Tuesday, November 28, 2023

On the Shelf by Tara Michener: Sierra Blue by Suzanne Morgan Williams and Kindness Is by Kaitlin Johnstone

Two reviews today!

Sierra Blue is enthralling, captivating and very well written. Suzanne Morgan Williams penned an incredible novel for the young adult reader this fall. 

When you think of magic what do you think about? I can tell you that thanks to this book I think of a strong and courageous character that does her best as she navigates being different from everyone around her. 

Tara holding Sierra Blue
My On the Shelf series embraces mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors, and the main character, Magic, gives us all of these avenues wrapped in one heroine. Magic simply does not fit in...for many reasons...oddly colored hair, being from a different town but also...she sees things that other people cannot see. Her gift is both a blessing and a curse for her because in order for her to use her talent she has to expose it, and this draws attention that does not always land in her favor. Her struggles include many of the typical things that young people face...being bullied, wanting to be kissed and coping with uncertainty about friendships. She also has the added dilemma of keeping her special abilities under wraps in order to protect herself from ridicule and judgement. This is not an easy balance and her love for animals and a special horse invites her to wrestle with what is best...being silent or being secure enough to speak up for the most vulnerable amongst us. 

The lessons in this book are endless, and I enjoyed reading it with my family and talking about what we would do in different scenarios. I invite you to read it and I am curious to know after you read it what you think. I am sure that Suzanne Morgan Williams is curious as well...so please be sure to review on Amazon and Goodreads.  

I met Kaitlin Johnstone through Instagram about a year ago and I have been enamored by her ability to connect readers to authors. She makes sure that she gives focus to those of us who showcase windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. Kaitlin owns a small business dedicated to putting books into the hands of children and she has accomplished this through a business that has soft and beautiful t-shirts and apparel. Her merchandise has slogans, affirmations, and calls to action that remind us to be kind but to be vigilant. This fall Kaitlin became an author herself. 

I was very happy to be amongst the first to read...
This adorable picture book reminds and educates readers on the beauty of being kind. The pages are filled with opportunities for readers to witness a young girl who is finding her own way and understanding what it means to be inclusive and welcoming. I love that the book allows us to see the dynamic of parent and child in regards to the topic of kindness. Kaitlin has continued her legacy of lifting up amazing authors and now it is our time to lift her up as she enters this world of writing and gives us 1000 more reasons to be kind. This is a great book for the young reader and should be in every class, library, and counseling office. 

On the Shelf is a regular feature by Tara Michener, highlighting books and authors that allow readers to both learn about cultures and people different than them but also to embrace the importance of representation and for each reader to have the opportunity to see themselves showcased in books as well.

Tara Michener is the author of seven children's books that focus on self-esteem, diversity, and anti-bullying. She is a TEDx speaker, therapist, and owns her own private practice in Novi, MI. Tara has been recognized in publications such as Prevention Magazine, Essence Magazine, FREEP and more! She is the former Committee Chair of E&I at SCBWI-MI. Her favorite days usually include spending time with her hubistrator, Jason, her son Cannon, and her favorite snack Twizzlers and Diet Coke. You can follow her on Twitter 

Friday, November 17, 2023

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

 (This is the final installment of a three-part series. Read part one and part two here.)


goes out of print 
At the end of our second installment, I left you with the news that my publisher was going out of business. That meant my book would be available for a few more months, but at some point, in 2023, it would go out of print.

People who know me know I’m not a quitter, so after receiving the news, instead of resting on my laurels, I went to one final book-selling event in January of 2023. With my husband’s help (he is the king of schmoozing) I mingled, visited booksellers’ booths, and even had a radio interview and book signing! 

After that event, I stocked up on as many copies of MRS. NOAH as I could afford. I kept checking Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and on a day in late June I read the words “out of stock,” and I knew it was over. Approximately 18 months after her release, MRS. NOAH sailed out of online book retailers and stores. But what a ride we’d had. My picture book journey truly felt like all summer in a day!



MRS. NOAH all dressed up
in her award swag!

