Friday, January 26, 2024

Hugs and Hurrahs

 Welcome to the first Hugs and Hurrahs of 2024!

At the end of 2023, Jamie Bills signed with Agent Amy Nielsen from The Purcell Agency. 

Way to go, Jamie!

Lisa Wheeler is happy to report two more board-book titles in the "My First Dino" series from Carolrhoda/Lerner. My First Dino-Boarding and My First Dino-Swimming will be available in February. Both are illustrated by Barry Gott.

Congratulations times two, Lisa!

Cady and the Birchbark Box, by Ann Dallman, was named recently as a finalist in the 2023 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards (Juvenile category). 

“This was a challenging book to write as I brought together so many elements—shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, a mysterious birchbark box, the restoring of the reputation of a tribal elder and my young heroine’s struggle with many challenges universal to young people. Uniting it all is her close relationship with her grandmother,” Dallman explained.

Amazing, Ann!

Molly David's debut picture book, MY MISCHIEVOUS WHEELCHAIR, is a Firebird Book Award Winner. It won first place in the category of Children's Special Needs.


Yay, Molly!

Lisa Rose with new representation from Lary Rosenblatt from 22 MediaWorks, sold her picture book Stand Up!  to Row House Publishing. No illustrator has been assigned yet , but this model was presented to help sell the book Click here:

That's wonderful, Lisa!

Congratulations again to all of you! Please send all your good news to Alison Hodgson at for the next Hugs and Hurrahs post. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Book Birthday Blog with Nancy Roop


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Nancy Roop on the release of The Big Aquarium Adventure 


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

I have two points of inspiration for The Big Aquarium Adventure

I was a para-educator in a Special Education classroom for students with autism. One day, a fourth-grade student sat patiently on the floor next to my feet, leaning her arms and head on a shelf. The room was bright, and the books were of a variety of genres, reading levels, and interests. I scanned all the way to the top of the tall bookcase. I was trying to find a book at her reading level that sparked her interest. In complete frustration I thought, somebody needs to write books for neurodiverse kids. Within a few days, I decided to return to school to learn how kids learn to read. I wanted to adapt the book to the child instead of expecting the child to adapt to the book.

Then on vacation in Baltimore, Maryland, while walking though The National Aquarium, I noticed how excited and truly interested the kids were watching the marine animals. I knew right then, that visiting an aquarium would be the first topic for the Alex and Jordan Explore Series.

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

My goal is for readers to become comfortable with the process of getting meaning out of the words and pictures. Many struggling readers regard books as work, and for them, it is hard work. By presenting the topic in three genres—interview, expository nonfiction, and storytelling—a student can pick the chapter that they like, and then once comfortable, read the other sections. I hope that they discover a little bit of book-joy along the way!

What inspires you to write?

I love being a substitute teacher in elementary school. When I am at school, I am fascinated with how kids learn. I like to see what kids are drawn to in books, and how they interact with them. I have been tweaking the developmental format and the students are at the center of that.
I also have an eye towards writing blogs for parents and educators of neurodiverse children. I explain how systemized supports common in special ed classrooms can help unique learners in other environments.

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

It is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook wherever books are sold online. Also, a spiral-bound book will be available on my website for readers that will benefit from a book that lays flat on a table.
I have some print ads in ForeWord Review magazine, eblasts to librarians by IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association), and a launch team made up of friends and family that will get the word out with social media and postcards.
We will have a launch event at the Great Lakes Literary Center in Pontiac, Michigan on January 27, 2024. Go to for more information.
I look at the entire year of 2024 as an opportunity to approach readers in different ways—podcasts, articles, and speaking at educational conferences. The book will also travel with ForeWord Review to the Bolonga Children’s Book Fair in April 2024.

What's next for you?

I will be spending time on Alex and Jordan’s Message Board at I can't wait to see what readers are asking, drawing, and writing about in their posts to the board.

