Leo Quiles is an author/illustrator living and working in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts with his wife, two children and puppy. He has worked in the commercial animation and visual effects industry for over 20 years, as parttime faculty at his alma mater MCLA teaching illustration, sequential narrative and foundation drawing and is currently writing and illustrating a fictional middle-grade graphic novel focused on the stresses of acculturation. Quiles received a Master of Fine Arts in Illustration from the University of Hartford’s Hartford Art School; studied Illustration at Parsons School of Design and received a Bachelor of Arts from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. He was the recipient of the Charles Schulz Family Artist in Residence in Comics and Cartooning at the Darrow School in New Lebanon, NY and presently serves as the Visual Art Teacher at the New Hingham Regional Elementary School teaching artmaking to students from Pre-K through grade 6.
TeMika Grooms, artist, writer, and arts advocate, is inspired by the power of children’s books to influence change in society. Her work typically features action-filled and expressive characters. Her published works include a sugary-sweet picture book titled Nana’s Favorite Things by Dorothy H. Price (Eifrig Press) and Save the Crash-test Dummies, an engaging non-fiction book by Jennifer Swanson (Peachtree Publishing). Grooms also volunteers with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and works locally with KidsLitATL to impact the inclusion of diverse voices in the children's book industry.
Katherine Ahmed earned a bachelor’s degree in history and illustration at Eugene Lang College at The New School. She has worked with diverse children's nonprofits throughout New York City to promote literacy, peace and equality with her original illustrations for activities and curriculum. As part of a multi-faith and multi-cultural family, Ahmed has a personal and lifelong commitment to illustrating stories of diversity. Her work is inspired by history, culture, religion and the immigrant experience. She lives in rural New Jersey with her husband and two daughters.
PICTURE BOOK MENTEES
Paola Santos is an aspiring author born and raised in Venezuela. She always wanted to write, and when she moved to Canada, she found the courage to tell stories of hope and happiness.Paola defines herself as a seeker who wonders at the world like a child and as a person that loves to give voice to deep emotions. Her work brings forward the celebration of her own culture and the blending that inevitably occurs when immigrants first step into a different land. Her writing also calls to cherish people’s differences and similarities. Santos holds a bachelor’s degree in Literature and a master’s degree in Children’s Literature and Reading Promotion from the Castilla-La Mancha University in Spain. She is a member of the SCBWI, a graduate of the Children’s Book Academy, a Las Musas-Hermana mentee (fall 2020), and a regular attendee in conferences and workshops.
Tonya Abari is a former teacher turned multigenre writer. As an educator, Abari taught English and Creative Writing before teaching young performers in the film, television, and theatre industry. She instructed students on the set of HBO’s The Wire, The Color Purple, The Lion King, Next to Normal, and Radio City Music Spectacular. Abari has also facilitated National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) grant-funded workshops on strategies for teaching the writings of Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Margaret Walker, Octavia Butler, and a host of other prolific Black authors. A graduate of The University of Maryland at College Park, Abari has contributed digital content, ghostwriting, editorial expertise, and bias/sensitivity consulting across several industries – including a vast array of educational materials for school-aged children. In order to provide both “mirrors and windows,” she believes in fiercely championing Black history and culture in her work. Her words, reviews, and author interviews have appeared in Publishers Weekly, Romper, The Writer Magazine (Young Readers Issue), ZORA, The Rumpus, Good Housekeeping, and many more! A member of SCBWI, Abari was the 2020 recipient of both the MidSouth Equity and Inclusion and New Voices in Nonfiction scholarships. The two-year 12x12 Picture Book Writing Challenge participant and member of #BlackCreatorsinKidlit also recently presented at the first annual Louisville Book Festival. In addition to kidlit, Abari also writes essays. She participated in Carnegie Hall’s NeOn Arts nonfiction writing program and is a 2020 Hurston Wright Foundation Writers Week creative nonfiction alum. Other than writing, she enjoys 90s R&B, healing crystals, plant-based comfort foods, and unschooling with her knowledge-seeking daughter and spouse, both whose names also begin with “T.” You can find Tonya online at www.tonyaabari.com or hanging out on Instagram @iamtabari.
Thushanthi Ponweera is from Sri Lanka, where she grew up reading English books that featured people and places that were completely foreign to her. As a mother of two young children, she is determined to help build a future where they will be able to recognize themselves and their surroundings in the books they read. It was this, and her love for her home country, that reignited her passion to become a writer, a dream she started pursuing only recently. Ponweera has a BSc in Management from the University of London and has worked in the areas of PR, Branding, and Marketing. She is currently a freelance writer for a local magazine, and her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in multiple literary magazines. She loves thunderstorms, milk tea, holiday getaways, and her family, though the order of preference changes constantly! She is grateful to organizations such as WNDB for giving opportunities such as this to writers everywhere and looks forward to working with author David Larochelle this year. You can connect with her on Twitter @thushponweera or via her website www.thushanthiponweera.com.
Taunya English (@taunyaenglish) wants to create picture books that show children growing their confidence by conquering everyday problems. She loves creating characters who are just a bit bolder than she is. In English’s stories, kids walk the world with cocoa-buttered knees and tightly coiled locks, but her characters aren’t only defined by skin color and hair. In 2020, English was awarded a 12x12 Challenge scholarship for writers underrepresented in children’s publishing. She was selected for the #PBChat mentorship. And, she is grateful for the energy and support of #BlackCreatorsInKidLit. English was a health and science reporter for many years and holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She enjoys bringing her reporting skills to informational fiction stories — geeking out on research and interviews before sitting down to unravel science concepts for kids. When she is not writing for children, Tanya English works as an audio storyteller and editor.
