An Interview with Rebecca Hirsch Illustrator Coordinator

The SCBWI-WI blog continues to profile our volunteers. Today we welcome Rebecca Hirsch.

Rebecca is the Illustrator Coordinator for SCBWI-WI. She has been an active member of SCBWI and attended conferences since 2011. Among her awards are “Honorable Mention” in SCBWI-WI illustrator competition in Fall of 2016, “Second Runner Up” in the 2017 Tomie de Paola SCBWI contest, “Winner” in the SCBWI-WI illustrator competition at 2017 Fall conference, and the “People’s Choice Award” at Marvelous Midwest conference in May 2019. Her first book, Panda’s Pause, written by Dr. Amanda DeSua, was released in November 2018. Her latest book, Is It Over?, written by Sandy Brehl, was released in July 2021. She has a BFA from University of Wisconsin Madison. She lives in Waukesha with her husband and two daughters

Thank you, Rebecca, for taking the time to answer a few questions for the SCBWI-WI blog. Can you tell us what the Illustrator Coordinator does?

An Illustrator Coordinator hopes to foster connection among the artists in their chapter, and also to provide programming and opportunities for member development.

How can members get more involved in our chapter?

Admittedly, it’s been difficult to stay connected this past year, even with platforms such as Zoom. But there are still programs being offered through SCBWI, including our first Illustrator Intensive since 2019. “Covering Covers,” with Candlewick Art Director Maria Middleton, will take place on Saturday, November 6th. Details are on our chapter’s Regional page.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your own work––and share an illustration if you wouldn’t mind?

I’ve been a SCBWI member since 2011 and attended many conferences. My book with Wisconsin author Sandy Brehl, Is It Over?, released on July 6th. I am currently focusing on my own projects and adding pieces to my portfolio, and of course looking forward to my next collaboration.

Thanks, Rebecca, for sharing your insights and for that wonderful illustration. I love how it demonstrates that all of us creators need support to make our work sing.

An Interview with SCBWI-WI Newsletter Coordinator Sandra Nichols

Many hardworking, talented SCBWI-WI volunteers help keep our chapter great. Today’s blog focuses on Sandra Nichols, the coordinator for our newsletter, Creative Tap. The newsletter is a wonderful source of helpful information from members. If you haven’t read it, you can check out past issues here or find them on our SCBWI-WI website.

Sandra is a writer, educator, and editor who has a keen interest in helping others find joy in creative expression. She has a passion for history and learning. She teaches developmental writing and civics. She has been an active member in Wisconsin State Reading Association for the past ten years and is a regular contributor to their state journal. She has a BA in History from UW Milwaukee and an MA in English from UW Oshkosh. Currently, she teaches at Mid-State Technical College.

  • The newsletter, Creative Tap, is a great asset to our chapter. I really love the “fun facts” section and the tips for writers and illustrators. What inspired you to start it?

I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and also get to know the SCBWI-WI members better, so I began attending events such as the conference. A call went out for volunteers, and one of the positions was newsletter coordinator. What a great opportunity, I thought. A newsletter has a creative aspect about it and connects with so many people: contributors, readers. Leah Danz had volunteered to do the newsletter layout and artwork back in 2018. Together, we came up the name Creative Tap.

  • You’ve been a writer, a teacher, an editor, and a committee member at WSRA for many years. Why do you think it’s important to help people find joy in creative expression?

The creative spirit is the soul of individuals, part of what makes us human. Why the Paleolithic Lascaux cave images or the more recent Hmong story cloths? Storytelling is at the heart of this, weaving the past to the present, the tangible with the intangible, in a desire to make sense of the world around us and within us, to shout out “I exist.” What greater mission than to help others voice this?

  • That is so true! What are your goals for the newsletter?

I want the chapter members to find a nugget of inspiration in every edition. I want the newsletter to be a collaborative effort, a way to share collective knowledge and showcase members’ writing and illustrations. We all can use a little help now and then––even if it’s just a nudge to keep going.

  • Supporting and encouraging each other is important. How can members get involved? 