I am writing and publishing more titles in the Alex and Jordan Explore series which explore the zoo, library, and museums. I am working on two other developmental book formats that are based on how-to do research and discovering various writing methods.

More about the book . . .

Early chapter book with amazing art! 5th graders Alex & Jordan, explore Stephen’s visit to The Big Aquarium. Alex questions Stephen about marine life, and how frogs helped him handle a very upsetting event. Jordan creates a nonfiction report with animal’s size, habitat, and life cycles. They write a story. Educational resource for comprehension.

Publisher: Developmental Texts

More about the author . . .

Nancy Roop promotes neurodiversity and inclusion by publishing developmental books and speaking at educational conferences—or to anyone, anywhere. She is also a favorite Substitute Teacher in local Special Ed classrooms. Roop lives with her family near Detroit, Michigan and has a BA in Integrative Studies from Oakland University. Her thesis, Developmental Texts for Students with Autism; a Safe Space in the Written World, is available at   

Instagram: @Developmental_Texts

Facebook: @Developmentaltexts

Pinterest: @Developmentaltexts

LinkedIn: nancyroop 



Book Birthday Blog with Pen R. Mark


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Pen R. Mark on the release of The Reminator: 2 Sea & B-Yond

Your first book in the series was a family collaboration with your daughter editing and your son illustrating. Did the three of you work on the second book? Please describe your collaborative process.

I released my first book in September of 2022. That October I took a road trip with my family and we brought Remi along. While we were visiting Boston I shared a moment with a stranger watching an octopus tank at The New England Aquarium. We discussed our travels and our love for Europe. Right then it hit me that my next book would take place in Europe and my characters would be an octopus and a turtle. I have a special love for turtles.  The pictures my son illustrated in this book are from my collection of pictures from my visit to the New England Aquarium. This book is very special to me because the character of Turtle is based on my cousin's son who died from diabetes at a young age. Melody the octopus in the book is based on my best friend's granddaughter, who she only met a few times before passing away. My cousin's son, Brandyn, loved Rubik's Cubes so the R2Square in the book is symbolic of a Rubik's Cube. I've also been taking singing lessons and I decided to write a short song to include in the book.  I rewrote this book about five or six times before I felt satisfied with it. The book was then edited by my daughter before finally being illustrated by my son. Overall, the book took months to complete because I wanted it to be perfect for my readers. 

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

My hope is that my readers realize that every individual has something to offer this beautiful world we live in!  

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

You can find this book on Barnes and Noble, Abe books, and Amazon. I just did a book signing at Cole's Bookstore in Canada and plan on doing many more. 

What's next for you?

I am working on an activity book now for elementary kids. I'm not sure when I want to release it. It will be sometime in the fall or Black Friday!

More about the book . . . 

When Remi, also known as Nator, embarks on a European adventure with his Grammie, little does he know that it will turn into a mission to reunite a sea turtle family and find belonging in unexpected places. This charming children's story unfolds in the magical backdrop of undersea condos and mystical water circuses. Nator, a recent Super-Hero Camp graduate, is equipped not just with super-hero gear but also a heart full of empathy. His tale gets tangled with Turtle, his camp friend who's grappling with a family rift. Turtle's sister, Melody, is a disillusioned octopus who's causing havoc in the ocean. Using his cleverness, courage, and a magical collar that can play music, Nator takes on Melody's wrath and bridges emotional gaps. Filled with thrilling escapades and touching moments, the story also delves into the importance of familyblood-related or otherwiseand finding one's purpose. From flying over the ocean for the first time to spinning around in capes for rescue, Nator navigates highs and lows to bring a family back together. Dive in to experience how heroes come in all shapes and sizes, even with wagging tails! 

Publisher: Pen R. Mark

More about the author . . . 

Adventurous and unique is the best way to describe Pen R. Mark. She was born and raised in the Port Huron area and spent a lot of time at the local library as a child where she fell in love with books. Books are full of adventure and can take you to far away worlds! Pen R. Mark took the lessons from these books as a template for life. She likes to try new experiences, travel to faraway places and go on new adventures. Eventually, when her grandpup Remi came into her life, she knew she had a new sidekick for all her adventures. 


