Adriana Hernández Bergstrom
Adriana Hernández Bergstrom is a Cuban-American mixed media artist, and children’s book author-illustrator. She studied fine art & theatrical set design at the University of Miami, FL and industrial design at RISD ('08). She loves literacy and languages and speaks English, Spanish, and German. Her debut children’s book as author and illustrator was ABUELITA AND I MAKE FLAN (Charlesbridge, 2022) about a little girl learning to make amends when making flan goes terribly awry. TUMBLE (Scholastic, 2023) is about the tumbleweed lifecycle as told in lyrical text against a gorgeous southwestern backdrop. COUNTDOWN FOR NOCHEBUENA (Little, Brown, 2023) is a Latine Christmas celebration counting book.
I would love to guide an author-illustrator, or an illustrator with a story to tell with the task of making their work pitch-ready. I am an insightful, albeit direct, critique partner and I would offer the same in this mentorship. Insightful, direct feedback on improving your artwork at its most fundamental. Option A if you have a manuscript dummy you are already working on. Let's make sure your story is solid and the art is saying what you want it to in order to be as successful as possible with your query package to an agent or editor. Option B is the development of a narrative art portfolio. You're an artist and you've discovered kidlit and you have a story to tell. I'm happy to be the curator and art director for your portfolio. Let's find your visual voice. Let's explore and push what you thought you were capable of!
Katie Mazeika is an author and illustrator who can’t imagine a better job than making books. Katie specializes in telling stories based on real people and events and likes to highlight disabled voices in her work. Katie’s the author/illustrator of ANNETTE FEELS FREE and BEULAH HAS A HUNCH. Katie has illustrated several other books including three in the Chicken Soup for the Soul: Babies series. When she’s not drawing Katie likes to spend her time gardening or reading other people’s books. Katie currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio. You can visit her online at www.katiemazeika.com.
As an author/illustrator, my focus is visual storytelling, and I would love to work with an author/illustrator on a dummy or book idea. My critiques and feedback will be aimed at creating a portfolio or project suitable for children’s publishing. I’m happy to share everything I know about this industry and to help with how to query and promote yourself as an artist and build your kidlit community.
Shirley Ng-Benitez is an award-winning author/illustrator who has illustrated over 30 books for children. She’s worked as a Professional Lettering Artist for American Greetings, Inc., designed & art directed for various design firms, and has owned her firm, GabbyandCo.com for over two decades. She loves experimenting with traditional media including watercolors, gouache, pen & ink, and painted & cut paper collage. Earth and its creatures, and her deep wish for more compassion & connection in the world, are inspiration for her art and stories. She founded @AWEtober on Instagram, a yearly art auction fundraiser which has raised tens of thousands for organizations supporting the victims of the California wildfires and coral reef restoration efforts around the globe. She’s a Bay Area native, living with her family and two black cats, and is thrilled to be working on her debut picture book, DOWN, THROUGH, UP by Quill Tree Books releasing Winter ‘25. Visit shirleyngbenitez.com for more.
I’m so honored and excited to work with you and look forward to learning what you’ll be adding to the children’s book world! I love concept, all things handcrafted, print, and business. I illustrate across different genres including picture books, board books, and an early reader series. I also write picture books, early reader graphic novels, and most recently, a graphic novel. I’ll provide thoughtful, careful, constructive feedback to elicit points to consider, never to dictate or diminish. My wish is for us to work together to discover and polish your vision for your work, and for our mentorship year to be an informative, productive, fun & insightful place to share and grow.
PICTURE BOOK MENTORS
Laurel Goodluck is Mandan, Hidatsa from the prairies of North Dakota, and Tsimshian from the rainforest in Alaska. She now resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her Diné husband. She writes picture books with modern Native themes and has one non-fiction chapter book: She Persisted: Deb Haaland (2023). Belonging to an intertribal family is at the heart of her stories, encouraging children to realize their cultural experiences are unique and powerful perspectives to explore and celebrate. Her award-winning debut picture book, Forever Cousins, is followed by five more picture books with heartwarming, humorous, or conceptual themes, including Rock Your Mocs (2023) and Too Much, My Great Big Native Family (2024). Find her at www.laurelgoodluck.com or I/T@lauriegoodluck.
I was a mentee in 2019, and the experience was career-changing. With the support of my mentor, I continued to hone my craft and shape my direction with a supportive community. My experience in publishing spans from acquiring an agent, collaborating with four different editors, marketing, and relationships with organizations to “give back” by volunteering. I believe in the author’s note to bring another layer of story and truth-telling to my books. I’d be happy to hear about your goals and explore your mission statement that can drive your craft and path. I’d gladly share how I come up with ideas through mapping, sketching, communing with nature, and bike riding. I’d like to encourage exploring mentor texts as they are gems and essential to study for inspiration and direction when writing picture books. Last, I’m eager for this opportunity of a new connection.