Members can get involved several ways:

  • Write a tips article. The newsletter is always looking for short articles highlighting writer or illustrator tips. Send ideas to me at
  • Submit to the new author and illustrator challenges: Ready! Set! Write!, a writing prompt activity, and Illustrator Gallery where illustrators submit a visual interpretation on the upcoming newsletter’s theme. All submissions find a place in the newsletter. Calls go out for these submission via the ListServ. Keep an eye out for the fall newsletter challenge sometime in July.
  • Share any upcoming author or illustrator events such as a library or bookstore read-aloud and workshops. With the coronavirus shut downs, the upcoming events has been the hardest to gather.
  • Submit ideas for an interest article related to writing, illustrating, or publishing. Contact me via my email.

Thank you so much, Sandra, for sharing your insights and for all your work on Creative Tap. I look forward to the next issue––and seeing more members’ contributions.

Spring Studio Recap

On Saturday May 1, SCBWI-WI hosted a day long event called PrePAIRing for Success. Because it was virtual, KidLit creators from all across the country were able to learn from faculty members Stef Wade, Christa Heschke, Tiffany Shelton, and Zabé Ellor. There was a lively exchange of comments in the chat room as well as the opportunity to ask questions. SCBWI continues to host many virtual events. They are a great way to learn and stay connected.

A screen shot of Deb interviewing Stef and Christa

Agent Christa Heschke presented first. Her focus was on picture books. She talked about trends in the industry and how to make your book stand out. One important piece of wisdom was to “make every word count.”

Wisconsin author, Stef Wad, presented next. She explained how her experience in marketing enabled her to write award winning picture books, such as A Place For Pluto. Finding a hook isn’t just important for sales, it’s important for our stories too.

Editor Tiffany Shelton and agent/author Zabé Ellor presented together. Their focus was on character relationships in MG and YA novels. They talked a lot about the importance of working relationships as well, whether that relationship is among the author, their agent, and eventually their editor–or sometimes the community of writers and illustrators who are supporting each other in the publishing journey.

After a break for lunch, Wisconsin Co-RA Deb Buschman interviewed Christa and Stef. Deb shared questions from the participants as well as her own. They also stressed the importance of relationships with people in the business, and with educators and librarians. Stef recommended seeking out kids to find out what is working and what needs improvement in your work.

A screen shot of Silvia interviewing Tiffany and Zabé.

Wisconsin Co-RA Silvia Acevedo interviewed Tiffany and Zabé. They each said that we shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions of your agent or editor. And reminded us to read, read, read.

I learned so much from these presentations. Thank you to all the faculty for sharing your insights. Thank you, Silvia and Deb, for all the great questions and for putting together this great day. And a special thanks to Joyce Uglow, Webinar Coordinator, for a seamless event.

An Interview with Author/Agent Zabé Ellor

The weather is warmer. The flowers are blooming. And the SCBWI-WI virtual Spring Studio – PrePAIRing for Success is just a few weeks away. On May 1, 2021, you will have the unique online opportunity to find out how publishing pairs collaborate. Each faculty pair will lead a joint presentation, sharing their dual experiences and/or collaboration, in their specialized track. Our MG/YA faculty include author (and associate agent at Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency) Zabé Ellor and Amazon Publishing editor Tiffany Shelton. They will discuss how to create great character relationships for young readers just growing into their own.

Go to this link to find more information and sign up for the Spring Studio. Please don’t delay. Registration closes at 10 p.m. Central Time on April 16, 2021.

Zabé “Z. R.” Ellor grew up in Washington, DC and narrowly escaped a career in the sciences to write and agent novels. He holds a BA in English Lit and biology from Cornell University. When not writing, he can be found running, playing video games, and hunting the best brunch deals in Dupont Circle.

I asked Zabé: does your background in biology give you a fresh angle on romance? Or not?

I wouldn’t say my degree has much impact on how I write romance. I think it’s important to understand the basics of writing romance because it’s a good way to learn writing relationships as a whole. Once you understand what readers find compelling, then you can use that to inform all relationships you write on-page.

Thanks for taking the time to be on our blog and to be part of our Spring Workshop. We look forward to more of your insights on May 1.

