Mentor/Mentee Bios



Kevin Lewis (2017 Picture Book Text Mentor)

Kevin Lewis is the author of multiple picture books for the very young including My Truck Is Stuck!, The Lot at the End of My Block, and Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo. He is also a children’s book editor and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Read more about his work in an interview with The Brown Bookshelf here.

Tara Lazar (2017 Picture Book Text Mentor)


Tara Lazar knew she wanted to be a children’s book author in 2nd grade, but she didn’t get published until 34th grade. Her newest picture book, NORMAL NORMAN (Sterling, 2016), celebrates the differences that make us all special. She has three other picture books with Big Five publishers and two more will be released in 2017. Tara founded Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo), an annual writing challenge for kidlit writers, which she has run on her popular blog, “Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)” for the past eight years. She’s a member of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature (RUCCL) and the NJ-SCBWI Committee. In 2010, just prior to accepting her first book offer, Tara was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters and far too many stuffed animals.

Ellen Oh (2017 Middle Grade Mentor)

We Need Diverse Books founder Ellen Oh is a middle grade and young adult author of the Prophecy series, The Spirit Hunters, and editor of Flying Lessons & Other Stories, a short story collection from some of the industry’s most distinguished writers. She thinks that regular bios are boring (“Do you really care that I used to be a lawyer and teach college courses…?”) and therefore invites you to visit for a fun list of 22 biographical facts.

William Alexander (2017 Middle Grade Mentor)

William Alexander is a National Book Award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of middle grade fantasy and science fiction. Additional honors include an Eleanor Cameron Award, an Earphones Award, a Junior Library Guild Selection, a finalist for the International Latino Book Award, two Minnesota Book Award finalists, and two CBC Best Children’s Book of the Year Awards. Will is second generation Cuban-American. He studied theater and folklore at Oberlin College, English at the University of Vermont, and creative writing at Clarion. He now teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Padma Ventrakaman (2017 Young Adult Mentor)

Award-winning American author Padma Venkatraman has worked as chief scientist on oceanographic ships and spent time under the sea, directed a school, and lived in five countries. Her three novels, A TIME TO DANCE, ISLAND’S END and CLIMBING THE STAIRS, were released to multiple starred reviews (12 altogether), and won numerous honors and awards including an IRA Notable distinction, Yalsa BBYA, IBBY outstanding book, CCBC choice, and recognition from the American Library Association, Booklist, Kirkus, and New York Public Library among others. She provides keynote addresses and commencement speeches, travels to international author festivals, serves on panels, does author visits, conducts workshops, and enjoys teaching and mentoring. Visit her at or contact her via

Alex Sanchez (2017 Young Adult Mentor)

Alex Sanchez is best known for his debut novel, RAINBOW BOYS, an American Library Association “Best Book for Young Adults,” praised by School Library Journal as a book that can “open eyes and change lives.” His other groundbreaking books include the middle-grade novel, SO HARD TO SAY, which won the Lambda Literary Award; BAIT, winner of the Tomás Rivera Mexican-American Children’s Book Award; and THE GOD BOX, about teens exploring spirituality and sexuality. Born in Mexico, Alex immigrated to the U.S. with his family. For many years he worked as a youth and family counselor. Now when not writing, he speaks around the country on topics of diversity and youth.

Jane Yolen (2017 Nonfiction Mentor)

Jane Yolen is a distinguished author of more than 170 books who has served on the Board of Directors of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for over 25 years and as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America from 1986 to 1988. Yolen’s awards include the Regina Medal, the Kerlan Award, the World Fantasy Award, the Society of Children’s Book Writers Award, the Mythopoetic Society’s Aslan Award, the Christopher Medal, and many more. Her books and stories have been translated into over a dozen languages. During the WNDB mentorship year, Yolen hopes to work with an upcoming writer of science/nature-related nonfiction or folklore (also shelved in the NF category).

Carole Boston Weatherford (2017 Nonfiction mentor)

Baltimore-born and -raised, Carole composed her first poem in first grade and dictated the verse to her mother on the ride home from school. Since her literary debut with Juneteenth Jamboree in 1995, Carole has published more than a dozen books, for which she has received literary honors including the Ragan-Rubin Award from North Carolina English Teachers Association and the North Carolina Literature Award, among the state’s highest civilian honors. She holds an M.A. in publications design from University of Baltimore and an M.F.A. in creative writing from University of North Carolina, Greensboro. She is a Professor of English at Fayetteville State University.

