Meet Author and Educator Michael Samulak

by Gloria G. Adams

Michael Samulak loves kids. He loves reading to kids. His goal is to inspire them to follow their dreams.

Michael obtained his bachelor's in Elementary Education from Michigan State University in 2006 and finished his master's in Reading Curriculum and Instruction at Cleveland State University in 2012. He has been working as a full-time youth minister and educator for almost 20 years. Michael uses his formal education, experiences, world travels and life's adventures to write award-winning children's picture books.

He currently resides in the city of Cleveland, Ohio with his wife and five children.

Visit Michael on his website:

Michael, when did you decide you wanted to write children’s books?
     Wow, I had to think about this one. I can recall having hopes and dreams of being a teacher and writing books for others to enjoy way back in elementary school. I had journals of stories, raw pieces and ideas of future projects piling up since that time. (However, I also was thinking of becoming an astronaut too in those days.)

     So, the love for reading and writing was always there, even at a young age. Related to the themes that many of my books currently focus on in terms of educationally based books that are not only enjoyable, but also purposeful in their approach to support a young learner in their reading fluency, that is something that took a little time to develop.

     The first real serious thoughts, and I would say actual and practical decisions related to becoming a published author of educationally based books, probably began to come about in the early years while I was finishing my BA in elementary education at Michigan State University. In those years, the real world of children’s literature was opened to me as I strove to better my own abilities as an educator. The influence and impact that I began to realize a quality book could have with my students was becoming more and more apparent the more time I had in the classroom and with students. The more I developed my own craft as an educator, the more I realized certain needs that were still out there in terms of subject matter and content that was also age appropriate.

     I began to see if I could be the one that might be able to address these needs and took a first attempt by having my first book published in 2008, A is for Africa (Trafford 2008). While happy with my achievement, I decided I needed to further my own development and expertise if I was going to have my work seen as creditable and so eventually went on to earn a Masters degree in Reading Curriculum and Instruction in 2012. With experience in the classroom as an educator, a father, a heart for helping and teaching youth and now having the formal educational background and training, I decided to pursue the goal of becoming a traditionally published author.

Are there any children’s book authors who have influenced you?
     Those who have had the most impact on my writing, or desire to be a published children’s book author, are Tommy DePaola, Patricia Polacco, and Mo Willems (who I think is basically our modern day Dr. Seuss in terms of being able to connect with children across all spectrums.) These authors give you so much of themselves in their writing.

     It is so much more than being able to put pen to paper, although that is also perfection by every standard as well. They also inspire the people who read their work to do better and to be better, focusing on the best in all of us – and those around us, both inside and out. I love that I love reading these author’s books with my kids and enjoy the story that has been crafted and served up for us in the written form, as much if not more than they do! I hope to be able to serve up a similar smorgasbord with the pieces I am able to present to the world one day.

Tell us how A is for Africa, the book and coloring book, came about. 
     As I mentioned a little bit earlier, this was motivated, in part, by some of the needs I began to see when I was in the traditional classroom. We had a very difficult time finding age-appropriate literature that was related to, or at least helped, with our multicultural content and lessons. There were a number of items that we could find for the older students and classrooms, but not enough for the younger grades. Too often I felt I was “reaching up” and trying to make things work that were not intended for the learners that I was with. As good educators often do, my fellow educators and I “made it work”, but I began then to work on writing literature which I hoped to be able to one day meet some of these needs that I personally saw and experienced.
      In 2006 and 2007 I had the opportunity to go to Uganda Africa for a church mission and humanitarian based endeavors. While on these trips I had the fortunate opportunity to meet and eventually collaborate with a local artist who specialized in the Batik-style of painting. This talented young man helped me to bring the project to a place I could only imagine! I was able to incorporate my manuscript and experiences of my overseas travels, with the educational elements of introduction of letter identification, phonics, and rhyme together with the beautiful pieces of art that he created.

     The book has been very well received by many learning centers, schools and libraries and soon a companion coloring book was produced to help the students and teachers with an additional resource for follow-up and support for both the literacy and art that are introduced with the original.

What is the best part for you about being a children’s author? 
     Honestly for me, especially as an educator and father to five kids, I love knowing that what I am able to do and put out there is engaging and helping so many children to support and foster their love for reading and learning. I LOVE being able to visit classrooms now and personally share my stories with the students I meet and see all of their bright shining faces, share in their joy that the books bring out in them and encourage them all to follow their own hearts to one day see their own dreams realized and come true.