I couldn’t possibly share how blessed I have been by this journey. The frustrations were many, but the reward of getting to see a book you’ve loved into existence in the bookstore and on the library shelf more than makes up for them. I’m also pleased to say that in MRS. NOAH’s short life, she won five awards, including a Northern Lights Book Award for best first picture book. Do I wish MRS. NOAH’S journey had ended differently? Of course! Do I think I’ll try to self-publish now that I have the rights back? Ask me again in a few months when the sting fades a bit.


The Takeaways

 When the life of a book begins and ends at this record pace, it’s important to pause and reflect.


Here are a few of my takeaways for those who are un-agented that might help someone else:


1.    Do your homework. If you get an offer for one of your books, find out all you can about the health of the company making the offer. Use your SCBWI membership, ask other authors who have published with the same company about their experience, and check with the publisher’s state business website. None of this is foolproof. It’s impossible to predict the future ever, but especially in publishing. Getting as much info as possible can help you make informed decisions for your book.

2.    Lead the discussion. In the excitement of having someone love your book, the temptation is to let the offering company lead the discussion. You might feel like you can’t ask for time to do your research and even to ask for changes to your contract. But you can! It’s also a good idea to have an attorney who specializes in contract law look over your contract to make sure you’re getting the best terms possible. At the very least, an attorney can help you know what questions to ask. Will this cost money? Unless you have a friend who can help, yes. But it’s money well spent. The Author’s Guild also provides contract reviews and other services for their members.

Faith Radio interview at the
Christian Product Expo in
 Georgia in February

3.    Learn how to market! As you can tell from my story, I had to fast-track my marketing knowledge. If you have the luxury of taking your time with this step, then do it! Budget some of your weekly writing hours for marketing education. Learn how to use Canva. Build a professional-looking website. Take advantage of free services like Pinterest, Goodreads, and Instagram to keep information about you and your books in front of your audience. When that contract offer comes, you’ll be glad you did!

4.    Get your eggs out of the basket! Having a book release and then go out of print so quickly resulted in the entire process becoming almost all-consuming. The fight to keep MRS. NOAH in front of people for as long as I could forced other things to take a back seat. Writing, revising, submitting, looking for an agent…none of those things should stop while you’re in the middle of what feels like a sinking ship. It’s what keeps us balanced as writers. I’ll admit to losing my focus in the middle of the flood of work that came with MRS. NOAH’s release, but I’m grateful I have it back.

5.    You are more than one book. This takeaway speaks for itself. Your success as a writer should never be measured by one contract. No matter how much the end of one book can break your heart, you and your work go on.    


So, there you go. The story of a book’s journey…All Summer in a Day! I’m so grateful I got the chance to experience it, and that there are many little loves enjoying MRS. NOAH. That is the best gift of all.


And did poor Margot ever get out of that closet to see the sun? I’m not telling. You’ll just have to read that story for yourself.


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, Uptv.com, The Lookout Magazine, Worship Leader Magazine, Songs4Worship.com, 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, www.pattigail1.com to learn more!  


Monday, November 13, 2023

Book Birthday Blog with Debbie Taylor


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Debbie Taylor on the release of Step it Up! The French Dukes


Please share a little about this book's journey. How did you come up with the idea?

I was introduced to the team’s history by a French Dukes member, Kenny Mitchell at a dinner party.  Our conversations led to the book project which is inspired by Kenny’s experiences and an actual event. I held two focus groups and zoom sessions to gather more information. I also spoke to many people by phone. Kenny passed away before seeing the final draft of the book, but I hope the story reflects his love for the community of French Dukes. The book was accepted for publication during the first year of the pandemic, so it was a bright spot for many.

What was the most difficult part of writing the book?

It was a challenge to focus on just one aspect of the French Dukes. The founding of the group was dramatic and every person I spoke to had very compelling stories to share. Some were actual members or simply family members, some were participants in their offshoots including the Dukettes, Continentals, El Torah’s and other teams. I wanted to introduce readers to the French Dukes and to honor the legacy of this legendary group. Once I realized that my book couldn’t contain a fraction of the excitement, drama and adventure associated with the team and its community, I was content to focus on the simple fictional story I wanted to tell. The author’s note allowed me to share background information that didn’t belong in the main text of the picture book.

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

I hope readers will appreciate the talent and discipline required to make it into the French Dukes Precision Drill Team. I believe it will encourage others to be resourceful and resilient as they aim for their goals whether it is riding a bicycle or making the soccer team or learning a new language. Since this is basically historical fiction, I encourage readers to explore their local histories for information and possible story ideas.