Juana Martinez-Neal (2017 Illustrator Mentor)


Juana Martinez-Neal is a mixed media, traditional artist born in Lima, the capital of Peru. ALMA, her debut picture book as an author illustrator, will be published by Candlewick Press in Spring 2018. Juana is illustrating LA MADRE GOOSE (Putnam 2016), and LA PRINCESA AND THE PEA (Putnam 2017) both written by Susan Middleton Elya, and SWASHBY AND THE SEA (HMH 2018) written by Beth Ferry. She was named to the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Illustration Honor list in 2014, and was awarded the SCBWI Portfolio Showcase Grand Prize in 2012. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with her family.

Jessixa Bagley (2017 Illustration Mentor)

Jessixa Bagley is a Seattle based artist and children’s book author/illustrator who started off early in life loving hamburgers and making her own books. She has a BFA in Fine Art for painting and printmaking and is a lover of creating fine art and comics. Jessixa made her author/illustrator debut in 2015 with the critically acclaimed picture book Boats for Papa (Roaring Brook Press). It earned a place on the Junior Library Guild Fall Selects for 2015, First Book’s Projects for All Selection, the 2015 SCBWI Golden Kite Award for best picture book text, topped numerous publications’ lists as one of the best picture books for the year, and is currently nominated for the Scanduizzi Children’s Book Award for the Washington State Book Award. Her second picture book with Roaring Brook Press called Before I Leave came out in early 2016 and she has two other picture books coming out: Laundry Day, 2017 and Vincent Comes Home, 2018 (Vincent Comes Home is a collaboration with her husband Aaron Bagley). She is inspired by growing up in the Pacific Northwest and by her own life experiences. Jessixa loves to draw forest critters and writing content that explores emotional depth in subtle ways. She hopes to create picture books that children can make personal connections with and to inspire compassion for others who might have gone through the experiences she writes about. She lives with her husband son surrounded by books, fake food, and miniature toys- and she still loves hamburgers.




Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many young adult verse novels about the island, including THE SURRENDER TREE, Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, which received the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino author, and THE LIGHTNING DREAMER, Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist, recipient of the 2014 PEN USA Award. Her books have also received multiple Pura Belpré Awards and Honors, four Américas Awards, an International Reading Association Award, Jane Addams Peace Award, and many others. Her most recent verse novel is SILVER PEOPLE, Voices From the Panama Canal. Margarita grew up in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during summers with her extended family in Cuba. ENCHANTED AIR, Two Cultures, Two Wings is her new verse memoir about those childhood visits.
Picture books for younger children include DRUM DREAM GIRL and THE SKY PAINTER, Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist. Margarita was trained as a botanist and agronomist before becoming a full-time poet and novelist. She lives in central California, where she enjoys hiding in the wilderness to help train her husband’s search and rescue dogs.


New York Times bestselling author Nikki Grimes is the recipient of the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Her distinguished works include ALA Notable book What is Goodbye?, Coretta Scott King Award winner Bronx Masquerade, and Coretta Scott King Author Honor books Jazmin’s Notebook, Talkin’ About Bessie, Dark Sons, The Road to Paris, and Words with Wings. Creator of the popular Meet Danitra Brown, Ms. Grimes lives in Corona, California.


Malinda Lo is the critically acclaimed author of several young adult novels, most recently the duology Adaptation, a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of 2013, and Inheritance, winner of the 2014 Bisexual Book Award. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA, a project that celebrates diversity in young adult books. She lives in Massachusetts with her partner and their dog, and her website is


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Patricia Hruby Powell danced throughout the Americas and Europe with her dance company, One Plus One, before becoming a writer of children’s books. She has marveled at the spirit, courage, and beauty of Josephine Baker for a long time. While visiting schools as a storyteller/ author and working as a librarian, she realized what a great role model Josephine Baker could be to young people. Her picture book Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker has garnered various Honors including the Sibert, Coretta Scott King for illustration, Boston Globe Horn Book for Nonfiction, Bologna Ragazzi; and Parent’s Choice Gold for Poetry. Her other picture books are Blossom Tales, Zinnia, and Frog Brings Rain. Her documentary novel Loving vs Virginia (Chronicle 2016) for young adults and middle grade nonfiction Struttin’ With Some Barbecue (Charlesbridge 2017) are forthcoming. You can visit Patricia online at