You do Literacy Workshops. Can you tell us about those?
     The educator in me put together a few lesson plans and units for the various age levels I have come across over the years. Generally speaking, they have been for the older students, ranging from 10th grade all the way down to 3rd grade. I have had the opportunity to do long and short versions of the workshop, everything from a single day with a series of sessions, to the more standard two- or three-day approach that allows for more things to be developed over time.

     Without going into too many details, the sessions are very interactive as well as informative as I work with walking together with the group or class through the major steps of the writing process. I touch upon all the basic elements: Brainstorming, Outlining, Research, 1st Draft, Editing, Proofreading, 2nd Draft, etc. The degree to which we cover and extent we go with things all depend upon age, size of the class, and how many days and sessions we have put together.

What are your goals as a children’s book author?
     I would love to be able to have my books worn out because they were read over and over, again and again, because they are loved so much; while at the same time, maybe without the reader even knowing, they were also having little learning moments sown into them each and every time. I would like to be remembered not only as an author and educator whose books were inspiring and brought joy to those who read them, but also one whose books genuinely supported the young learner who engaged with them as they grew and matured into lifelong learners.

Your newest book is A Wonderful Day. Tell us about it.
     I actually started writing this book a few years back. I wanted to create a picture book that would be engaging for both parent and child. My kids have always loved the zoo and, truth be told, I think most times it was me and my love for animals that kept us going back more times than not, so with this in mind, I wanted the book to be about a shared experience between parent and child about one such “wonderful day” together.

     I knew I would be writing in a gender-neutral text, so that any parent could read with any child and feel included. This was a little challenging, in terms of the illustrations, but I collaborated with the illustrator regarding images, colors, and even diversity whenever possible to help strengthen this feature of the book. I was very happy with the final product and do believe it is also one of the strengths of the book.

     The project started slow, but then took a little positive turn as I was in the middle of one class I was taking while finishing my master’s degree. We were going over anticipatory text and text-to-self reflections as an important part of a young reader being able to have and be helped with early-readers, so I felt that my current manuscript would be a perfect candidate for such text. Once I incorporated this as the main character and body of text for the manuscript, the writing was much easier and there was a natural flow and rhythm that brought the whole thing together.

     The book was originally published with a hybrid-publishing company that since has gone out of business (TATE Publishers in 2016), but fortunately has now been recently acquired by Pen It! Publishers who have taken the time and care to bring back the title, with just the right amount of adjustments to the layout and an even larger printing of the book to make it bigger and better than ever. 

"A Wonderful Day! is an engaging early reader that playfully depicts the shared experiences of child and parent who are enjoying a day together at the zoo. This unique story is beautifully told in a gender-neutral text that captures many of the special moments children and adults often treasure and share together."

Describe your creative process for us, from idea to finished product.
     Wow, I’m not sure I can do this justice within this time frame, but I’ll give it a shot -- First is “the beginning” or genesis if you will of the story. This would be related to the brainstorming aspect of the writing process. I’m constantly writing down ideas, words, sentences, and even “stories” whenever and wherever and onto whatever is available to me, but usually it is my laptop or phone (on the note app.) I have notebooks as well, but I have been also known to grab that scrap piece of paper or even a napkin, if the creative juices are flowing. I often am scribbling down sentences or even just “word pairs” that I feel go well together in terms of description or flow. I have lists of would-be-titles of possible stories that I have full intention of eventually bringing to life. I love writing down titles when they come to me; sometimes I have been able to put together whole manuscripts by coming up with a great title.

     Since many of my stories have a purposeful educational component to them, I am also jotting down these ideas and pieces “on the side” or making lists of what would be good elements to incorporate into things I’m working on or would like to eventually see put together with a good story. This helps me to marry ideas and story lines with those educational elements without it being “forced.” I prefer when the elements seem to choose one another as it makes for a better overall “fit” with the manuscript; arranged marriages never seem to work out as well. (haha, get it?) Sigh.