Aya Khalil is an award-winning author of picture books. She holds a master's degree in Education. Aya and her books have been featured in Oprah Daily, Teen Vogue, Yahoo!, Book Riot and USA Today. Her writing has been published in The Huffington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Toledo Area Parent and many others. Her debut picture book The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story, has won numerous awards and honors. She is also the author of a board book, Our World: Egypt, and The Night Before Eid: A Muslim Family Story, a picture book about three generations of Egyptian-Americans bonding over a special Eid treat. She's also the author of The Great Banned-Books Bake Sale,a story of a girl and her classmates finding out their school district has banned diverse books and they organize a bake sale and protest. Aya is a Muslim Highlights Foundation Storyteller and a co-founder of Kidlit in Color, a group of traditionally published BIPOC creatives who nurture one another, amplify diverse voices, and advocate for equitable representation in the industry.
I hope to work with an author who writes fiction non-rhyming picture books. I'm not the best at completely humorous picture books, although I do love a few funny moments here and there. I love intergenerational, food, holiday friendships, family relationships, identity, culture, and most importantly, stories about being unapologetic about who they are. Ideally, I'd love to work on one or two picture books together and answer any questions about the industry. I am pretty open to questions and will answer things about how much my own personal experiences i regards to advances, auctions, royalties, my relationship with editors and agents and what to expect. I can also offer marketing tips and how to make your social media stand out and a few tips here and there about the industry and what I have learned so far.
Alyssa Reynoso-Morris is a queer Afro-Latine/x Dominican and Puerto Rican storyteller. Her ability to weave compelling stories has opened many doors for her as an author, speaker, and resume writer. She is also a mother and community organizer. During the day she works with community members, non-profit organizations, and government officials to make the world a better place. Then she puts her writer’s hat on to craft heartfelt stories about home, family, food, and the fun places she has been. Alyssa was born and raised in The Bronx, New York, and currently lives in Philadelphia, PA with her partner and daughter. She is the author of Plátanos Are Love, The Bronx Is My Home, and Gloriana Presente: A First Day of School Book. She hopes you enjoy her stories. To learn more about Alyssa visit her website at www.alyssaauthor.com
I've served as a mentor before and found it rewarding. I am eager to work with a non-rhyming picture book writer that is not afraid to write heartfelt stories. Most of my experience is with fiction manuscripts but I can work on nonfiction books as well. My teaching and mentoring style is inquisitive. I will ask you questions to push you to dig deeper. I also make suggestions to help you better understand what I mean. I'm a cheerleader and will encourage you. Let's turn that manuscript into a diamond. I am also open to discussing any aspects of publishing including drafting pitches, querying, researching agents, understanding contracts, navigating social media, and more.
As an Indian American, Meera Sriram has lived equal parts of her life in both countries. She is the author of several picture books including A GIFT FOR AMMA, winner of the South Asia Book Award, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, an American Library Association’s RISE: A Feminist Book Project selection, and DUMPLING DAY which was featured in The New York Times. Her most recent titles include A GARDEN IN MY HANDS and OUR WORLD: INDIA. Meera believes in the transformative power of stories and likes to write about people, places, and experiences less visible in children’s literature. She lives with her husband and two teens in Berkeley, California. For more information, please visit: http://www.meerasriram.com.
As a mentor, I look forward to guiding picture book writers in their craft and offering them resources to grow in their journey. Through monthly audio or video check-ins, I hope to share insight with regard to querying and the picture book space in the publishing industry. Whenever revisions get confusing and crafting norms seem limiting, I'm most excited about helping writers hold on to the heart of the story they set out to tell.
MIDDLE GRADE MENTORS
Meredith Ireland is a Korean American attorney and writer, born in Seoul. She is a Rollins College and University of Miami School of Law alumna. Meredith writes young adult and children’s books and is proudly represented by Lauren Spieller of Folio Literary Agency. Her debut novel, THE JASMINE PROJECT, was a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection, a Best Book of 2021 according to Boston Public Library, and received a starred review from Booklist. Her follow up, EVERYONE HATES KELSIE MILLER, also from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, was named a best book of 2022 by both Forbes and Seventeen Magazine. She is a contributor to YOU ARE HERE, a 2023 middle grade anthology and the inaugural title from Allida/Clarion, which received six starred reviews. She will also have a short story in WHEN WE BECAME OURS, a YA anthology coming October 2023, edited by Nicole Chung. EMMA & THE LOVE SPELL, her debut middle grade fantasy will be out in January 2024 from Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing. Her follow up, LILY & THE FLOWER OF LIFE is coming Winter 2025. She also writes middle grade horror under the pen name Mai Coryea.