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

I plan to share it during local literacy events and when possible, during events that feature performances by the newest French Dukes spin-off, the Salt of the Earth Drill Team. The book is available at the local Ann Arbor District Library and is also available at Black Stone Bookstore in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

What's next for you?

I am working on a holiday sequel to my first book Sweet Music in Harlem. My sister, artist and second-grade teacher, Rouxanne Brown and I wrote Over in Nashville, and we are committed to completing a dinosaur counting book before the Cenzoic era is over.

More about the book . . .

Ten-year-old Kenny Mitchell longs to be a member of the French Dukes Precision Drill Team. When he fails to make the team, he tries harder. With the help of his older brother, he learns to "step it up" just in time to help the French Dukes win an important talent competition. Set in the 1960s Ann Arbor Kenny’s story is inspired by the real-life French Dukes Precision Drill Team.

Publisher: Fifth Avenue Press

More about the author . . . 

Debbie’s short stories appear in magazines including Cricket, Spider, New Moon and Pockets. Themes of her stories include the value of family and the importance of community. Taylor’s first picture book, Sweet Music in Harlem (Lee and Low 2004) was inspired by Art Kane's famous 1958 photograph of jazz musicians and illustrated by award-winning artist, Frank Morrison. A musical arrangement of the book was commissioned and performed by the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra in 2007. Her recent publications include the Junior Library Guild selection, Over in Motown and Step it Up! The French Dukes. Her passions include botanical gardens, museums and her family.





Book Birthday Blog with Molly David


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Molly David on the release of My Mischievous Wheelchair



Please share a little about this book's journey. How did you come up with the idea?

My oldest daughter has Rett Syndrome and uses a wheelchair for mobility. When we are in the community, a lot of young children stare at her chair. I am not bothered by that, but I am surprised. A wheelchair is so normal in my life that I forget not everyone has that experience. I wanted to share the normalness of disabilities, wheelchair users especially. As a former teacher, I understand this starts with young children.
The best part of the book for me is that the chair is alive. In our family, a wheelchair is an essential part of our daughter’s life. She can’t have a full, active life without her chair. So, her chair is “alive” for us. How we can make the world accessible for our daughter is a constant consideration for our family. The chair is an extension of her. I wanted that relationship to come across in the book in a fun way.
I am passionate about all kids seeing themselves in books. What kids read should reflect the diversity of our society. At the same time, it was very important to me that the story not be preachy or use a person with a disability as a teachable moment. Nearly 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have a disability, I wanted to show the normalcy of this. 

What was the most difficult part of writing the book? 

The hardest part was starting. There were so many ideas bouncing around in my head it felt overwhelming. I believed I needed to have the story perfectly planned out before beginning to write. This kept me from starting. It’s crazy because when I was teaching, I would tell my students, “Just write anything, get it down on paper, and the ideas will be there. Don’t worry about being perfect.” Easier said than done! Also, I wasn’t sure how to write a story that would be fun for kids to read but also show the normalcy of a wheelchair. Once I had the idea that the chair would be alive, it was easy to write the story. 

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

I hope they see disabilities do not define someone. People with disabilities are people first. They have many of the same experiences, feelings, and concerns that any person has. If they look at someone’s wheelchair and wonder if it comes alive, that would be cool, too.

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

The book is available through AmazonBarnes & Noble, Bookshop, and other online retailers. I plan to partner with libraries and schools to tie in the book with a presentation on inclusion. I have visits planned to read my book in a few special education schools. 

What's next for you? 

I started Semper Grata™ (sempergrata.com) when I retired from teaching in 2022. Its purpose is to support families and educate communities about disability life. So, I will continue that work. Through Semper Grata, I write a blog to help parents with issues like education, government benefits, and travel. I published a book for parents, Planning for the Future: Protecting a Loved One with a Disability in July 2023. This had led me to speaking at conferences and school communities about how to ensure children with disabilities are protected as they become adults. I published My Mischievous Wheelchair through Semper Grata to extend the goal of educating communities about disability life.
That’s a long way of saying I keep myself busy. I have written a sequel to My Mischievous Wheelchair and hope to publish it late next year. The chair has too much personality for me to be done, yet.

