Monday, September 23, 2013

Michigander Monday: Jean Alicia Elster

This post includes a giveaway!

(Thought I'd work that in right away.  Details at the end of the post.)

I am so very pleased to welcome Jean Alicia Elster back to Michigander Monday.  Jean stopped by here a few years back and she's returned to update us and to tell us about her brand new book, The Colored Car.

Debbie:  Jean, please tell us a little about yourself.

Jean:  A graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Detroit School of Law, I am formerly a practicing attorney and still licensed by the State Bar of Michigan if you can believe that. I’m now a professional writer and the founder and president of Write Word LLC. In addition to the youth lit books I’ve written, I’ve also edited several books including The Death Penalty and The Outbreak of the Civil War –I know, pretty heavy topics—published by Greenhaven Press. Some of the other titles I’ve edited are Building Up Zion’s Walls: Ministry for Empowering the African American Family and Playbook for Christian Manhood: 12 Key Plays for Black Teen Boys, published by Judson Press. In addition, my essays have appeared in national publications including Ms., World Vision, Black Child, and Christian Science Sentinel magazines. I was thrilled to collaborate in the preparation of the manuscript for Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialog with Today’s Youth, by civil rights icon Rosa Parks (Lee and Low, 1996), which was honored with four awards including the NAACP Image Award and the Teachers’ Choice Award.

I am frequently invited to speak at schools, libraries, and conferences throughout the state of Michigan. Last year, I was selected as the inaugural visiting author for The Lori Lutz Visiting Artist Series at The Roeper School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

My husband and I live in Detroit, Michigan, and we are the very proud parents of two adult children.

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your newest book, The Colored Car.

JeanThe Colored Car was released just last week by Wayne State University Press. The main character is a twelve-year-old African American girl named Patsy. During the summer of 1937, her entire worldview changes in unexpected ways after a train trip down south to Clarksville, Tennessee.

The Colored Car is based on real events in my maternal family’s history. My grandparents, Douglas and “May” Ford, came to Detroit in 1922 and my grandfather started a wood business, the Douglas Ford Wood Company. My grandmother was an integral part of that business—taking orders, keeping the books—but she also managed the household with canning, sewing and caring for their five children. My grandparents were also central to the stability of their neighborhood. This book explores their relationship within the community while their oldest daughter, Patsy, experiences events foreign to the world as she knows it.

(See these websites for more info on The Colored Car: and )

Debbie:  What about your other books?

Jean:  I am the author of the novel Who’s Jim Hines?—for ages 8 and older—and published by Wayne State University Press. It was released in August 2008 and is in its second printing. Also based upon my family’s history, the main character, twelve-year-old Doug Ford Jr., comes to terms with the racial realities of Detroit in 1935. Who’s Jim Hines? was selected as one of the Library of Michigan’s 2009 Michigan Notable Books. In addition, the Michigan Reading Association placed Who’s Jim Hines? on the Great Lakes Great Books Award 2009-2010 ballot for grades 4-5. Who’s Jim Hines? was also a ForeWord Magazine 2008 Book of the Year Award Finalist in the category of Juvenile Fiction.

I am also the author of the children’s book series Joe Joe in the City, which includes the books Just Call Me Joe Joe (2001), I Have A Dream, Too! (2002), I’ll Fly My Own Plane (2002), and I’ll Do the Right Thing (2003), all published by Judson Press. In each volume, ten-year-old Joe Joe learns some important life lessons when he reads about heroes from African American history.  I was awarded the 2002 Governors’ Emerging Artist Award by ArtServe Michigan in recognition of the series and in 2004, I’ll Do the Right Thing received the Atlanta Daily World Choice Award in the category of children’s books.

(See my website  for more info on these books.)

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Jean:  I’d be thrilled to see some of your readers at these events—

Wayne State University Press’ 10th Annual Celebration of Books, Thursday September 26, 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Metropolitan United Methodist Church Library, Sunday October 6, 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Leon & Lulu’s annual Books & Authors event, Sunday October 27, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Novi Public Library, Monday January 20, 7 p.m.

Lyon Township Public Library, Saturday February 8, 2 p.m.

(See my continually updated calendar for more events at )

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore?

Jean:  My favorite bookstore in the lower peninsula is The Book Beat in Oak Park. They deserve hearty congratulations for celebrating their 30th anniversary in business last year! My favorite bookstore in the upper peninsula is Snowbound Books in Marquette. It’s our first stop when hubby and I vacation near the shores of Lake Superior each summer.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Jean:  Detroit’s Dequindre Cut Greenway is my new favorite place. Formerly a below street level railroad line, it starts just south of the Eastern Market and ends in Milliken State Park at the Detroit River. It’s a marvelous mile-long path past some of the best examples of urban graffiti you’re see anywhere as well as lush trees and wildflower patches. Walk, bike, jog, rollerblade—anyway you choose to enjoy it, you’ll want to return again and again!