Meredith resides in New York with her two children and a county fair goldfish that will probably outlive them all.
I have written young adult contemporary as well as adult romance, but middle grade has a special place in my heart as does mentoring. My former mentees through PitchWars and DVPit have gone on to publish an astounding number of books and I'm very proud to have been a small part of their journeys. I'm so excited to find a new voice to nurture in this industry. Ideally, my mentee and I will work on several rounds of edits from a big picture letter to line edits and they will have the time to devote to improving their craft. I love that there is something I learn with each person I mentor and that I can make a long connection with another writer and I hope to find someone looking for the same.
Justine Pucella Winans
Justine Pucella Winans (they/she) is a queer and nonbinary writer who lives in Los Angeles with their husband and two adorable cats, Jasper and Twinklepop. Their YA debut, BIANCA TORRE IS AFRAID OF EVERYTHING, was an Indies Introduce and critically acclaimed comedic murder mystery. Their MG debut, THE OTHERWOODS, is a spooky portal fantasy that releases September 2023. When not writing queer, creepy, and fun fiction for kids and teens, they can be found training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, reading manga and webcomics, and actively avoiding real life scary situations.
As a writer of both Middle Grade and Young Adult who juggles multiple projects, I believe I have a unique perspective on getting started as a career writer and working across genre and category. While I consider my biggest strengths character and voice, I have worked on developing skills in outlining and plot development (with a real knack for synopsis writing). In my mentorship, I aim to help revise the mentee's work through a big picture lens without ever overstepping when it comes to voice and style, but also to be a lasting resource to help navigate the publishing process and industry.
Margeaux Weston is a middle grade author and editor. Her latest book, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali:The Fatal Friendship, is due out October 2023 and is available for pre-order. The book is a young readers' adaptation of Blood Brothers, an adult novel and inspiration for the Netflix biopic of the same name. She is the author of 20th Century African American History for Kids, co-author of We Are the United States, as well as several non-fiction books for young readers. Margeaux recently announced a new middle grade project with Bloomsbury to be released winter 2025.
Margeaux is the former non-fiction editor of Hugo award-winning FIYAH Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction. She is also an acquiring editor at North Atlantic Books.
I'm excited to assist mentees in finding their voice and growing as an author. As an author and editor, I'm able to understand the creative and business sides of publishing. I offer lots of "grows" and "glows", editorial feedback and suggestions, as well as tips on various ways one can be successful in the publishing industry. I've published a few middle grade books and worked with authors across genres. As a mentor, I'm an open book and look forward to helping you move into the next stage of your career.
Gail D. Villanueva
Gail D. Villanueva is a Filipino writer and artist based in the Philippines. She is the author of the Panda Book Awards shortlist title, Sugar and Spite (Scholastic), and the upcoming Lulu Sinagtala and the Tagalog Gods series (HarperCollins). Her debut novel, My Fate According to the Butterfly (Scholastic), was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, an Amazon Best Book of the Month Editor’s Pick, a NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, and a Sakura Medal nominee. Gail was born in Manila but was raised in Quezon City. She and her husband currently live in Rizal with their many pets—dogs, ducks, turtles, cats, and random birds they befriend in the backyard. Learn more at www.gaildvillanueva.com.
Getting your work traditionally published can be a soul-sucking experience, and even more so when you’re a marginalized author. I know firsthand what a huge difference it makes to have someone advising you. My own mentors have set the bar high on what a good mentor should be, so you can expect that I’ll strive to give you a similar experience. I’ll be both your cheerleader and guide, helping you polish your book until it shines. We’ll be in this together!
As an editor, I’ll highlight your strengths and point out the ones that need improvement, then brainstorm with you possible solutions to these issues. I was a creative director for a web design studio for more than twenty years, so my feedback tends to be straightforward and kind at the same time. I’m open to pretty much any genre and format (prose, illustrated, or a combination of both) in middle grade, except for horror and verse. I enjoy them as a reader, but horror stories tend to scare me too much and I can’t write verse even if my life depends on it.
YOUNG ADULT MENTORS
Katherine Locke lives and writes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with their feline overlords and their addiction to chai lattes. They are the author of the critically-acclaimed This Rebel Heart, The Girl with the Red Balloon, and The Spy with the Red Balloon. They are the co-editor and contributor to This is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them and Us as well as It's A Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes and Other Jewish Stories. They also contributed to Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens and Out Now: Queer We Go Again. They are the author of picture books Bedtime for Superheroes, What Are Your Words? A Book About Pronouns, and Being Friends with Dragons. They can be found online at KatherineLockeBooks.com and @bibliogato on Twitter and Instagram.