An Interview with Agent Christa Heschke

The SCBWI-WI virtual Spring Studio – PrePAIRing for Success is just a few weeks away! On May 1, 2021, you will have the unique online opportunity to find out how publishing pairs collaborate. Each faculty pair will lead a joint presentation, sharing their dual experiences and/or collaboration, in their specialized track. Among the pairs are agent Christa Heschke and author Stef Wade. In their workshop, ComPAIR & Contrast: Making Your Picture Book Stand Out, you’ll learn how to find your style, turn your ideas into stories, and discover what it takes to create a marketable picture book. Go to this link to find more info and sign up for the Spring Studio.

Christa Heschke graduated from Binghamton University with a major in English and a minor in Anthropology. She started in publishing as an intern at both Writers House and Sterling Lord Literistic, where she fell in love with the agency side of publishing. Christa has been at McIntosh and Otis, Inc. in the Children’s Literature Department since 2009 where she is actively acquiring for all age groups in children’s.

The Spring Studio will have a moderated Q&A panel, in which participants will have the chance to ask questions. I asked Christa, what can creators do to make an agent’s job easier?

I’d say that authors and illustrators should make sure to do their research on each agent and agency before submitting to them. Make sure you are sending to the correct email address and following ALL submission guidelines. Usually an agent’s website or blog or MSWL on Twitter is the best place to look for the most up-to-date info. Agents get a lot of queries so try to do what you can to stand out. It’s really helpful to me when authors use the email subject line to their advantage. Put in the title, age range and genre, i.e. TITLE X, YA contemporary. I get a lot of queries that simply say query or submission. It helps me to know what I will be reading when I open the email. If a genre I’m eagerly looking for is noted in the subject line or the project has an intriguing title, I likely will look at it much sooner than an email with a subject line without any details.

Thank you, Christa, for sharing this information and for being part of our Spring Studio. We look forward to hearing more from you on May 1.

PrePAIRing for Success! — an interview with Stef Wade

Connect with us online May 1, 2021, for our virtual Spring Studio – PrePAIRing for Success! This is a unique opportunity for you to find out how publishing pairs collaborate. Among the pairs are agent Christa Heschke and Author Stef Wade. In their workshop, ComPAIR & Contrast: Making Your Picture Book Stand Out, you’ll learn how to find your style, turn your ideas into stories, and discover what it takes to create a marketable picture book. Go to this link to find more info and sign up for the Spring Studio.

Today, the blog welcomes Stef Wade. She’s best-selling author of A Place for Pluto, illustrated by Melanie Demmer, and The Very Last Leaf, illustrated by Jennifer Davison. A Place for Pluto has received numerous awards and recognition including, Honorable Mention for the Council of Wisconsin Writers Tofte/Wright Children’s Literary Award and the 2019 LITA Golden Duck Notable Picture Book. Stef’s upcoming picture book, Q and U Call It Quits, illustrated by Jorge Martin, releases from HarperCollins on June 15, 2021. Stef holds a BA in advertising from Marquette University and an MBA in Integrated Marketing Communication from DePaul University. While a Chicago-girl at heart, she’s bounced all over the Midwest with her college sweetheart husband and her three historically and literary named boys. She currently resides in Brookfield, WI.

I’m so impressed by how you find creative ways to explore traditional concepts. Can you talk about that?

I’m so excited to be a part of the SCBWI-WI Spring Studio with my super agent, Christa Heschke. Brainstorming and cultivating ideas is my favorite part of the writing process and I can’t wait to help others and share some of my own experiences. 

We have a saying in my house, “Make Every Day Fun.” I use this motto in my writing as well. Many of my books start with a familiar concept and are then anthropomorphized into a silly, punny story! Just like we’ve all had to be extra creative over the last year on how to make our days fun when we are stuck at home, the same goes for story ideas. How can I take something we see or hear every day, something kids learn in school, something basic and bring it to life? I take it apart. I break it down. I make lists. What are all the parts of the solar system? How do leaves grow and how do they fall? How many words start with QU? I write down as many words and phrases that are associated with the concepts and go from there! You never know where the actual story is going to come together! 

I can’t wait to share more on this in April!

Thank you Stef! we’re really excited to hear your presentation. And we look forward to more of your wonderful, fun books.