More about the book . . .

Grace is working hard to win the Student of the Month award, but her wheelchair keeps disrupting her day and getting her in trouble. Grace tries to regain control, but her wheelchair won’t behave unless it gets what it wants. Will Grace figure out why her wheelchair is acting up and get it to behave before she loses out on being Student of the Month?

Join Grace and her wheelchair that won’t be ignored for a heartwarming and humorous story that teaches children ages 4-8 about diversity, inclusion and teamwork.

Publisher: Semper Grata

More about the author . . . 

Molly David writes and presents on disability issues. As the mother of a child with a disability, Molly understands the importance of diversity in children’s books. Molly David authored the book Planning for the Future: Protecting a Loved One with a Disability and various news outlets like The Associated Press, NerdWallet and Wealth of Geeks have interviewed her for articles.
Molly is a retired teacher who lives in Farmington Hills, MI with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs. She spends too much of her time searching for her phone and watching dog videos online. Molly would love to connect with you through her website, Instagram, or Facebook, especially if you have dog videos.

Instagram @mollydavidauthor
Facebook mollydavidauthor
Twitter @AuthorMollyD 


Friday, November 10, 2023

The Presenters Speak: the 2013 Conference

 Canned green beans, head-kisses, a leather jacket and Bootcamp: Audrey and Deborah remember what they can

by Charlie Barshaw

This is the last in a series about the 2013 conference.  Read the others HERE and HERE.

Audrey Glassman Vernick

Audrey and Deborah
photo supplied by Deborah

I honestly don’t remember anything about you at the 2013 writing retreat. But you were there, weren’t you? What do you remember?

I was definitely there. I remember nuns on the elevator, canned green beans at dinner, a fairly bleak winter landscape outside, and Ruth serving as a merciless timekeeper/bodyguard to keep my tightly stacked sessions from running long. I also remember very nice people.

Water Balloon was your first mid-grade novel. You had a few picture book titles out then, too, so you were lucky enough to qualify for our 2013 SCBWI-MI writing retreat. (I Won a What?) Which books had you published by 2013, and what do you remember about the book-selling process ten years ago?

I had published Brothers at Bat, She Loved Baseball, Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?, Teach Your Buffalo to Play Drums, So You Want to be a Rock Star. My sense of the book-selling process is that it’s always hard in different ways. And that luck plays a bigger role than you’d think.

In 2013, were you already doing school visits? Those who’ve done them know the students can be the toughest audience you’ll ever face. Next toughest, 40 hungry children’s book writers? How were your presentation skills in 2013?

I was doing visits then, but I have a feeling that I wasn’t doing great ones—or at least not ones I was confident in. That confidence, and the ability to do it better, has developed over time. I think I still got scared before presenting in 2013 and I rarely do now. One thing I’ve learned—which should have been obvious—is that I’m only a nervous presenter if I don’t fully know/understand the subject matter. When I’m talking about my own process, books, etc.—that’s easy stuff these days.

Did you run into any nuns during the weekend? Ruth was always drawing into a sketchbook, but we haven’t been able (yet) to find the 2013 one. Do you remember Ruth drawing the retreat?

A sketch of Deborah
by Ruth Barshaw

I did! On the elevator, more than once. I was raised Jewish and I still felt a stirring of unfocused guilt! And when I remember Ruth, I remember her drawing, always, but I can’t say I specifically remember it from that retreat.

Is there anything else?

I think I've honestly shared all the memories I have. There's a blurring together that happened between this conference and a Rhode Island one, and I believe I have separated out all I can except for one thing--which I felt was too weird to mention earlier, but it really is the the thing I think of first when I think of that conference.

The kissing culprit

I met Kristen Remenar for the first time at that conference. And within the first 24 hours, she was kissing me on top of my head whenever she passed me. I can't think of her or that conference without thinking of that, very warmly.

Deborah Halverson

You had been an editor for a big publishing house, you’d written and gotten published a picture book and novel. But how much presentation practice had you experienced in those early days of your career?