Friday, January 19, 2024

Author/Illustrator Spotlight: Heidi Woodward Sheffield


 Switching things up, name dropping, a bonus awards show, and breast cancer: Author/Illustrator Heidi Sheffield

Charlie Barshaw coordinates our regular Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet  author/illustrator and dear friend, Heidi Woodward Sheffield.

Im going to switch things up and ask, at the beginning of the interview, what is next for Heidi Sheffield?

In front of the Brooklyn Public Library

The Brooklyn Public Library invited me to speak in 2022 to kids who had participated in the Ezra Jack Keats Bookmaking Competition. I was the first speaker they had since Covid. It was extra special to me because my mom was born in Brooklyn and spent most of her days at the library growing up. :))


Planting lots of seeds! This week, I’m submitting a mockup to the publishing gods of a book from many moons ago. I won’t say the name as I’m a little superstitious, but I have a very soft spot in my heart for this story. I also have an even older story (uhhhhh…one of my first SCBWI stories from around 2000 that began as a picture book, then I tried writing as a novel—I got about 100 words in. I’m thinking about rewriting that one.) There’s also a mockup for a picture book collaboration that I’m creating with another illustrator, too. Lots of secret somethings…

Your latest publication on May 23, 2023, is Good Night, Little Man,written by Daniel Bernstrom and illustrated by you. A picture book of 40 pages, it required more illustrations than the standard 32-pager. What else did you find challenging about illustrating this manuscript?

The thing that gives me the greatest joy in life is creating collages. There were some background textures that I used in GOOD NIGHT, LITTLE MAN that were especially important to me, as they had a narrative of their own that I felt made the story even stronger.

When I create a collage, it’s a very organic process. If something is changed, it can upset the composition in a major way. It’s kind of like that game you’d play as a kid with sticks…I think it was called “Kerplunk.” Anyhow, you have this tube and a bunch of sticks that run from one side to the other. There are marbles that sit on top of the sticks. But if you choose the wrong stick, the marbles will all drop down. 

That’s how I feel about collage. You remove the wrong piece and the whole thing falls flat. I gave it my all, but the publisher didn’t want the background texture to play as important of a part as I did. Creating books is a group endeavor, so sometimes there are things you give up as a creator.

The other challenge creating the illustrations for GOOD NIGHT, LITTLE MAN was COVID. Usually, when I get a green light regarding the storyboard, I go out in the world to find some models who fit the characters I have in my head. But I couldn’t do this with the pandemic going on.

One day, Daniel was sharing some family pictures with Harper’s publishing team and they were sooooo adorable. GOOD NIGHT, LITTLE MAN was a story Daniel wrote about his son, Haven. The more I looked at the pictures, I decided under the circumstances, it made sense to have Dan, his wife Heather and Haven as inspiration for the main characters, if they were willing to do so. 

Luckily, they said “Yes!” They were super easy to work with, even though it was a virtual exchange. I gave them a list of different poses and emotions and they emailed oodles of great shots. I had these photos above my drawing table for two years.

When it was time to take these photos and sketches down, I was a little sad. This family that I’d never met had left such an impression on me. But this summer I had the opportunity to meet them taking my daughter to camp out west, so that was very special. And I got to meet the original Little Man, Haven! Dan and I also appeared at the Minnesota Children’s Book Festival this past fall and it was wonderful! I would love to work on another book with Dan.

Ice Cream Face
a picture book you wrote and illustrated, published in 2022 The cover image of a boy holding a fully-loaded ice cream cone was, in some form or other, a portfolio piece of yours over the years. What was it that kept this story vibrant and beckoning in your heart and head?

