Mentor/Mentee Bios

2017 WNDB MENTEES

Congratulations to the recipients of the 2017 WNDB mentorship program. The selected individuals have been given the opportunity to work for one year with a multi-published author in their genre or age category.

Illustration Category (Mentors: Juana Martinez-Neal and Jessixa Bagley)

Olivia Aserr is an illustrator currently living in Los Angeles. She works as a background painter on The Powerpuff Girls at Cartoon Network and creates children’s books. Her passion for s

torytelling is greatly influenced by her own upbringing and adventures. She developed her skills at both Art Center School of Design and Rhode Island School of Design and continues to try to learn as much as she can with her pup, Bonnibel, by her side.

Joanne Wong spent her childhood drawing and doodling characters in worlds that she had created. Not much has changed today, as she still loves to draw and paint quirky characters mainly using gouache and colored pencils. Joanne is inspired by cultures around the world, vintage books, humor and cute animals! She’s interested in creating meaningful illustrations and stories that both children and adults can relate to, also perhaps using a little humor along the way. Joanne also teaches art part-time to children and adults. She was born in Hertfordshire, England, and currently lives in her ancestral home of Hong Kong since 2010 with her husband and blue-eyed rabbit. www.joannewong.co.uk

Picture Book Category (Mentors: Kevin Lewis and Tara Lazar)

Kim MacPherson, the only child of a Korean mother and Scottish-American father, spent a good portion of her childhood with her nose in a book. She also wrote and drew her own books—mostly about horses and (unoriginally) characters from Archie comics. Now that she’s (ahem, decades) older, she still loves to make books… except now her characters are haughty cats, naughty birds, spell-casting ballerinas, and rebellious girls with impossibly long hair. (Move on, Archie.) Kim wants to create stories that ALL kids can identify with and believes the best picture books are simply told… in a brilliant, unexpected way.  Learn more at @KimmyMacBooks or KimMacPherson.com.

Urania Smith started writing at a young age, and as a kid, thought she was a literary genius. As an adult, she can barely comprehend her childhood writings. She has a B.A. in English and has been writing for children for 13 years. Urania enjoys writing stories that are quirky, funny, and sometimes subversive. She’s especially drawn to characters who have a good and bad side, because she believes they are true to who we are as people. Urania is the New Membership Chairperson for SCBWI-Illinois and is on SCBWI-Illinois’ diversity committee. She’s from Chicago and currently lives in the Chicago suburbs with her family. Besides writing, Urania loves decorating and do-it-yourself projects, and she’s an amazing cook. She often brags about her cooking and is willing to bake for anyone who doubts her culinary prowess. Challenges to cook-offs are welcome.

Middle Grade Category (Mentors: Ellen Oh and William Alexander)

Patricia J. Miranda teaches high school English from August to May. From May to August, she grows too many tomato plants in her zone 6A garden. Her poems have been featured in several literary journals, and one of her short stories was a finalist in the 2016 Fairy Tale Review prose contest. With her manuscript—about a lonely girl whose “truest, bestest” friend is a goblin—she has received scholarships to the Midwest Writers Workshop and the Highlights Foundations Whole Novel Workshop. Patricia lives in the middle of Ohio with her husband and two daughters, and if she could, she would vacation in Middle Earth.

Maya Beck is a lapsed Muslim, recovering otaku, socially awkward blipster, and genre-confused writer. She is also a 2014 Givens Foundation alum, 2017 VONA Regional Workshop participant, and Paper Darts staff member whose fiction has been published with the Redlands Review, Errata, Revolver, Mizna, and her nonfiction has been published by the Twin Cities Daily Planet, NewHive, and Pollen. Homeschooled in ways that bordered on truancy in a wanderlust-driven family of nine, she was raised in California and other states and currently works for an arts nonprofit in Minneapolis. Her degree in philosophy revealed how little she knows, her degree in studio art has been used to paint cartoon girls and bunnies, and her creative writing MFA will be used for fiction inspired by mind-bending manga. One day she will make a hundred friends and become a real girl.

Young Adult Category (Mentors: Padma Venkatraman, Alex Sanchez, Kiersten White, and Jodi Meadows)

Maya Prasad was born in India and raised in Texas. After graduating from Caltech, she spent nine years working as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. But the longing to see South Asians like herself reflected in literature was strong enough to get her writing. She now lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she spends dreary gray days writing in coffee shops and raising a bookworm of a toddler.  Her young adult novels feature unwieldy technologies, Indian culture, and subversive STEM girls. She can be found online on twitter @mayaprasadwrite or at www.mayaprasad.com.

A M Dassu was born and raised in the heart of England. She wrote her first set of poems and a short story aged eight years old. Three years ago, whilst writing some copy for a friend’s website, she rediscovered her love of writing for an audience. Since then she has become a featured writer for The Huffington Post and written for the Times Education Supplement. Her first piece on The Huffington Post was featured on the front -page, alongside Barack Obama and Lenny Henry. She is the Events Editor for the British Isles Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators magazine entitled Words & Pictures. She has a BA in Economics and Management and firmly believes in giving back to society. Her previous work experience includes project management, marketing and some editorial work at Reader’s Digest. In 2015, A M Dassu wrote a picture book inspired by her son’s school friend; she started looking into publishing it and the rest is history. She has since written a contemporary teen novel and is now in the process of editing it. She loves planning school workshops and as a lover of hats, she spends a lot of her time choosing which hat to wear. You can find her on Twitter: @a_reflective