Richard Peck
photo credited to Wikipedia

My first experience presenting to writers was 2001, a Texas SCBWI conference with a crowd of 300, keynote speaker Richard Peck. It was a month or two after 9/11, and a New York editor dropped out of speaking slot because she and her family did not want her flying. I was nervous to speak to that many people, but I did my best. When I sat down next to Richard, he leaned over and said, “Ya did good.” What a confidence boost! I imagine I’ve gotten better at it, and I’ve sure presented a lot since then, but that was a formative moment for me as an editor.

I didn’t know who you were when I typed a google search for “children’s book authors who wrote picture books and novels.”  It was kind of a random thing all around on my part. What was your initial reaction when you received an email from someone in the upper Midwest, who wanted you to lead a weekend writer’s intensive?

I never knew how random my invitation was! You and your team were so kind and inviting through the whole process, and joining Audrey as a presenter that weekend was a pleasure. I’m sure I was flattered, and I guarantee I jumped up and scuttled to my boss’s office and declared, “I need a Friday off!” I was going to Michigan!

Audrey, Deborah and Ruth
photo supplied by Deborah

You arrived at the conference, late October in Michigan, wearing a black leather jacket, looking like a no-nonsense biker. Turns out, it was the closest your wardrobe got to winter apparel, you living in Paradise (
check out #mobileeditingoffice on Deborah's FB page). Was that your first live experience in The Great Lakes State?

Since the event was mostly inside, turns out it didn’t matter that I was woefully unprepared for Weather. That’s been my only visit to Michigan so far. I’d gladly return. Everyone there was incredibly nice.

And who did you leave behind? In the professional arena you’d had some successes. But you had achieved what few people anywhere have: triplet boys. How old were they (they’re off to college now) when you hopped on a jet plane with their greasy hugs leaving prints on the bomber jacket?

The early days with triplets

My sons were six at the time. Just as I loved my busy house growing up, I loved my busy house with triplet boys—but I was glad to have time away, I will admit. Talking to grownups all weekend, about books and writing… yes, that was for work, but it was also Vacation.

So, three days of intensives, with 20 each intense novel and picture book writers. We hired you and Audrey Glassman Vernick to switch off on the tracks, doing picture book things with the PB writers, and novel things with those other guys. Writing is writing, right? How did you approach this challenge?

We liked the balance you created. There was something for every attendee.  Audrey and I worked to keep the creative juices flowing and the enthusiasm stoked. A three-day intensive is indeed intense, so we had to foster a space that made writers feel safe to share or not, to contribute or to listen as their personalities and energy dictated. There was group work, but there were also individual writing exercises and times to just listen and ponder. Plus, hanging out in that unique cafeteria was great fun.

You and Audrey, from two different coasts, thrown together in this cloistered arena with 40 hungry writers. You both survived and thrived. Have you met since? Or followed each other?

Audrey and I connect now then, mostly through Facebook. It’s been fabulous seeing her career thrive. She’s so talented.

By Sunday, you’d earned yourself an up-North cold, miserable in unique ways. You were not a tea drinker then, but the curative powers of Earl Gray became a topic of conversation. What is your beverage of choice these days?

I do remember the tea talk! Nowadays I stick to hot cocoa.

(In subsequent emails, Deborah added):

Part 2 and Part 1 were fun reading Charlie! So many details I didn’t remember—or maybe didn’t know?  A maze????  How did I not go out and explore THAT?

That was so lovely to learn Dave Stricklen's news that BIG MOUTH inspired him to think of the weirdest contest ever, and that led to “Ripley Robinson and The Worm Charmer” -- that made my day! 

(Deborah also included all of the following information, even before I asked her any questions):

Here's what I know from my files: 
  • The retreat was called "Revision Bootcamp: From Monster Mash to Model Manuscript"
  • I presented a 45-min Keynote called “The State of the Children’s Book Market”Deborah Halverson provides an up-to-the-minute analysis of the market for picture books, middle grade fiction, and young adult fiction, based on interviews with editors, agents, and sales and marketing experts.
    She's still talking
    about the market