It’s still a favorite of mine. It was one of those pieces that came about so fast. There was such flow, where you’re in the zone and all of the nay-sayers in my head were out to lunch. I had simply banished them for the day. I remember creating a version I didn’t really like initially, then changing it in unexpected ways, which both felt scary and exhilarating. That’s the test for any collage that I create. If I feel what I’ve created is different and slightly unsettling, I know I’m on a good path.

A little background—the ice cream face boy was in my portfolio for the Nevada Mentorship Program, which accepted illustrators, at the time. (It’s also a program any SCBWI member can apply for. The amazing Ellen Hopkins suggested I apply when she came to speak at our Michigan conference way back when.) When my mentor David Diaz saw the ice cream boy he said something like, “You cracked the code!” It was a pivotal moment for me. I had finally created both a character and the idea for a story that stood alone, so it was a major breakthrough.

You exploded on the kidlit scene in 2020. Both
Brick by Brick, which you wrote and illustrated, and Are Your Stars Like My Stars, written by former SCBWI-MI R.A. Leslie Helakoski and illustrated by you, premiered that year. Great to have two books out in the same year. Not so great to have them out in the height of the pandemic. But what did it take to produce those two works at virtually the same time?
There was overlap between the two projects. When I was about half way through STARS, I began work on BRICK BY BRICK. It was a little stressful creating my first two books for the first time! I basically put on blinders and did just what I had to do at that very moment, with each day. The amount of work that I completed grew little by little. Do you remember that quote about writing a novel? 

 “It’s like driving at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” (Novelist E.L. Doctorow)

BRICK BY BRICK and STARS were also different styles, and that helped. For STARS, I used my pencil drawings as the holding lines for the collage, so that technique was a little faster. But I did a TON of research, to make sure the children and their surroundings were authentic. BRICK BY BRICK had some finished art that I just had to tweak, and other pages that I had to create from the bottom up. It was a more time-consuming style because anything I drew in pencil had to be painted digitally.

Our book launch for stars at Nicola’s was during an incredible snowstorm, so much in fact, Leslie couldn’t come. In terms of Covid affecting things, STARS really suffered. Leslie and I are still in the trenches, trying to get word out about STARS. Librarians discover the book through our efforts, simply love it and are surprised they had not heard about it before.

As Kirkus said ”...the book's timely message of universality among diversity is a highly relevant one.” I’ve always felt its a book not just for kids, but adults could benefit from reading it, too.

Colleen Kammer of The Book Beat shared with me that STARS was a book she took under her wing and often suggested to customers during Covid. I was so touched to hear this.

Brick by Brick earned you the Ezra Jack Keats Award. What does the award mean to you? What was the ceremony like? How did you find out you had won?

Receiving the Ezra Jack Keats Award was, and still is, a heart-stopping moment. To think that BRICK BY BRICK would become part of the EJK Award’s legacy of books to spread hope, encouragement and empowerment to all children was beyond wonderful.

The award also gave BRICK BY BRICK visibility. Great literacy programs like the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and First Book wanted to create paperback versions to be given to kids who need them most. It was a lifelong dream of mine to have books accessible to children who might not otherwise afford them, so when BRICK BY BRICK became a Dolly Parton Imagination Library Book and First Book, it also was a dream come true.

THE SNOWY DAY was, and still is, a favorite of mine. I think it’s perhaps the best picture book of all time. The first page of Peter in bed, with his pillow and quilt looking like snow itself, with him gazing out of his window, seeing the new snow, is amazing. I’ve had this page on my bulletin board by my computer for 15 years or so. Each day I look at it and discover something new.

From Ice Cream Face

The morning I received the phone call from Nancy Paulsen and Cecilia, I couldn’t believe it. Originally, I was nervous, because I was working on ICE CREAM FACE and thought I must have screwed up pretty badly for them to call me at home. When I found out I’d won the Ezra Jack Keats Award for Illustration, I cried and thanked them for giving me the opportunity to have BRICK BY BRICK published. I flipped back and forth between happy tears, and laughing at the same time. Even my dog was dumbfounded by my reaction. 