Debbie:  What do you do when you’re not writing books?

Jean:  I’m a grant writer for a nonprofit agency, based in Detroit, that provides shelter for homeless youth and young adults. I like to walk and hike with my husband in Michigan’s beautiful parks. We also visit museums and galleries as we travel throughout the state. I’ve been known to go on knitting binges. And, doing my part to keep the Ford family tradition alive, I have made one quilt.

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Jean:  I recommend you stop and chat with any of the farmers and vendors at Detroit’s Eastern Market. I’ve been buying locally grown fruits and veggies from some of these folks for years and years. They arrive each Saturday morning from all parts of the state, near and far, and have some amazing food facts to share as well as being super nice folks.

Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?

Jean:  Michigan is home to some of the finest university presses in the country. And, of course, I place my publisher—Wayne State University Press—at the top of the list!

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Jean:  Michiganians rule!!

Debbie:  Jean, we'll add you to the Michiganian column.  Thank you so much for being here today for Michigander, I mean, Michiganian Monday!

To be entered for a chance to win a copy of Jean Alicia Elster's book The Colored Car, leave a comment below or drop me an email at deborah[at]

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sep 28 Story Time at Schuler Books Lansing (Eastwood)

Lansing area folks, I'll be at the Eastwood Schuler Books on Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 1:00 PM for a story time and signing.

Hope to see you there!

(You might even get a complimentary comb.)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Michigander Monday: K. A. Barson

I'm pleased to welcome Kelly A. Barson to Michigander Monday!

Debbie:  Kelly, please tell us a little about yourself.

Kelly:  I’m a Michigan girl through and through. I was born and raised here, and so were my parents and grandparents, as well as my husband, his parents, and grandparents. I’ve been a member of SCBWI since I started writing seriously in 2005. I graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in January 2011. Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger, Inc. is my agent. I’m also a part-time adjunct writing instructor at Spring Arbor University. Mostly, though, I like to be home reading or writing in my tiny office with my little dogs.

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your book.

Kelly45 Pounds (More or Less) is a contemporary YA novel. It released in July from Viking (Penguin), and is available wherever books are sold.
Here are the numbers of Ann Galardi's life:
She is 16.
And a size 17.
Her perfect mother is a size 6.
Her aunt Jackie is getting married in 10 weeks and wants Ann to be the bridesmaid.
So Ann makes up her mind:
Time to lose 45 pounds (more or less)
in two and a half months.

Welcome to the world of infomercial diet plans, endless wedding dance lessons, embarrassing run-ins with the cutest guy Ann's ever seen--and some surprises about her not-so-perfect mother.
And don't forget the last part of the equation: It's all about feeling comfortable in your own skin--no matter how you add it up! 

(See books tab at for more information.)

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Kelly:  Yes, my second book, also a YA contemporary and also from Viking, is due out around summer 2015. It’s about a high school cosmetology student who thinks she has her life all planned out and under control—until it falls apart.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Kelly:  Northern Ohio SCBWI conference in Cleveland, OH – Sept. 20-21
Schuler Books in Lansing, MI (Eastwood Towne Center) – Thurs. Sept. 26 at 6:00
Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, MI – Tues. Oct. 8 at 6:30
Perry Literary Festival in Perry, OH – Sat. Oct. 19
Horizon Books in Traverse City, MI – Sat. Nov. 2
Blue Phoenix Books in Alpena, MI – Sat. Nov. 9
Great Lakes Book & Supply in Big Rapids, MI – Sat. Nov. 16

(See events tab at for more details.)

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?

Kelly:  Bookstore: I love Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor. As for libraries, Jackson District Library’s Carnegie Branch, downtown. I spent so much time there as a kid that when I go there now, I can almost see and hear my childhood self in the auditorium watching movies, climbing the marble steps to the children’s department, and waiting in the lobby to check out my stack of books. Just the smell of the books and the gorgeous old building takes me back to a happy place.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Kelly:  I love Mackinac! The Mackinac Bridge, Mackinac Island, and Mackinaw City. The bridge is majestic and beautiful. The island is quaint and historic. I often travel to the city in the off-season to write where it’s quiet and peaceful. (It’s not nearly as quiet during the tourist season, but that’s fun, too.)

Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?

