Stories for All

Today we honor and celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. It is fitting that we do so, but the work he did is still far from finished. Daily newspaper headlines declare it. Personal interactions in the cities and towns of all states in our country demonstrate it. Political rhetoric surrounding the current president and the campaign for the next one underline it.

And, sadly, the state of publishing of children’s literature perpetuates it. Today, Scholastic pulled a new book from circulation, A Birthday Cake for George Washington. Although it appears that the author, illustrator and editor had noble intentions in telling the story of Hercules, George Washington’s enslaved chef, the book created an outcry from readers offended by the story and the illustrations of smiling slaves. And “not intending to offend” is never a good enough reason to offend. I believe pulling the book was the right thing to do.

My friend and fellow writer Christine Taylor-Butler recently commented on the dearth of stories for black children on subjects other than slavery. “When I interact with local librarians the question always comes up ‘Why are the Black books always about civil rights and slavery?’ I replied, ‘That’s all publishing seems to want.’ Publishers say consumers won’t buy books with black characters. I respond ‘because you keep giving us more of what we’ve already said we don’t want.’”

Yes, children need to know about the history of slavery, the Holocaust, the Japanese-American internment, the struggle for women’s rights, and the history of discrimination against many groups. But, as Ms. Taylor-Butler says, this is not the only story. Every day we can choose to find books with characters whose courage, kindness, humor, intelligence, love, and growth moves us and our young readers. Why do so few of those stories feature characters of diverse backgrounds? Why do publishers and illustrators seem to take for granted that a character not specifically designated as “ethnic” must be, by default, white?

There is a movement taking hold, and we who write, publish, and edit children’s books must sign on. Go to  for more about it. We must be a champion for writers who need to be heard, for children who need to read their stories. Those of us who come from a place of privilege (even when it may not feel like it) need to open our ranks and welcome other voices to the conversation.

Hundreds of books are published every year. There is plenty of room in the marketplace for books featuring great characters of all skin tones, ethnicities, family structures, genders and gender-identities, religions, socio-economic statuses, cultural traditions, and types of disabilities. Exposing children of all backgrounds to the richness of the human experience enriches us all.



Writing can be an emotional roller coaster. One day, I feel like I’m writing the next Newbery winner. The next, my muse has turned her back on me forever, and I worry that I’ll never have another idea in my life. For me, the best way to combat the writing blues is to connect with other writers, others who “get it.”

I’m fortunate to be a part of a small group of writers who together founded the Mainely Writing Workshop back in 2005. Each June we meet at a cottage overlooking Penobscot Bay. We hug, we laugh, we share our writing in our workshop, and together we celebrate the successes we’ve enjoyed in the last year. In 2014, Maine greeted our arrival with a rain shower, then treated us to the most beautiful rainbow we’d ever seen. We were certain that it would bring “rainbow magic” to our little group of writers–and it has!

When we met the following June, we had plenty of reasons to clink our wine glasses. And our “rainbow magic” continues. This June we will have many reasons to celebrate:

Theadora Gammans, published her third novel this year, A Song for Aura Lee. Several of us met Aura Lee back when we first met Thea, so it was a thrill for us to see this spunky little girl find her way into print.


Karyn Friedman-Everham, found a literary agent this year who will champion her wonderful poetry, novels, and early-readers.

Cathy Cultice Lentes, whose poetry has already been published in many venues, has a chapbook to be released this year. The title is Getting the Mail, and it will be out in March. And the beautiful cover art was created by Sally Stanton, another of our Mainely Writers.


Michelle Houts, who had two new books released in 2014, will share her first picture book, When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike, with the world this summer, and she has another five (five!) books currently under contract.

Nancy Roe Pimm, author of many nonfiction books, has a new book coming this spring: Flying Solo: The Jerrie Mock Story. And Nancy signed a book contract on December 31 for a another book.

Amy Gerstin Coombs finished her MFA program at Vermont College, and she has several completed novels ready to find homes in the publishing world.

Jenn Bailey began her MFA program at Vermont.  RAINBOW UPDATE: Jenn was awarded the Candlewick Scholarship which includes both a cash award and right of first refusal on Jenn’s picture book manuscript!  WAY TO GO, JENN!  

Ann Mack finished the full draft of her YA novel that has been her labor of love for a decade. She knows there is more work ahead, but she can now hold the full manuscript in her hands.

Tamera Will Wissinger, a 2015 Mainely Writer, has a picture book she will launch this spring: There Was An Old Lady Who Gobbled a Skink. 


Our good friend and mentor, Louise Hawes, was a contributor to the anthology Things I’ll Never Say. Her story “When We Were  Wild” is included along with other stories by some of the best writers today. Louise’s next novel, The Language of Stars, will be released this spring. And Louise, a faculty member at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, will accompany a group of students to England this year.


I will have two literary biographies re-released in revised versions this spring. One is about Edgar Allan Poe; the other William Faulkner.

And, as if all this wonderful-ness is not enough–We have a debut novelist in our group! Tessa Elwood, who joined the Mainely Writers when she was still a college student, celebrated the launch of her first YA novel, Inherit the Stars, last month. Although most of our MW crew lives many miles away, they sent their best wishes to Tessa and celebrated with her.


Our group is diverse in many ways: we come from six different states; our ages range from 20s to 80s,  we come from big cities, farms, and small towns; we have writers of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Now before you conclude that this little group of writers came together as writing professionals, I’ll let you know that most of our members had not been published when they became a part of the group. And despite their successes, they have all endured the disappointments that come with rejections and non-cooperative muses. But they all share several important characteristics: they truly care about producing excellent literature; they are willing to work hard; they are willing to accept feedback from others and keep revising their writing to make it their best, and they love to encourage each other. And that in itself is worth celebrating!