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.






  1. How wonderful to share this story with the world. Congratulations and Happy Book Birthday, Debbie!

  2. Congratulations, Debbie! I look forward to reading your new book.

  3. Congratulations, Debbie! I am so happy for you as your new baby book is born into the world!

  4. Congrats on your new book, Debbie! The inspiration for it is so interesting. I'm so sorry that Kenny didn't get to see the final draft but he must have been excited that he was the inspiration for your project.

  5. Congratulations Debbie! I'm glad that Kenny knew a tribute to the French Dukes was on the way, even if he didn't get to see the final draft. Sounds like the history of the team is fascinating! Looking forward to seeing your book.

  6. Congratulations, Debbie! You have a fascinating story there that I look forward to reading. How terrific that have a sequel to your first book and that you and your sister are teaming up for the counting book.

  7. Great job! I love history and had no idea about French Dukes. Thank you for keeping the history alive!

  8. Sounds interesting. I look forward to reading it. Congratulations, Debbie!