Drawing and painting have always been among the most important things to illustrator Elizabeth Zunon. Born in Albany, NY and raised in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), West Africa, she cultivated a love of color and pattern, which are fixtures in her works today. After returning to the United States, Elizabeth earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2006 from the Rhode Island School of Design. She is the illustrator of fifteen books, including, among others, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, A President from Hawai’i, The Legendary Miss Lena Horne, One Plastic Bag, Bedtime for Sweet Creatures and Grandpa Cacao: a Tale of Chocolate, from Farm to Family, which she also wrote. Elizabeth’s art style employs drawing, oil paint, collage, screen-printing and embroidery.
Mike Curato is the author-illustrator of everyone’s favorite polka-dotted elephant, Little Elliot. Mike’s debut title, Little Elliot, Big City has won numerous awards, been translated into fourteen languages, and gone on to become a five book series. Mike is also the illustrator of Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle, and What if…by Samantha Berger. His newest books include The Power of One by Trudy Ludwig and his debut YA graphic novel, Flamer. Mike was born and raised outside of New York City, and earned a BFA in illustration from Syracuse University. He currently lives in Northampton, MA.
Higgins Bond has been a freelance illustrator and fine artist for more than forty years. She earned a BFA Degree in Advertising Design from The Memphis College of Art. She has received many honors such as a medal of honor from Governor Bill Clinton, the 2007 Green Earth Award for illustrating A Place For Butterflies, and the 2009 Ashley Bryan Award for outstanding contributions to children’s literature. Her book, A Place For Turtles by Melissa Stewart, was the winner of the 2014 Green Earth Award and the Sigurd F. Olson Nature writing award for children’s literature. She is the first African-American woman ever to illustrate a stamp for the United States Postal Service. Higgins Bond is a member of the Society of Illustrators and her clients include such notable names as: The Bradford Exchange, McGraw-Hill Publishers, Peachtree Publishers, The Franklin Mint, NBC Television, Hennessy Cognac, Essence and Black Enterprise magazines, Frito-Lay, and Columbia House.
PICTURE BOOK MENTORS
Meg Medina is an award-winning and New York Times best-selling author who writes picture books, as well as middle grade and young adult fiction. Her works have been called “heartbreaking,” “lyrical” and “must haves for every collection.” A few of her titles include Merci Suárez Changes Gears, a 2019 John Newbery Medal winner and 2019 Charlotte Huck Honor Book; Mango, Abuela, and Me, a 2016 Pura Belpré Author Honor Book; and Tía Isa Wants a Car, winner of the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award. When she’s not writing, Meg works on community projects that support girls, Latino youth, and/or literacy. She serves on the National Board of Advisors for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and is a faculty member of Hamline University’s Masters of Fine Arts in Children’s Literature. She lives with her family in Richmond, Virginia.
Andrea J. Loney
Andrea J Loney won the 2014 Lee & Low New Voices Award for her picture book biography TAKE A PICTURE OF ME, JAMES VAN DERZEE!, a Junior Library Guild Fall 2017 selection with a starred Publishers Weekly review and an NAACP Image Award Nomination. Her picture book BUNNYBEAR (Albert Whitman & Co.), was on the 2018 ALA Rainbow List, and DOUBLE BASS BLUES, (Random House Knopf 2019), received a 2020 Caldecott Honor for illustrator Rudy Gutierrez and starred reviews from Kirkus, Horn Book, and Publishers Weekly. Andrea is a proud faculty member of SCBWI and the Highlights Foundation. A graduate of New York University with an MFA in dramatic writing, she currently teaches computer science courses at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. Andrea lives in Inglewood, California with her towering stacks of children’s books, her devoted family, and their incredibly spoiled pets. Learn more at andreajloney.com.
David LaRochelle is a former elementary school teacher who has been creating books for young people for over thirty years. His many picture book titles include How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans, It’s a Tiger! and Moo! He is also the author of the humorous coming out novel, Absolutely, Positively NOT. David’s books have won numerous children’s choice awards, the Bell Early Literacy Award, the SCBWI Sid Fleischman Humor Award, and multiple starred reviews. When he is not visiting schools or creating books, you’ll find him hiking, geocaching, and carving creative pumpkins in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. www.davidlarochelle.com
Baptiste Paul is a Caribbean-born author of multiple books for children. His debut picture book, The Field, received starred reviews from Kirkus, The Horn Book, and Booklist. His co-authored picture book biography, I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon chronicles the work of Tantoh Nforba and was named a 2020 Green Earth Book Award Honor title. His books Peace and To Carnival! are set to release in 2021 and he has several more picture books forthcoming. Born and raised on the island of Saint Lucia, Baptiste is a native Creole/Patois speaker with African and Indian heritage who enjoys reading books and sharing about his experiences with anyone who will listen. Learn more about Baptiste at baptistepaul.net.
MIDDLE GRADE MENTORS
Erin Entrada Kelly
Erin Entrada Kelly received the 2018 Newbery Medal for HELLO, UNIVERSE, the 2017 APALA Award for THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS, and the 2016 Golden Kite Honor Award for BLACKBIRD FLY, among other honors. She is a New York Times-bestselling author whose work has been translated into several languages. Her fifth book, LALANI OF THE DISTANT SEA, was named one of the best books of the year by New York Public Library, The Horn Book, Booklist, BookPage, and others. Her most recent novel, WE DREAM OF SPACE, earned six starred reviews. Erin teaches fiction in the Hamline University MFAC and Rosemont College MFA programs. She lives in Delaware.