I believe that historical fiction and SFF play an important role in our world by shining a light on previously 'hidden' moments in the past, or by illuminating our present through future possibilities. Madeleine L'Engle wrote in her Margaret Edwards Award acceptance speech, "Often the only way to look clearly at this extraordinary universe is through fantasy, fairy tale, myth." That has been my guiding light in my own work--maybe it resonates with you too! I'm particularly interested in marginalized voices in both the historical fiction and SFF spaces, including Jewish and Muslim voices. I'm here to make space for you to explore and develop your own voice on your own path, and to support you on that journey while offering feedback and insight along the way. I love to talk about the business of the publishing world and developing a diverse and thus sustainable career. Bonus points if you have cats, but certainly not required!
Jen Ferguson (she/her) is Métis/Michif and white Canadian settler, an activist, a feminist, an auntie, and an accomplice armed with a PhD in English and Creative Writing. She believes writing, teaching and beading are political acts. Her debut YA novel The Summer of Bitter and Sweet (Heartdrum/HarperCollins) has seven starred reviews, won the 2022 Governor General's Literary Award for Young People's Literature--Text, is a 2023 Stonewall Honor Book, an NPR Best Book of 2022, a School Library Journal Best Young Adult Book of 2022, a Chicago Public Library Best Teen Fiction of 2022, a 2022 Horn Book FanFare Book, a Kirkus 2022 Best Young Adult Book, a 2023 White Pine Award Nominee, a 2022 Young Adult Golden Poppy Finalist and a 2023 Morris Award Finalist. Jen's second YA novel with Heartdrum, Those Pink Mountain Nights, is about the hurt of a life stuck in past tense, the hum of connections that cannot be severed, and one week in a small snowy town that changes everything for three teens. It is a Junior Library Guild Gold Selection. Her third YA novel, A CONSTELLATION OF MINOR BEARS, is forthcoming Fall 2024.
I'm excited to make as much of publishing transparent to my mentee as possible while highlighting what of my experience has been beyond the typical, alongside offering some high-level manuscript critique. Since I'm a reformed adult literary fiction writer whose prose has been called "lyric," manuscript critique for me is always paired with a focus on how great sentences make excellent stories. I am a creative writing professor by trade--but my teaching revolves around asking questions rather than dictating answers. While I am a busy bee these days, I am great at answering long, meandering emails late at night when I should be sleeping, can do a regular video-call once a month where my dog shows up to say hi and can do accountability check-ins by text with added Letterkenny GIF content.
Crystal Maldonado is a young adult author who writes inclusive stories about fat, brown girls. She is the author of The Fall of Whit Rivera, a cozy autumn romcom that tackles PCOS, chronic illness, sexuality, fatphobia, Latine identity, and class; Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, which was a New England Book Award winner and a Kirkus Best YA Fiction of 2021; and No Filter and Other Lies, which was named a POPSUGAR and Seventeen Best New YA. Her books explore body politics, Latine and queer identity, relationships, complex familial dynamics, and love.
By day, Crystal works in higher ed marketing, and by night, she is a writer whose work has been published in Latina, BuzzFeed, and the Hartford Courant. Her career has included roles as a journalist, features writer, social media manager, and marketing director. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and journalism, with a minor in women’s studies, from the University of Connecticut. She currently lives in western Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and dog.
Follow her everywhere @crystalwrote or visit her website at crystalwrote.com.
As a mentor, I would love to work with authors who are enthusiastic and passionate about not just their writing, but about how their story helps readers feel better seen and understood. I’m drawn to manuscripts that explore marginalized identities (particularly Latine, fat, and/or queer); friendships/familial dynamics; self acceptance; and emotions big and small, particularly for young adult readers. Humor, voice, empathy, and heart matter most to me. In addition to the four YA novels I’ve written, I also have a middle grade debut releasing in 2024. My favorite genres include romance, comedy, contemporary fiction, magical realism, and (light!) horror. I’m happy to talk about craft and story just as much as the publishing process, querying, finding literary agents, marketing books, and more. My goal is whatever YOUR goal is, and I’ll be there to cheer you on, make publishing less of a mystery, and help you feel good about the work you’re doing!
Aiden Thomas is a trans, Latinx, New York Times bestselling author of young adult novels. They received an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, OR. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies, and organizes their bookshelves by color.
I have a lot of experience with modern and high fantasy, and especially the paranormal subgenre. I also LOVE working on stories where a world/magic system centers around someone's culture! I think my strengths as a mentor are writing compelling pitches, plot structure, world building, and using social media as a promotional resource. When it comes to communication style, I'm very colloquial (never got the hang of being Professional or using Academic English), so if you're looking for a mentor who talks in all caps a lot and will leave emojis on your manuscript notes, I'm your dude!
For mentor and mentee bios from past years, click the link below.