about ways they too can be a source of light, hope, and kindness in the world. There’s also a theme about our connectedness and the importance of welcoming others. Finally, I hope to inspire readers’ sense of wonder and curiosity about the natural world.  

What inspires you to write? 

In terms of story ideas, I find a lot of inspiration in nature, and I like to go right to the source by hanging out with little kids! I also read a lot of picture books. Reading others’ work helps spark my own ideas.
I’m motivated to write picture books because I believe they’re uniquely powerful. The combination of text and pictures intensifies the emotional impact, and there’s an amazing warmth and connection between a child and a caregiver when they read together. I am honored to think I might have a small part in creating those special moments.

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

The book is available through links on the Simon & Schuster website and wherever books are sold. I’m partnering with a few independent bookstores in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan to do winter-themed storytimes and book signings in November and December. In Houghton, I’ll do an event with the library on the solstice, and a story walk along a snowshoe/hiking trail in partnership with the Keweenaw Land Trust.
I also joined PBSpree, which is a group of 2023 debut picture book authors. We review each other’s books and boost each other on social media. It’s been wonderful to take a team approach to marketing and promotion. 

What's next for you? 

The follow up book, Summer: A Solstice Story (also illustrated by Renata Liwska) releases in 2024. I’ve seen some of the illustrations, and they’re absolutely stunning. It’s filled with warm, vivid colors and adorable fuzzy baby animals! I can’t wait to share it.

More about the book . . .

Deep in the forest, it is dark and cold, and the quiet of winter is all around. Owl watches sunlight dim to a shimmer. Who can help Owl to shine the light and share a gift of hope on this winter evening? Along come Deer, Squirrel, Mouse, Duck, Rabbit, Raccoon and Chickadee, and together they welcome a new friend to join in their winter solstice celebration. 

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

More about the author . . . 

Kelsey E. Gross grew up in Wisconsin and lived in New Mexico and California before returning to the Midwest. She now lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with her partner, son, and silly, snow-loving pup. When she’s not writing, she looks for owls and other forest friends while hiking and skiing in the woods. Winter is her picture book debut. Find her online at, or on Instagram and Twitter @kelseyegross.