  • I presented a 2-hr Workshop called “Channeling the Teen Sensibility: Writing Techniques and Revision Strategies for Crafting a Youthful Sensibility for your MG/YA Fiction”: This workshop teaches techniques for creating a narrative sensibility that reflects the way teens and tweens think, and arms you with strategies for analyzing and revising your own manuscript’s sensibility. Includes lecture with examples, group revision exercises, and individual revision exercises. The first hour will be a discussion of what it means to “think like a teen”, and the second hour will focus on class and individual writing exercises designed to teach you how to identify a adult sensibility and then revise it to sound youthful. It started with an hour of instructor-guided group exercises and ended with individual exercises involving short passages.
  • I presented a 2-hr Workshop called “Setting, the Reviser’s Secret Weapon”: With today’s heavy emphasis on plot and characterization, too many aspiring teen/tween novelists are ignoring setting—and sacrificing storytelling depth as a result. Enrich your novel in ways you never expected by rediscovering the benefits of strong settings and learning successful ways to mine the setting you’ve already chosen. Includes lecture with examples, group revision exercises, and individual revision exercises. I designed this as a one-hour lesson with examples, then spent the second hour working on samples with the class.
  • There was a BOOK SWAP: "And don’t forget to browse through your bookshelves and look for a book(s) you’d like to bring for the book swap. We have a very creative person in our midst, (Anita Pazner) who is coordinating the swap and she has lots of things up her sleeve and promises it will be a fun event you won’t want to miss. Only those who bring a book(s) can participate."
  • There was a HAT/COSTUME PARTY: "And you also might want to start thinking about our costume party. It also promises to be lots of fun. But don’t worry, you don’t need to bring an elaborate costume – just a fun hat. It’s a dress up your brain party! Bring or make a hat that speaks to you. Maybe it relates to your WIP, maybe it reflects a favorite hobby, a fun childhood memory, or represents absolutely nothing, but fun. It’s all up to you." I do not remember my hat.
  • I still have the schedule for the weekend:
    • peer critiques
    • dinner
    • post-dinner keynote: Deborah
    • social
    • 2 two-hour workshops for Deborah
    • post-Dinner keynote: Audrey
    • post-dinner 1.25 hour “track wrap-up” (final opportunity to clean up any unfinished business.)
    • Morning: face to face critiques (5-7 min, they rec’d written critiques on Friday and now will go over changes etc as a result of weekend’s workshops)
    • Afternoon: Deborah does pitch session, Audrey does revision problem busters
     Thanks to Deborah and Audrey, and all who shared their memories.

    Carrie Pearson added: 
    Charlie, I'm sorry I flamed out on this. Just had too many things on my plate but it was an inspired idea, and I LOVED reading the piece. Brought back some fantastic memories. And, you didn't do it for this reason, but I hope it encouraged folks to remember how it feels to be together at a conference as we move into Marvelous Midwest '24 in April!

Charlie Barshaw co-chaired the 2013 Transformations conference, as well as one of the two Mackinac Island conferences.

Which we might cover in 2024.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Book Birthday Blog with Martha Johnston


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Martha Johnston on the release of Iki and his Mighty Friends


What was the inspiration for your book?

My daughter's Chihuahua mix, Iki, with this crazy one blue eye inspired the book. I made some drawings of him as a present for my daughter and it snowballed from there. When I was visiting my daughter on Maui, we came up with the entire book concept in a single morning walk and then I spent the next few months creating all of the illustrations.

What was the most difficult part of writing/illustrating the book?

The most difficult part of the book was not the writing, but actually the illustrations. Each illustration is hand drawn and then edited through digital media. I remember when my kids were little that they would become obsessed with a single book and just want to read it over and over again, so I made all the illustrations with the parents in mind, because I wanted something visually beautiful and interesting for them if they have to read the book 10 times a day.

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

My hope is that parents and children will see that little things are powerful. Iki is only 5 pounds in real life, he’s tiny, but he makes a big impact on our lives. His name actually means the little one in Hawaiian. As he grows his garden, he learned all about the power of bugs and how they make a really big difference in a positive way for growing food. My daughter’s husband is a regenerative farmer so teaching kids from a young age that we don’t need to kill bugs, and they can actually be our friends is something that I really hope they take into the future.

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

Our marketing plan for the book as of now is to reach out to local organizations to garner support. We’re hoping that some nonprofits in the environmental space will also put a seal of approval on the book since the heart of the message is around regenerative farming and gardening. I put up the book on Amazon and made it available for different resellers. We also created a Shopify shop. We’re also running a few ads for the book and selling prints of Iki and his friends as well.

What's next for you?

