Scholarship Helps Johari Mitchell Find Confidence to Independently Publish Her Picture Book

Nov 20, 2023 | Black Voices, Scholarship Stories

UPDATE December 2023: Johari’s book Sweet Fire was chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Indie Picture Books of 2023!

Johari J.P Mitchell‘s passion is cultivating freedom through creativity, courage and community. Her superpower is helping others to link vision to opportunity through the power of words. Through writing, education solutions and speaking, she builds skill and confidence in marginalized voices to make the world a more beautifully interesting place. Johari is a wife, mother, daughter, educator and writer whose multiple identities show up in her work and inform her worldview. She lives in Columbus, Ohio.

With support from a General Scholarship, Johari attended PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz and Getting to Know Your Character. She says “Participating in the Picture Books and All That Jazz course in person was a game-changing experience for me. Prior to this, I had not begun a path of really intentional learning around my writing craft for children’s works. I must have believed that my extensive experience with children’s literature as an educator and literacy coach had made me ready. I was wrong. Participating in the workshop gave me access to a lot of the background work that happens to make children’s books go.”

“I appreciated the intensive teaching and mentorship of our instructors, Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison. The collaborative spaces with the other participants were amazing as well. I had a manuscript ready to use in this workshop, but I changed my mind and decided to instead receive some feedback on a manuscript that I had thought was done – for my picture book Sweet Fire. I had plans to independently publish this work, so I thought it might not be the right fit for the feedback activities we would do in the workshop. I’m glad I chose otherwise, because I really got some amazing feedback including from Trisha DeGuzman, which was my first Interaction with a professional agent. I left the workshop very confident in the choices that I had made with the book and the revisions that I had put in place.”

Author photo: Johari Mitchell
Book cover: Sweet Fire

Johari attended those workshops in 2019. Today she says “A million things have happened since that Highlights workshop, including family sickness and losses, global pandemic, my kids getting older and all of the rest. However, I’m glad to say that along the journey I received the support of my local arts foundation in the form of small grants towards publishing my picture book independently. My illustrator was discovered during this time by Mariah Carey, who hand-picked her to illustrate her picture book which was released in November of 2022. I have taken other craft courses and been investing in my process. I’ve built relationships in the literary community.”

“I was able to successfully launch a direct crowdfunding campaign that financed my first print run of 500 books. I began delivering books last week. Principals and organizations are already interested in the book, and I will have the opportunity to sell copies this summer at a book fair and speaking engagement. These have been major wins for me! I am grateful. “

“I am still on the path towards pursuing traditional publication; however, I’m extremely proud of the persistence that I built along the way and that I was able to fulfill my desire to release this message, which I felt was pressing and timely. So much of this journey would not have been possible without the Highlights Foundation and that first workshop. It taught me the value of great teaching applied to adult learners who are writing for children. Strong instruction followed by practice with feedback in order to learn the tried and true approaches to getting good results is applicable across contexts. I learned that no matter how brilliant we think a manuscript is, multiple layers of revision from different perspectives only make the work richer.”

“I also began to understand that the Highlights Foundation leadership is extremely invested in seeing participants achieve their goals. I see them developing people and not merely producing programs…changing this game and changing the world!”

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