Caitlin Hernandez Though her first loves are young-adult and middle-grade fiction, Caitlin also writes nonfiction prose and poetry, cheesy pop songs, and overly-lengthy Facebook statuses. Three of her plays, including a short musical, were produced by the Los Angeles nonprofit CRE Outreach, which hosts the only all-blind acting troupe in the country. As part of Children’s Book Writers Of Los Angeles, Caitlin was a participating author in the collaborative middle-grade novel, “Kayla Wayman, Teen Time Traveler: Lost In The Stream,” published in 2016. Her nonfiction pieces have been published on TheMighty.Com and WordGathering.Com, in Magnets and Ladders’ second “Behind Our Eyes” anthology, and in an upcoming disability studies textbook entitled “Barriers And Belonging.” In 2015, she was selected as a Lambda Literary fellow in genre fiction; her short story, “Bowling And Eating Ice Cream … Simultaneously,” appears in Lambda’s 2015 “Emerge” anthology. When not writing, reading, singing a cappella, or searching for ice cream with Oreos, Caitlin is a special-education teacher at a San Francisco elementary school. You can easily pick her out in a crowd, which is good because she probably won’t be able to find you herself; her cane, phone case, backpack, and sunglasses chain are all rainbow-colored, and because it drains her battery and allows sighted people to spy on her, the screen on her Braille tablet will be turned off.

Kelly Mullen-McWilliams grew up in Arizona, attended college in the shivery-cold Northeast, and promptly flew far, far away to Honolulu, where she now lives with her husband and baby daughter, and gets to see a double rainbow over Diamond Head two or three times a week. She loves reading, writing, hiking, caving, and learning anything at all. She’s also a feminist, and passionate about the incredible diversity of women’s experiences in the world. Young adult books were her first love, and she is thrilled to be writing for teens again–this time with a science fiction twist.

Nonfiction Category (Mentors: Carole Boston Weatherford and Jane Yolen)

Pamela Courtney loves two things . . . children’s literature and music. In 2004, she combined these passions creating MyLMNOP, a valuable literacy and music program for early learners. With a B.S. in Early Childhood Education, and over two decades as an early childhood practitioner, the importance of sharing quality books in areas with poor literacy programming grew. As Pamela brought her musical brand of literacy engagement to early learners, she dreamed of having her words, her stories affect young readers in creative, positive ways.

With each narrative she crafts, Pamela explores the history, folklore, magic and mysticism of her rural Louisiana culture. Her goal is for children to immerse themselves in the mysteries of exotic legends, animals, and people. Pamela lives in Atlanta, GA., where she works as an elementary school teacher. She is overjoyed to have the opportunity to grow as a writer and teacher as she works with her WNDB mentor, Carole Boston Weatherford.

Teresa Robeson, as a child in Hong Kong, first read North American classics like Arnold Lobel’s “Small Pig” in Chinese before reading them again for the first time in English after immigrating to Canada at the age of eight. Straddling Eastern and Western cultures, she infuses aspects of both into her writing. Her first published story in Ladybug magazine was based on her Hong Kong kindergarten experience, and one of her short stories, loosely based on her life, in a science fiction anthology received many good reviews on Amazon. She currently lives with her scientist husband and two sons in the Midwest, where she does art and writes stories and poetry about science/scientists, nature, and self-sufficiency.

2017 WNDB MENTORS

Kevin Lewis (2017 Picture Book Text Mentor)

kevinlewis
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)

tarafall2011picclose

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)

ellen_oh_headshot
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 ellenoh.com for a fun list of 22 biographical facts.

William Alexander (2017 Middle Grade Mentor)

will_alexander_headshot
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)

padmavenkatraman3
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 http://padmasbooks.blogspot.com or contact her via www.padmavenkatraman.com.

Alex Sanchez (2017 Young Adult Mentor)

alex_sanchez_color
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. www.alexsanchez.com

Kiersten White (2017 YA Mentor)

Kiersten White is the New York Times bestselling author of And I Darken, Now I Rise, the Paranormalcy trilogy, the dark thrillers Mind Games and Perfect Lies, The Chaos of Stars, and Illusions of Fate. Her first middle grade, Beanstalker and Other Hilarious Scarytales, is forthcoming. Her books have won several awards, including the Utah Book Award, the Evergreen Young Adult Book Award, and the Whitney Award, and have been named an ALA-YALSA Teen Top Ten Best Book, a Florida Teens Read list selection, a Texas Lone Star Reading List Selection and Tayshas Reading List Selection, among other accolades. She lives with her family in San Diego. Visit her online at www.kierstenwhite.com.

Jodi Meadows (2017 YA Mentor)

Jodi Meadows wants to be a ferret when she grows up and she has no self-control when it comes to yarn, ink, or outer space. Still, she manages to write books. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy, the ORPHAN QUEEN Duology, and the FALLEN ISLES Trilogy (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen), and a coauthor of MY LADY JANE (HarperTeen). Visit her at www.jodimeadows.com

Jane Yolen (2017 Nonfiction Mentor)

yolen2015-jason-stemple
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)

carolebostonweatherford_headshot
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

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.

2016 WNDB MENTORS

MARGARITA ENGLE

Margarita_Engle

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. www.margaritaengle.com.

NIKKI GRIMES

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

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 www.malindalo.com.

PATRICIA HRUBY POWELL

PHP standing_2

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 talesforallages.com.

CAROLYN DEE FLORES – ILLUSTRATOR MENTOR

CarolynDeeFlores

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 www.carolynflores.com.

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-headshot

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_headshot
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)

charlene_willing-mcmanis_headshot
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)

deirdre_haverlock_headshot
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)

jacquelinealcantara_headshot

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.