Carolyn Dee Flores was a rock musician first. Then, a computer analyst. Then, a children’s illustrator. She has illustrated five books for children including Daughters of Two Nations and Canta, Rana, Canta / Sing, Froggie, Sing. Carolyn received the 2014 Skipping Stones Award for Excellence in Multicultural Literature, had her books included on the Tejas Star Reading List (2014-2016), and was a finalist for the 2014 Tomas Rivera Award. Read more at

2016 WNDB MENTEES (Winners)

FROM THE PRESS RELEASE – January 6, 2016 – The We Need Diverse Books™ Mentorship Committee and mentors have confirmed selections for the inaugural Mentorship program. Of the nearly 300 applications received, five applicants have been chosen to work with award-winning authors and illustrators.

The winners are: Lisa Brathwaite, nonfiction mentee with Patricia Hruby-Powell; Deirdre D Havrelock, picture book mentee with Nikki Grimes; Sun Jones, young adult mentee with Malinda Lo; Charlene Willing-McManis, middle grade mentee with Margarita Engle, and Jacqueline Alcántara, illustration mentee with Carolyn Dee Flores.

LISA BRATHWAITE (2016 Nonfiction Mentee Winner)


Lisa Brathwaite is a literary citizen who finds her happy place when reading to and writing for children. Lisa enjoys writing about real people and real events. Feisty females and themes around family, freedom, felicity and philanthropy particularly strike her fancy. Her debut book, a biography about Eunice W. Johnson and the Ebony Fashion Fair, will be published by Lee and Low. She is a proud member of SCBWI and belongs to arguably the best children’s writers group of all time, Decatur Chill. Lisa earned her B.S. in Community Studies from the University of Maryland at College Park. She has worked in a number of fundraising and marketing capacities for nonprofit organizations serving ethnically and economically diverse youth populations. Today she is the cultural engagement advisor at Welcoming America. Lisa lives in metro Atlanta, GA with her husband and their two children.

SUN JONES (2016 Young Adult Mentee Winner)

Sun Jones was once a half-Korean, book-loving tomboy living in the deep south who grew up into a lesbian and aspiring author in the MidWest (she is still half-Korean). Jones is currently an Assistant Editor at Moon City Review and is pursuing a BA in Creative Writing at Missouri State University.

CARLENE WILLING-MCMANIS (2016 Middle Grade Mentee Winner)

As an enrolled member of Grand Ronde Reservation in Oregon, Charlene Willing McManis writes about her culture. Her winning manuscript speaks about growing up without an identity. Charlene achieved a Bachelor’s Degree in Native American Education late in life and currently lives in Vermont with her husband, children and grandchildren. Her personal motto, “Earn your place” came from a tribal elder. It means to always give your best.

DEIDRE D HAVRELOCK (2016 Picture Book Text Mentee Winner)

Deidre D Havrelock is a First Nations woman from Alberta, Canada (now living and working in the United States). She is the granddaughter of Nellie Makokis Carlson, a Canadian feminist who worked to pass Bill C-31, which reinstated treaty rights to Canadian First Nations women who lost their Indian status due to marrying non-Indian or non-status men. Deirdre enjoys writing picture books that encapsulate modern aboriginal people living modern lives. She believes it is important for people to see themselves as heroes of not only culturally significant stories but of life in general. Deidre enjoys working on varied projects, including screenwriting and memoir. She is excited to work with mentor Nikki Grimes to fully develop her picture book(s).

JACQUELINE ALCÁNTARA (2016 Illustration Mentee Winner)


Illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara loves paper, scissors, Adobe and glue. She embraces the old world and the new, allowing her to create digital collages compelling to children and adults. She started her career as a high school art teacher but decided to pursue illustration full-time in 2011. She lives and works between Chicago and Michigan and is fueled by jazz and house music, carbs and coffee. She is happiest when she’s in her studio, dancing at Smartbar, laying on the beach with her dog and family or snowboarding and eating fresh chocolate chip cookies.
She aims to create fascinating worlds that kids and parents can lose hours of their lives reading and re-reading. Half-Honduran and half-Chicagoan, Jacqueline knows the value of being able to find kids that “look like you” in libraries and bookstores and aims to represent not only the skin tones, but the histories and cultures of today’s families.