CRITIQUE GROUPS — an interview with Sue Twiggs

Today the blog welcomes Sue Twiggs, your Manuscript Critique Group Coordinator since 2018. Since that time, she’s matched over one hundred SCBWI-Wisconsin writers in online critique groups.

            I belong to two critique groups myself. Both meet virtually. Being in a critique group helped me learn how to self-edit. My group recognizes my writing strengths and flaws. They encourage me with their constructive criticism and suggestions. Even if I don’t initially agree, I usually incorporate the changes. Suggestions on early drafts are especially helpful when big revision is needed. My critique groups cheer me on when I share good news and offer sympathy when I experience rejection. 

Here’s what two members have to say about their groups.

My critique groups are my community. They keep me going. Not to mention, they give me wonderful ideas and advice and are receptive to mine. — Jerrianne Hayslett                                                                                              

I am in several critique groups, one of which has met for over 20 years. Critique groups are so much more than fellow writers helping spot strengths and weaknesses in manuscripts. Members support one another, provide tips, and offer advice. It was a critique member who told me about an agent who liked the type of books I wrote and advised me to query her. I did, and she became my agent. Members have helped me choose titles for my books. They’ve offered valuable advice about promotion. And they’ve become devoted, lifelong friends, which is the greatest benefit of all. — Amy Laundrie                                                                                                            

            Finding a critique group is a benefit of your membership in SCBWI. Interested members fill out a short bio. I match writers by genre: PB, MG and Y/A. Picture book writers make up the bulk of the requests. I also have groups of PBAuthor/Illustrators. If I’m able, I match by experience, however that depends on openings in ongoing groups.  

            Occasionally people switch groups. Sometimes the first match doesn’t work. Some writers drop out once they realize the ongoing work a critique group entails. Life intervenes: sick parents, home schooling children, moving. I’ll rematch the writer in an ongoing group or merge two groups together that have lost members. Matching a writer with an ongoing group benefits both parties as they don’t have to start again from scratch. 

            What makes a good critique member? A writer who knows how to make their manuscript critique-ready and can give and accept feedback. A good critique member keeps all manuscripts confidential and does not share them outside the group. A good critique member does not copy story ideas from a fellow writer. I’ll go into detail on making your manuscript critique-ready and giving and receiving feedback in a series of monthly tips on the Google list-serv. If you’d like to know more now, check out this link.

            If you’d like to contact me about joining a critique group or adding new members to your group, email me at

Thank you, Sue, for sharing your insights and for all the work you do. Getting and giving feedback is a crucial step in the creative process, no matter where you are on the path to publication.


Susan Twiggs is the Critique Group Coordinator for SCBWI-WI. She is a published poet and on the journey to publishing for children. She practices yoga and has taught for many years. She believes in the power of mentoring and sharing what we know with each other. Her critique group offers continued encouragement and constructive criticism. She co-founded a high school mentoring program, Pathway Partners that continues to support teens in finding their careers. As the CGC-WI she will facilitate members in finding and creating their own support system so they can be the best writers possible.


A few days ago, Bruce Coville gave me some great advice on my WIP. 


No, he didn’t read it. (At this point in my process, I haven’t dared share it with anyone.) He isn’t a friend in life or even on Facebook. Several years go, I had the privilege and pleasure of hearing him present a workshop at a SCBWI retreat. I’m sure some of you were there too. 

His words came riding in to the rescue. I’ll have to paraphrase because I can’t find my notes on what he said. But I remember.

If you want to raise the stakes in your novel, make your character responsible for the problem. In other words, just like those signs in antique stores warn us — if you break it, it’s yours. 

In my WIP, my character finds something in the woods. I was struggling to connect her to that object. Then I remembered Bruce Coville’s advice. So when my character picked up the object, she damaged it. And now she is bound to it and its reason for being in the woods. She can’t quit. She is responsible. 

Bruce Coville said many many other things that day. I’m sure they’ll pop into my consciousness when I need them. He’s just one of many writers, editors, agents, illustrators, and art directors who have shared their wisdom with us members of SCBWI through the years. 