     Once I have an idea in mind, I often sit down and purposefully determine the thought of the overall story with its ARC. This is often an outline of your classic sequence, Beginning-Middle-End and sometimes points. But often I do begin writing outlines or paragraphs of what I have in mind as I go along this part of the process. Once I have a good roadmap put together for the piece, then I write. This is the meat of the process. Writing, writing, writing, and then writing some more: When I am inspired, I write. When I am tired, I write. When I am busy, I write. When I am happy, I write. I write as often as I can, whenever I can, in order to keep the creative juices flowing and also to keep myself in “the pocket” of the world of words and putting them together, as much as possible, regardless of whether or not what I am writing is even advancing my current project, but obviously that is the goal. I have more recently done my best to “finish” a first draft of the piece before I go through the piece again with a rewrite, but I confess, often times, I cannot help but rewrite, massage, and tweak things here and there as I go. This part of the process usually takes some time, at least a few months if I am focused; often times I have to put things down and come back to them, so there are some pieces I haven’t yet brought out for the next step of editing.

     Once I have what I consider a decent enough first draft, I bring it to a few trusted eyes for editing and review. This is much more than grammar or spelling, which Lord knows I always need help with, but more for strengthening and improving the writing itself, flow of the piece, ARC, special moments, elements of surprise. Cutting and adjusting are always a painful part of this process, but I have come to realize it is eventually for the best. I confess, I still have sentences or paragraphs that I have salvaged from the editing floor that I loved (still love) so much and hope, with all hope, that I can eventually use in a future story somewhere, somehow… maybe.

     Finally, after all the many rounds of editing and review, there is the rewriting and polishing of the piece that, generally goes through at least one or two more solid rounds of the review and editing, before I would bring it forth as “done.” And then, as a published author, I know it is not really ever, “done,” especially if my intentions are to submit it to an agent or publishing house for consideration. I know that my baby will go through the wringer again and again before it is finally in print. Whew. Well, that’s not everything, but probably enough to get the gist of what basically is included in my process.

What inspires you? 
     Besides my Wonder-Woman wife and beautiful children (which probably isn’t what this question is getting at, but honestly they are truly such a big source of my inspiration in my writing as well as why I write), I would say, as an educator, a big part of what motivates me, and my heart, is for the youth, the next generation of kids who are growing up today. Those who make up this “next generation”…I want to inspire them, to empower them to go for their dreams and help them, as much as I would have any positive influence, to do so! To “hold fast to dreams”, to never give up and that what I might be able to offer would indeed have a positive influence on those youth. I feel that through writing, some authors are given a rare opportunity to have an influence that has some enduring feature that is not only broad in terms of audience, but also there is a longevity involved, in terms of time. I hope to be one that is able to touch and inspire people for a long time, one that could potentially be even longer than whatever finite amount I personally am eventually allotted.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
     Read. Read. Read. And then read some more… read as much of the current titles and even classic pieces that you can find which you believe are of your interest or subject matter that you feel you want to write about. Keep a journal, sort of a running commentary, of the pieces you read and some of the things that stood out to you about the writing style, character development, ARC, and feeling that the author evoked or brought out of you. I think each author eventually finds his or her own style and voice, but one first has to be familiar with what is out there, what has been done, what people are reading, etc. in order to join the ranks of those who are published AND have (or are having) an impact on actual readers today.

Pantser or Plotter?
     I am definitely the Pantser. My wife has helped me tremendously in some respects to actually acknowledge things like “a plan”, or think about what we might do while we are on vacation, or “budget.” But try as much as she has -- my instinct is still defiantly more of, “Let’s Go!”, ask questions later, “Ready, Go!...then maybe worry about the “Set” of things as need arises… Ha Ha Ha, -- Maybe.

Guilty Food Pleasure?
     Ice Cream. Hands Down. It is my Kryptonite.

Favorite Hobby? 
     Before the kids I would have answered this: Exercise. Since kids, my little bit of extra time for my own peace of mind and interest is to read and learn about space and its exploration. I am fascinated by the universe and its wonders and how all of this works. Man making plans to go to Mars, the recent probes that have left our known universe which are not traveling out into deep space, and things like this. Love it!

Dog or Cat person?
     Definitely Dog, but I’ve grown to appreciate cats: Mostly again because of the kids.

Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)?
     Jesus of Nazareth. Yes. Please. I mean, come ‘on, you would never run out of things to eat or drink…and can you imagine the conversation?!

Do you do your best work in the Morning, Afternoon, or Evening? 
     Oh man, I would say I’ve experienced flashes of all three being productive, but I’m much more of a night owl so I would have to say, “Evening”; when the kids are down and the house resembles some actual amount of semi-peace: Calm before the next day’s storm, if you will. This is my time.