What’s next for us is to continue our Iki series and to also bring in my daughter’s other dog Ulu for the adventures. We would love to do one on the ocean and how what we do on land impacts our waters.

More about the book . . .

What are they good for? As it turns out, a lot!
This playful book, written and illustrated by a mother-daughter team, reveals just how important the smallest creatures are in keeping our environment happy and healthy.
Iki is a curious dog excited to grow his first garden this year. But soon after his plants start to grow, he notices some unwelcome visitors: bugs!
Good thing his friend Eddy is here. Eddy is a regenerative farmer who teaches Iki all about how bugs help us. They make soil to grow our food, help flowers turn into fruit, and even make yummy honey.
Kids will love this beautifully illustrated story about the magic of bugs, the wonder of nature, and the power of little things. Iki means “tiny” in Hawaiian, and children will discover alongside Iki how small things can make a big difference.

Publisher: Self-Published

More about the creative team . . .

Martha Johnston is an artist, graphic designer, and dog enthusiast. She was inspired to write Iki and his Mighty Friends about her dog-grandchild, Iki, and the Maui farm where he lives. She lives in Michigan with her husband and 3 dogs. You can find her at https://www.marthajohnstonart.com/

Samantha Garcia is an author, digital marketer, and certified permaculture design specialist. She co-founded the non-profit Regenerative Education Centers with her husband, Eddy Garcia, in 2015. They live on their Maui farm with 3 dogs (including Iki), 7 cats, 5 salamanders, sheep, peacocks, and millions of bugs.

Iki is 5 pounds of loving and neurotic Big Stud energy. He's a Chihuahua mix who lives in Lahaina. He loves whipped cream, his family, hates wind, and digs holes when he's stressed.







Book Birthday Blog with Amy Dua


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Amy Dua on the release of Woe is Me...It's Autumn!


What was the inspiration for your book?

The inspiration for my book really came from my love of spending time reading with my children.  I had always written rhyming verses for greeting cards and poetry for family, so when I came up with this idea it just sort of came out in a rhyming way. 

You wrote and illustrated the book. Please describe your creative process and what was the most difficult part. 

The creative process is always something so hard to put into words. I had written the manuscript for this book, and envisioned it being a certain way. I took some time to decide if I would illustrate the book myself, and once my son introduced me to a digital program that I could actually use my drawing and shading skills on, I fell in love with it. I was able to bring to life the characters and the scenery that I had in my mind when I wrote the book.

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

What I hope people take away from this book is the beauty of spending time reading to little ones in your life. In my opinion, there is nothing better than seeing the awe and wonder in your child’s eyes when they see the beautiful pictures and hear the words. It was really important to me that this book was factually accurate as well as fun, so that it could be a learning experience, as well as fun bonding time. It’s an amazing thing when you can learn in a fun way.

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

As far as marketing goes, the book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart and can be ordered anywhere books are sold.

What's next for you? 

As for what is next, there is another “Woe is Me” season already in the works! Hopefully it will be ready for release in 2024!

More about the book . . . 

The woodland animals play all summer long in the sunshine, but what do they do when it is time to get ready for the cold? Do they stay out and play? Do they try to find someplace warm to snuggle in for the winter? Do they eat extra food? Find out in this fun and informative book about what animals, insects and even humans do when the leaves fall, the temperature drops and autumn arrives.

Publisher: After Many Years Publishing

More about the author . . .

Amy Dua was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. Amy has always adored children, and in fact Amy's grandfather used to refer to her as the "pied piper of children" because of how she always played and engaged with all of the kids at family gatherings. Amy attended the State University of New York-College at Brockport for her undergraduate degree, graduating with a major in Criminal Justice and a minor in Political Science, and went on to attend law school at Michigan State University where she graduated cum laude. Amy has been practicing law as a child advocate for the past twenty years. Amy had been writing poetry, greeting cards and even speeches for family members, and others upon request since she was a little girl, and one day she sat down to write out her idea for a children's book. Each of her four children helped in different ways in the illustrating and publishing of her first book, Woe is Me...It's Autumn. Amy has an avid love for books and is beyond excited for parents, teachers, and loved ones to be able to sit down and read her books to the little ones in their lives.

Instagram: @aftermanyyearspublishing
Facebook: After Many Years Publishing