It’s true that many in-person events have been postponed or made long distance. While we all miss being together,  the change in format makes some events more accessible. Every week, SCBWI shares a new digital workshop, which stays on their website for 30 days. The most recent one is: Sticks and Stones and the Stories We Tell: Children’s Book Creators on Channeling Random Acts of Racism Ten BIPOC authors and illustrators discuss how they’ve used the negative experience of racism to fuel their artistic expression.

The big SCBWI summer conference is still happening. I have never been able to afford to go to LA for it,  but guess what – this year it’s only $100! The opening event on July 31 features one of my favorite authors – Philip Pullman. I can’t wait to hear what advice he will give me about my work. 

There’s still time to sign up. Follow this link for more information.  I know it won’t be quite the same as being there in person. But think of the things we can learn.

Is there any gem of advice that you remember from a SCBWI workshop? Please share in the comment line. It may be the thing I need to save the next section of my WIP. 

In the meantime, remember that, even though we have to do are creating by ourselves, we are not alone. We are part of a smart, supportive, caring community of talented artists!

SCBWI-WI Book Talks “The New Kid” by Jerry Craft

On April 8th, several members of our SCBWI-WI chapter met via zoom. Since we’ve all been keeping our distance these days, I was especially happy to see my friends. What better reason to gather than to discuss Jerry Craft’s Newbery award winning graphic novel, The New Kid.

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 18.48.37.png
Special thanks to our former web coordinator Joanna Hinsey for hosting the meeting.

Before the gathering, Charlene Avery and Sandy Brehl posted many useful prompts about how Jerry Craft’s visual story techniques reveal character and feelings. Charlene and Sandy also shared discussion questions to encourage us to think about the assumptions people make about characters and each other.

In our conversation, everyone was very enthusiastic about the book. Jerry Craft did such an amazing job of telling the story of how a boy starts at a school as the “new kid” but how his experiences transform him into a “new kid.”


We all related to that feeling of being an outsider. Craft’s main character Jordan is different from our backgrounds. Reading his book enabled us to experience the microagressions through his eyes. Many of the characters were unaware of how hurtful their assumptions about Jordan were.

In an excellent interview in School Library Journal, Jerry Craft discusses how he came to write the book. “Lots of times, kids of color get painted with a broad brush,” Craft said. He wanted to write something that reflected the experiences of kids like him and like his own sons who didn’t just want to read about historical African Americans or struggling, fatherless kids.

Craft made sure that all his characters were nuanced. He said, “I didn’t want it to be like all the black kids are great, all the white kids are bad, because that’s not life.”

The discussion was lively and fun. Everyone enjoyed talking about the book—and having the chance to get together however we could.

I hope you’ll all join our next book talk on May 12 at 6:30 PM CDT.  The Diversity Committee will host a conversation about books with secondary characters who are different from the author’s lived experience. The main mentor text will be Prairie Lotus. In this great book, Linda Sue Park created well-researched and rounded Native Nations characters.

More information about joining the meeting will be on our SCBWI-WI list service. And if you’d like to find out more about the Diversity Committee, you can email committee chair Charlene Avery at:  caverybooks at gmail dot com.

More Ways to Spread the News about Our Work

Sandy Brehl and Judy Dodge Cummings, our PAL promotions co-chairs, return to the SCBWI-WI blog to share ways we can support each others’ work. They also have excellent suggestions for finding speaking opportunities that will expand our presence in the world of children’s books. As we all spend more time at our home offices, this is a good opportunity to research options for the future. PLEASE add your own outreach suggestions in the comments! We all want to hear from you!

We’re back (see our previous post) to share some suggestions for members with recent or backlist titles. These opportunities can extend your footprint on the landscape of young audiences. Your messages (and books) can reach readers with exponential impact when you connect with an educator in any field. Winning over educational groups means your work will have advocates among annually rotating groups of young readers. Mark your calendars to return to this advice several times a year to keep extending your outreach.

Jane Kelley, Ken Keffer, Michael Kress-Rusnick, and Janet Halfmann speak on a panel at Green Schools Consortium in Milwaukee 


Our seasonal release files are linked on our web pages, announced on listserv, and displayed in social media. Those files are sent directly to the creators of the works in that season. Here are a few ways to use these professionally designed fliers and monthly book-birthday banners to celebrate your own success and that of fellow members.