Kelly:  Our family collects antique steam tractors. There are a lot of steam tractor shows in Michigan, and we travel to quite a few of them. We even help put one on in Tompkins Center, Michigan every third weekend in September. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to keep history alive.

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Kelly:  Ed Spicer is a pretty fun, interesting Michigan person. He’s a first grade teacher in Allegan by day, but other than that, he’s a superhero book guy. He reads, he reviews, and talks to people. He’s a friend to authors, librarians, educators, and anyone who cares about kids and reading. His passion is contagious.

Debbie:  I agree -- Ed's great!  Definitely a Michigan treasure.

Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?

Kelly:  It’s a beautiful place to visit. If you haven’t seen the Great Lakes, it’s hard to imagine them. They are not just big lakes; they are inland freshwater seas. 

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally, are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Kelly:  Michigander, definitely. As a kid, I had an old out-of-print book called Michigan My Michigan. That book, along with my elementary school teachers who taught Michigan history, all said Michigander. That has stuck.

Debbie:  We'll add you to the Michigander column!  Kelly, thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Michigander Monday: Suzanne Kamata

I'm pleased to welcome Suzanne Kamata to Michigander Monday!

Debbie:  Suzanne, please tell us a little about yourself.

Suzanne:  I was born and raised in Grand Haven, Michigan, and I attended Kalamazoo College for a year. I came to Japan after college to teach English "for one year" and wound up meeting a guy. I now live in the prefecture of Tokushima, which has a Sister City relationship with Saginaw, Michigan, with my Japanese husband and our teen-aged twins.

I have wanted to be a writer since childhood. As a kid I wrote stories for my classmates, and you might say that my career was launched at a conference for young writers at Hope College back in the day. My participation in that landed me in the Grand Haven Tribune! I got my first check for a piece of writing for an article I wrote while in high school about young people going into the military for the Grand Rapids Press.

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your books.

Suzanne:  Most of my books, so far, have something to do with Japan or being an expatriate or motherhood. My first novel, Losing Kei (Leapfrog Press, 2008) and my short story collection, The Beautiful One Has Come (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing, 2011), were about all three! My most recent book is a young adult novel, Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible (GemmaMedia, May 2013), and takes place partly in Michigan. It's about Aiko Cassidy, a biracial girl with cerebral palsy who aspires to be a manga artist, and also about her complicated relationship with her white, single mother who has become a successful sculptor using her daughter as a model. They go to Paris when Laina, the mother, wins a prize for her art, and Aiko begins to find her place in the world.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Suzanne:  Many! A young adult novel for older readers, Screaming Divas, about an all-grrl rock band in 1980s South Carolina, with a nod to Motown, will be published late next year by Jacquelyn Mitchard's Merit Press. I'm also working on a book about traveling around the world with my daughter, who is a wheelchair user. I was recently awarded a grant by the Sustainable Arts Foundation for this project. I'm tinkering with  a Japanese baseball novel for young readers, and I've just started a sequel to Gadget Girl, which will be set in Japan. I was thrilled to receive a Multicultural Work-in-Progress Award for that. So yes, I will be busy!

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Suzanne:  Not yet, but hopefully within the next year. I would love to visit schools to talk about Gadget Girl in Western Michigan in, say, March. Teachers! Email me!

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan library?

Suzanne:  I spent many happy hours in Grand Haven Public Library (now Loutit Library).

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

SuzanneGrand Haven. When I was growing up there, I was eager to get out and go to the Big City and become a famous writer. My ninth grade Geometry teacher told us students that someday we would appreciate the city we lived in, and we'd want to live there. Now I can see how lucky I was!

I think Sleeping Bear Dunes is pretty special, too.

Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?

Suzanne:  The Coast Guard Festival and the Musical Fountain in Grand Haven. The Tulip Festival in Holland.

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Suzanne:  Well, pretty soon I think you'll be hearing about Helene Dunbar, who was my freshman year roommate at Kalamazoo College. She has written a beautiful, intense book called These Gentle Wounds which will be published by Flux next year. Here's a link to her blog:

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally, what’s the better term: Michigander or Michiganian?

Suzanne:  I call myself a Michigander.

Debbie:  We'll add you to the Michigander column!  Thank you, Suzanne, for being here today for Michigander Monday!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I'll be at the Kerrytown BookFest on Sunday 9/8/13

Those of you in the mid-Michigan area, be sure to head to the Kerrytown BookFest in Ann Arbor on Sunday, September 8.  An amazing array of author panels, kids' events, and book-related activities.

At the BookFest, I have a story time at 1:00 followed by a signing at 2:00.  So if you come to the BookFest, stop by and say hi!