I know my parents were looking down from above, smiling and sobbing with me. They always believed in my dream of becoming an author/illustrator for children, that had taken me a literal lifetime for me to achieve. It took an entire week for me to calm down.

The ceremony was via Zoom, since it was during Covid. I have to say presenting online was more difficult for me than it would have been in person! This was my first virtual event and I was more than nervous. Even though it was online, the organizers of the event were so wonderful and really went out of their way to make it feel special.

Okay. Those are your many well-deserved successes. But Ruth and I have known you for more than a decade, and your career was just a mirage on the horizon back in 2009 when I first met you. You were fresh from working as a graphic designer. You had some stunning collage pieces, but also a yearning to write. How did you come to find SCBWI?

I’d like to give a little more context to my professional background. When I began college, I had the same ambition to eventually become a children’s book author, so I got a degree in English at the University of Michigan and later a degree at College for Creative Studies. (My first day at CCS, they disbanded the entire illustration department. There were teachers literally crying and people saying illustration was dead. I had enrolled hoping to study illustration and was a little miffed the admission team hadn’t shared their plans to dissolve that department.)

Heidi and books

Then I took some graphic design courses and learned about copywriting and art direction and that I had a
knack for both. I figured getting a job in advertising would let me build a nest-egg, so one day I could break away and do my children’s book thing. Very early on, I realized the best ads had the best stories. They were short, compelling, with an emotional hook. All great qualities I would need to create children’s books.

When my daughter was born, I hopscotched over to freelancing work as a copywriter and graphic designer. At the time, I took a Photoshop class from a friend of mine, John Dinser who was a fantastic illustrator and amazing teacher at Washtenaw Community College. (Still is—take his class!) At the time, I had a portfolio chock full of traditional work—lots of pen and ink and line drawing which he liked, but something seemed to be missing

I brought a collage to John one day that I’d made by cutting out shapes from magazines, arranging them on a wood background and taking a photo of it all. He said, “Now this will get you noticed. Do more of that.” I flip out when I get paste on my fingers AND I CAN’T GET IT OFF!!, so I started messing around with making collages in Photoshop. Something funny— my style came about in part because I only knew a few tools and not the whole program. I liked the wonky shapes I was coming up with and just kept going.

Daniel Bernstrom and I spoke at the Minnesota Children’s Book Festival in September, which was so fun! We also read the book to a trolley full of kids in Stillwater. (I promise they were there!) It was like riding Mr. Rogers’ trolley.

To start building an illustration portfolio, I volunteered for the Ann Arbor Book Festival to illustrate and design their posters. Through that, I met the folks from the Ann Arbor District Library. They liked my illustrations for the book festival and asked if I’d like to design and illustrate their children’s activities calendar of events, “JUMP: Fun stuff just for kids.”

In my contract, I asked to keep the copyright of all of my illustrations. This project meant so much to me, since kids would be taking these home, reading them and most of all, looking at the illustrations, not unlike reading a book. It really helped bridge the gap of time it took before I had a book published. And believe it or not, one of those illustrations inspired the story that I’m pitching to a publisher this week!

As a freelance graphic designer, I was always looking for clients, so I joined a networking group in Ann Arbor. Once a week, you’d ask the group for a lead for a particular project. The group would respond with a person that they knew who might be helpful. I thought it a long shot, and even felt embarrassed to put it out there to a roomful of business types, but I asked if anyone knew someone in children’s book publishing. A woman introduced me to Shutta Crum, who invited me to her summer schmooze that she used to have. And THAT is the deluxe story about how my collages came about and how I found SCBWI!

To this day, you use textures, manmade and natural, in your art work. What drew you to details that many people dont even see? How has your collage craft evolved over time?