MIDDLE GRADE MENTEES
Sope Martins is a writer with a background in radio and television broadcasting. She grew up reading but never once thought hers could be one of the names you see on the cover of a book. As the years passed and she kept dreaming and reading, she finally started writing; at first in secret, then, in 2016, she took the plunge and submitted her work to a publisher. She is now the author of a picture book, The Greatest Animal in the Jungle, illustrated by Kayode Onimole, which was published by Farafina Books in 2018. Her second book, Riddle Riddle, is out in 2021. When Martins is not reading or writing, you can find her out and about in the bustling city of Lagos, Nigeria, and on social media @SopeMartins.
Brionni Nwosu is a teacher by training and a writer at heart. After spending most of her childhood escaping into other’s books, she took the plunge and started writing worlds of her own. Seeking to write the types of books she needed growing up, her current projects feature dynamic and diverse heroines in pursuit of their own truths and sense of identity. She hopes to continue to grow in experience and skill and appreciates the opportunity that the WNDB Mentorship provides. An Atlanta native, Bri currently resides in Nashville, TN with her husband and their three children. By day, she works as an Assistant Professor of Practice, where she coaches and supports new-to-profession teachers. By night, she juggles childcare, chores, and other creative pursuits. Current obsessions include reading books on magic, business, and productivity, writing her current WIP, and crafting custom clay earrings. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @brionniwrites.
Anushi Mehta is a first generation Belgian-Indian who grew up in charming Antwerp. She pursued degrees in psychology and primary teaching at Warwick University and met her husband while working in London. Now, they live in Mumbai and everyone from her two-year-old to her 88-year-old grandma teases her for always feeling cold. Mehta discovered the power of voice when she began inventing stories about spunky Indian girls for her daughter. It is her dream that each of her stories feature masala chai. In addition to honing her craft with courses at Highlights Foundation and WriteMentor, she is an active participant of 12x12 and Desi Kidlit, a community of writers from the Asian Diaspora. She is involved in three diverse critique groups that span across different genres and stays current by listening to podcasts such as 88 Cups of Tea and Literaticast.
Malia Maunakea is a part-Hawaiian writer who grew up in the rainforest on the Big Island before moving to a valley on Oahu in seventh grade. She relocated to the continent for college, and when she isn’t writing can be found roaming the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband, their two children, and a rescue mutt named Peggy. Hawaiian legends have captivated Maunakea’s imagination since childhood. Her ever-whirring adult brain is excited to spin new tales for the next generation, especially when she can weave in a whisper of island lore. Malia Maunakea co-founded APIPit, a Twitter pitch event for Asian/Pacific Islander writers and illustrators. She is also the author of the non-fiction book, Lightweight Family Backpacking, due out in October 2023 from CMC Press.
YOUNG ADULT MENTEES
Ayida Shonibar (she/they) grew up as an Indian-Bengali immigrant in Europe. An enthusiastic reader of diverse books, she also likes to write about subversive characters in complicated relationships. She tells stories of ambitious scientists whose marginalisations can't "STEM" their skills. After her creative writing received national recognition in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, she took an extended break from crafting stories to handle her scientific training. When not writing, she can be found in the lab and thinking about research. She currently lives and works in North America.
Naeemah Philippeaux is a writer, consultant, and speaker. She has been writing for as long as she can remember, and in fact, she just published her first children's book Goodnight, I Say to You, which she wrote when she was only ten years old – it’s truly never too early to start writing. Currently, she is working on her young adult fantasy manuscript that features a Haitian protagonist. When not writing, she enjoys baking chocolate chip cookie cake, dancing in her room, and researching her Haitian heritage. She has a degree in English Literature from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the Wharton School.
Clara Kumagai is from Canada, Japan, and Ireland. She writes fiction and non-fiction for children and adults, and has been published in The Stinging Fly, Banshee, Room, The Kyoto Journal and Cicada. She currently lives in Tokyo, where she is working on a young adult novel.
N. Lidia Garcia
N. Lidia Garcia is a lover of many things and beings i.e. family, coffee, candles, nature, healing, spirituality, racial and social justice, equality and some more equality, to name a few - who constantly looks for the interconnectedness between them all through story. Originally from Miami, Florida, Garcia is a first-generation US American, who obtained her bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and then went on to pursue her Master of Social Work in St. Louis, Missouri. Through storytelling, she plans on rewriting harmful narratives communicated about black and brown youth and hopes to merge her education and personal experiences to empower underrepresented youth to manifest their ideal realities, realities unimpeded by complexion or socio-economic status. Nora now spends her days in awe of mountains and pink sunsets in Riverside, California where she lives with her partner and pup enjoying the small gifts of life.
Manuia Heinrich grew up on a small island in the South Pacific with the sea, lots of sun, and a loving family. She has a BA in English, two Master's degrees, and lives in Wellington, New Zealand, where she's a PhD candidate in Literature and Languages of the Pacific. When she’s not immersed in research, she writes stories grounded in her French Polynesian origins. One of them was a finalist in a writing competition (Samoa Observer), and another of her manuscripts was selected for the Write Mentor 2020 program. She's a proud Mā'ohi girl and hopes to contribute in making underrepresented voices heard.
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.