Gary D. Schmidt
Gary D. Schmidt is the author of such middle grade novels as The Wednesday Wars, Okay for Now, and Just Like That; and YA novels such as Trouble and Orbiting Jupiter. He has also written or collaborated on a number of picture books, most recently So Tall Within: The Journey of Sojourner Truth and Waiting Time. He teaches writing and literature at Calvin University; he's been doing that for the last thirty-six years, and notes that it's a good thing he started young. He lives in an 1830s farmhouse in Alto, Michigan, where he and his Border collie walk the fields thrice daily to figure out that next scene, the coming moment of dialogue, the quirk of setting, the distinctive quirk of character. He finds this very exciting. The Border collie less so.
Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area with her wonderful family and impossibly cute dog. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, she spends her time writing novels and picture books when she’s not practicing medicine. Her middle grade debut, Midsummer’s Mayhem (Yellow Jacket/Little Bee Books), an Indian-American mashup of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and competitive baking, was an Indies Introduce selection, an Indie Next pick, a Kirkus Best Middle Grade Book of 2019, and a 2020 Massachusetts “Must-Read” title. Her forthcoming middle grade novel-in-verse, Red, White, and Whole, will be published by Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins in February 2021. Her third middle grade novel, Much Ado About Baseball, will publish in June 2021. Her debut picture book, Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math (Lee & Low Books, October 2020) is set in ancient India and involves a math puzzle and an explanation of binary numbers. You can learn more about her at www.RajaniLaRocca.com.
Alan Gratz was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, home of the 1982 World’s Fair. After a carefree but humid childhood, Alan attended the University of Tennessee, where he earned a College Scholars degree with a specialization in creative writing, and, later, a Master’s degree in English education. He now lives with his wife Wendi and his daughter Jo in the high country of Western North Carolina, where he enjoys playing games, eating pizza, and, perhaps not too surprisingly, reading books. Some of his titles include Allies, Grenade, Refugee, Projekt 1065, Ban This Book, and the forthcoming Ground Zero.
YOUNG ADULT MENTORS
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Cynthia Leitich Smith is a New York Times bestselling author of fifteen award-winning and highly acclaimed books for young readers and the author-curator of the Heartdrum imprint at HarperCollins. Her debut picture book, Jingle Dancer, is widely considered a modern classic and a groundbreaking title of contemporary Native children’s literature. In addition, she was named a Writer of the Year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers for her debut novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, and she won the American Indian Youth Literature Award for her most recent novel Hearts Unbroken. Exhibiting noteworthy range, her writing spans age markets and genres as she is successfully published in the picture book, chapter book, middle grade novel and short story, young adult noveland short story, speculative fiction, realism, children’s poetry, young adult narrative nonfiction and graphic format. Her Cynsations blog is among the most popular and respected in the children’s book industry. Cynthia serves on the core faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, where she has been named the Katherine Paterson Chair. She is an enrolled member of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School. Cynthia makes her home in Austin, Texas.
Dhonielle Clayton is an author, a former librarian, COO of the non-profit We Need Diverse Books, and co-founder of Cake Literary. She spent most of her twenties in and out of America – living in London, Paris, a small Japanese town, Bermuda – and wandering the planet. She rediscovered her love of children’s fiction by re-reading Harriet the Spy, which pushed her to earn an MA in Children’s Literature from Hollins University and an MFA Writing for Children at the New School. Dhonielle is the author and/or contributor to eight works of literature for teens including The Belles, The Everlasting Rose, Tiny Pretty Things, Shiny Broken Pieces, Black Enough and The Radical Element.
Nicola Yoon is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also a Star. She is a National Book Award finalist, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book recipient and a Coretta Scott King New Talent Award winner. Both her novels have been made into major motion pictures. Nicola grew up in Jamaica and Brooklyn, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, novelist David Yoon, and their family.
Anna-Marie McLemore is a queer, Latinx, nonbinary author who grew up hearing la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. Their books include of THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People's Literature; WILD BEAUTY, a Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist best book of 2017; BLANCA & ROJA, a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice; DARK AND DEEPEST RED, a Winter 2020 Indie Next List title; and the forthcoming THE MIRROR SEASON.
VIDEO TUTORIAL MENTOR
In late September, author Kate Hannigan will join WNDB co-chairs Miranda Paul and Meg Cannistra and WNDB staff member Breanna McDaniel to offer a special recorded webinar on “Tips for Polishing and Submitting Your Work” as applicants polish and prepare for the submission process. This recorded session will be sent free of charge (registration required) to all interested applicants. Please subscribe to the WNDB Newsletter for more information on how to register for this resource.
Chicago children’s author Kate Hannigan used to work for daily newspapers, but now she writes fiction and nonfiction for young readers, digging up remarkable people from history and sharing their stories. Her historical fantasy series for middle-grade, THE LEAGUE OF SECRET HEROES (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin), is part of a three-book series that blends superheroes and real-life women from World War II —and includes graphic novel elements. Kate's newest nonfiction graphic novel THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE: RISING FROM THE ASHES (First Second) published in June 2020. She has won the SCBWI's Golden Kite Award for best middle-grade novel, was a California Young Reader Medal nominee and has had books selected for Chicago Public Library’s "Best of the Best”, Junior Library Guild, and A Mighty Girl’s "Best of 2018" list. Kate lives in Chicago with her husband, three kids, and nervous Australian shepherd. She has eight more books forthcoming. Visit her online at KateHannigan.com.
For mentor and mentee bios from past years, click the link below.