I’ve always been attracted to old things. My mom collected antiques and I often went to different shops with her. My grandparents also lived in a Victorian house that was full of mystery. As a result, I like to use items that are old and have character. I also see objects within other objects and it gives me a great deal of joy. It feels a little like a super power. For example for the Ann Arbor Book Festival, I saw the UM clocktower, which reminded me of a stack of books. And a concept was born for the next poster I did for them. :)

I think the attraction to textures was the discovery part. They are like a whole world among themselves and so inspiring. Whenever I travel, I collect whatever new textures I see. My husband has taken to taking texture snapshots during family vacations.

Early on, anxiety seemed to be your constant companion. How have you learned to quash the paralyzing effects of fear and find success?

Wild Rumpus bookstore

Anxiety disorder and depression both run in my family, so this is something I have faced since I was a child. Anxiety appears on my doorstep most every day. So every day, I exercise. Because when I run, I concentrate on the world outside myself and literally putting one foot in front of the other. It gets me out of my head.

After exercise, I do a kind of prayer, where I give thanks for the day. I also visualize actual problems I might face while working and getting through them, which really helps. I also take a moment before I start to write anything that’s bothering me or any particular fear I’m having. Then I give it a 1-10 rating of just how bad the anxiety is. 

Then I work on my stuff and record how hard (or easy) it was to do xyz. Most times, the fear is wayyyy higher than any actual anxiety I thought I’d have from doing that particular task. Its the everyday exercise of just keeping on, keeping on.

I also submit my book projects to my online illustration critique group (a group of five other women from the 2017 SBWI Summer Conference Illustration Mentorship), even when I’m scared to do so. 

Just recently, I thought a picture book of mine needed a major rehaul. I sat on it not wanting to submit it to anyone, but I went ahead and finally submitted to my critique group. They loved it, so it’s going out this week. I also have a small group of Michkid Illustrators (including your beloved Ruth!) who used to meet each month, but Covid put the kibosh on it, so I’m trying to revive the group.

Success is a relative term. It’s a day when I can create without answering the perfectionist rapping at the door, I guess.

While working on your middle grade novel, your father died. Not long after you found you had breast cancer. And yet, at a fall weekend SCBWI-MI conference, you attended, despite the fact you knew that your luxurious hair was about to fall out because of chemo and radiation. Why did you go when so many other cancer patients might wisely choose to stay home?

I needed to be with my tribe. To be with people I loved and to visualize myself as having a future. I don’t know if Ruth told you, but I had asked if she would complete my middle grade novel if I didn’t make it through treatment. I think going to the conference was one of the few things I could control.

I took a shower before the evening event and my hair fell out. The water started to back up and I was trying to fish the gobs of hair out, but I just got so overwhelmed. Luckily the hotel staff was very understanding. I left a large tip for someone to help clean it up.

It was a western theme, so I wore a hat, as I had just an odd halo of hair still left. I felt pretty mixed-up, but was still glad I had come to the conference. Throughout the years, I had a variety of other equally harrowing moments personally and they always seemed to happen just before a conference. I remember crying at sooooo many conferences, just because of one stressful thing after another was always in my wake. SCBWI was the rock that got me through them all. Being surrounded by others pursuing their dreams always revived my own.

In 2007 you won the SCBWI-MI mentorship. Who was your mentor? How did that mentorship affect your craft?

Susan Kathleen Hartung was my mentor. She had started the mentorship program for SCBWI-MI some years ago. It was incredibly generous of her to give back in this way. I remember being so happy! Lin Oliver was visiting our chapter and presented the mentorship award to me.

I embraced the opportunity full-force. There were some exercises that Susan had me do which were helpful. If I recall right, I wanted to submit my picture book to an editor I met from the SCBWI NY Conference, but Susan didn’t think it was ready. I think she was doing her very best and I was doing my very best, but sometimes, the chemistry didn’t feel right. But I truly appreciated her effort and the opportunity to work with her.

I was inching toward what I hoped would be a publishing deal, but not for 10  more years. My husband had felt the whole kids book thing was more of an expensive hobby than a business. It was difficult justifying the years of workshops and conferences I was taking through SCBWI.