  • Share on your own social media
  • Use in your website
  • Apply the banners on your headers or profile images
  • Blog about the fliers , sharing how SCBWI has helped you on your creative journey
  • Mail attachments (digital, texting, print, etc.) to family and friends, and invite them to share your good news
  • Deliver print versions to local schools, libraries, day care centers, etc. Bring your personal promo materials. Sharing the new books produced by Wisconsin folks is a fun icebreaker and can help you meet influencers in your community.
  • Share the files with the editor and marketer of your publishing house.

Even if you don’t have a current release, share the content far and wide. When your work does appear, you’ll be grateful to those who help celebrate your success.


Many organizations welcome proposals for speakers, posting a CALL FOR PROPOSALS six-to-twelve months in advance of an event. Begin now to investigate suggested organizations. Determine their mission and decide the best match for your skills, interests, and book topics or themes. Annual events often provide a “theme” and seek proposals related to that topic.


WSRA Wisconsin State Reading Association

WEMTA (Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Association)

Wisconsin Title 1 Conference

Green Schools Consortium Milwaukee

Wisconsin Library Association

Wisconsin Early Childhood Association


National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)

National Council of Social Studies (NCSS)

NCSS State and regional events here:

National Science Teachers Association

American Library Association – Youth Services (Two conferences per year)

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

National Association for Music Education (NAfME)

National Association for Education of the Young Child (early childhood)

Don’t expect this to yield income. In fact, an accepted proposal often means you will be responsible for your own transportation and housing expenses while earning little or no honoraria. However, speaking engagements give you face time with teachers, administrators, counselors, librarians, and coaches. These are the people who will buy your books and hire you for author/illustrators talks in schools.


Consider the following to improve your odds of being selected as a presenter:

  • “Give ’em what they want.” Attendees want to be inspired by ideas and strategies they can use in their busy schedules––not just a presentation about you and your books.
  • Clearly link your proposal to the conference theme and the organization’s mission.
  • Consider submitting a proposal for a panel discussion. This allows those who are less experienced to participate and learn from veteran speakers. Having a book in print is not always a requirement.
  • Incorporate current research related to your topic.
  • Provide “take-away” resources to add value: strategies, resource links, recommended book links, and incorporate active examples of in your presentation.
  • Layer content in your presentation without overwhelming the audicence. Breakout sessions are between 45-75 minutes; covering a few key ideas well is better than trying to address too much.


This post doesn’t even touch on the many ways your own website, blogging, and social media activity can help you. All of the organizations cited above have social media links and hashtags you can use when posting your related news. Find “your people” and stay connected, even if you limit your time on digital outlets. Make the minutes you spend there count!

Preparing a proposal involves research for your idea and the host organization, coordination with potential partners, generating an outline and “pitch”. Much of that preparation can happen after you’re accepted. You might already have an existing programs that can be customized to suit a particular group. Even if your idea isn’t accepted by one group, it may, with some tweaking, work well for another.

The very skills you use to get your work published can be transferred to outreach efforts. Even major publishing houses are no longer able to carry the marketing weight for authors or illustrators. Commit time to exploring and pursuing outreach opportunities so your work will be read far and wide.

Thanks, Sandy and Judy, for this excellent advice. On a personal note, I want to share that after SCBWI-WI rejected one of my proposals for a workshop, I turned it into an article which was published by the SCBWI Bulletin! No work is ever wasted.



SANDY BREHL has always been a reader, writer, and a now-retired-but-still-engaged educator. Passionate about picture books and children’s literature. Author of ODIN’S PROMISE trilogy (2014-2017), MG historical fiction set during the German occupation of Norway. (Originially Crispin/Crickhollow Books, reissued 2019)  Contact:



JUDY DODGE CUMMINGS has written more than 25 books for children and teens. One of her recent titles is Immigration Nation: The American Identity in the Twenty-first Century. Judy has two books scheduled for release in the fall of 2020: Reconstruction: The Rebuilding of the United States after the Civil War, and  When the Earth Dragon Trembled,  a novel of historical fiction set during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.