You were going for it, writing, illustrating, searching for agents, submitting for mentorships. Where do you think was your turning point, when you crested that final mountain on your road to publication?

There were a couple turning points: Receiving the honorary mention for the Portfolio Award at the 2017 SCBWI Winter Conference and then receiving an Illustration Mentorship at the SCBWI Summer conference. (I almost didn’t go, because it seemed excessive to do two conferences in one year, but my friends said, “GO!” you’ve got people’s attention!) So glad I went! Preparation FINALLY met opportunity! The Illustrator’s Mentorship was a two-day affair, if I remember right.

The first day consisted of a speed dating round with the amazing Nancy Paulsen, Cecilia Yung, Laurent Lin, Pat Cummings, and Paul Zelinsky, among others. Two riveting moments: Editor Nancy Paulsen reviewing my two mockups BRICK BY BRICK and ICE CREAM FACE, and really enjoying them. Another “Pinch me” moment was Art Director Cecilia Yung giving me some wonderfully positive feedback about my work. About a week after the conference, Nancy called to offer two contracts!

From Are Your Stars Like My Stars?

Then, I interviewed a number of agents. This was the nerve-wracking part! I had no problem finding interested agents with a contracts in-hand. The question was, who would be the right fit? I finally decided on Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary Agency who agreed to work with me, not just based on those two contracts, but on other mockups and ideas I’d worked on, as she wanted to help me build a career and not just publish a couple of books. She’s been a wonderful agent!

To the SCBWI membership, unsure of their potential, what would you say your experience taught you?

Most of the SCBWI folks I talk to who are published say it took them about 10 years or so to break in. It may take you sooner? Longer? Mine was not a publishing journey. It was an odyssey. I joined in 2003 and my first two contracts for books were in 2017. That’s not a typo. Yup, 14 years. The thing that opened that opportunity was not only a solid portfolio, but two solid mockups. For illustrators, find your writer’s voice. If you can write and illustrate equally well (not an easy thing), that might be the thing that opens the door for you, too.

Also for the illustrators—If you attend SCBWI conferences pay for a portfolio review, if you can get one with an art director, even if you feel you don’t need it, do so. It’s an excellent way to meet an art director, make a connection and leave them samples.

Jump at every chance you have to go beyond your comfort zone. I used the deadlines of conferences, application for mentorships, workshops, etc. to give me deadlines when I had none. Deadlines are your friends! It gets you out of the hobby category and takes you one step closer to treating it as a business and one day realizing your goal of getting published.

I had many roadblocks along the way, including huge health problems besides having cancer and major family difficulties. All of us have our own setbacks and difficulties in life. It’s the ability to keep focusing on the horizon, to walk toward that goal, even if it’s small steps, sometimes. And it helps to have friends like Ruth. Go find your Ruth!

From Brick by Brick

Also, there are so many other resources today, like workshops and classes you can take online. None of that existed years ago when I was coming up. Above all else, I believe SCBWI has made me what I am today, not just through the mentorships and conferences, but especially through the FRIENDSHIPS that you gain. These are the people who will have your back when you’re in the trenches, trying to get discovered. So if you haven
t joined, do it!

Please list any social media platforms you wish to share.






Heidi’s books are in the Eric Carle Museums Reading Library and the American Writers Museum Children’s Literature Gallery reading space. (There’s a wonderful squirrel mural by Paul O. Zelinsky there—you must check it out if you go!)


Penguin/Random House

Written & illustrated by Heidi Sheffield

Ezra Jack Keats Illustrator Award

Dolly Parton Imagination Library Book

First Book Special Edition

Scholastic Book



Penguin/Random House

Written & illustrated by Heidi Sheffield

Dolly Parton Imagination Library Book



Sterling Publishing

Written by Leslie Helakoski & illustrated by Heidi Sheffield

BBC for CBeebies Bedtime Story

Book Riot’s Must-Read Picture Book



Written by Daniel Bernstrom & illustrated by Heidi Sheffield


Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection