Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

2019 Houston SCBWI Annual Conference Faculty

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Speakers and Faculty Appearing at the Conference 

The following will be attending the conference. With the exception of our keynote speaker, they will be available for critiques or portfolio reviews.

Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Illustrator/writer

Vanessa Brantley-Newton is a self-taught illustrator, doll maker, and crafter who studied fashion illustration at FIT and children’s book illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She is the author and illustrator of Let Freedom Sing and Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table and has illustrated numerous children’s books, including Sewing Stories by Barbara Herkert, Mary Had a Little Glam by Tammi Sauer, One Love and Every Little Thing, words by Bob & Cedella Marley, and Presenting Tallulah by Tori Spelling. Vanessa currently makes her nest in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, daughter, and a very rambunctious cat named Stripes. Learn more about Vanessa and her artwork at and on Facebook.

Instagram: @VanessaBrantleyNewton
Vanessa Newton@facebook

Talia Benamy, Associate Editor, Philomel Books/Penguin Young Readers

Talia Benamy is an associate editor at Philomel Books (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers). In addition to cultivating her own list, Talia works closely with two editors; on all three lists, she focuses on everything from picture books to middle grade and young adult novels. She has worked on books by Chelsea Clinton, Sonia Sotomayor, Temple Grandin, Jane Yolen, Atia Abawi, Jeffrey Kluger, Lisa Graff, Ruta Sepetys, Dev Petty, Sarah Brannen, and Terry Border. She sees books as having the amazing power to shape kids’ worldviews, and looks for manuscripts that have the potential to do just that. NF, PB, MG

Twitter: @TaliaBenamy
Instagram: @TaliaBenamy
Other: Philomel Twitter/Instagram: @PhilomelBooks

Danielle Burby, Literary Agent, Nelson Literary Agency

Based in New York City, Danielle became an agent at Nelson Literary Agency (NLA) in January 2017. Previously, she was an agent at a NYC-based firm where she managed foreign rights in addition to building her client roster. She also interned at several top agencies and publishers before graduating from Hamilton College with a dual degree in creative writing and women’s studies.

Danielle represents all genres of YA and MG along with picture books and select passion projects in women’s fiction. She particularly enjoys complex female characters, quirky adventures, narratives that ask readers to think deeply, girls with swords, and seaside novels. Danielle also looks for a strong narrative voice and characters she wants to spend time with. For more information about her wishlist, check out NLA’s Submission Guidelines page. You can find details about her recent sales on Publishers Marketplace. MG, YA

Twitter: @danielleburby

Kait Feldmann, Editor, Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic

Kait Feldmann is an Editor at Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic, where she is building a list of picture books and graphic novels. She is excited to be working on debut picture books by Aida Salazar, Jon Lau, Isabella Kung, Sarah Jung, Shirley Chan, and more! Kait joined Scholastic in May of 2014 and gained editorial experience assisting Executive Editors Tracy Mack, Michael di Capua, Cheryl Klein, and Andrea Davis Pinkney, as well as editing under Arthur A. Levine Books until May of 2019. Kait is also the founder and chair of the Scholastic Diversity Committee, and serves on the Advisory Council for the Diverse BookFinder.
PB, PB Dummy, Graphic Novel, Portfolio Review

Twitter @kaitfeldmann
Instagram: @kaitfeldmann

Jim Hoover, Art Director, Viking: Penguin Random House

Jim Hoover is an Art Director at Viking Children’s Books in New York. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design in Illustration, Jim has been in publishing now for twenty years. He has designed and art directed well over a hundred titles including the New York Times Best-selling series, The Last Kids on Earth, (cartoon coming to Netflix this fall!); Elizabeth Partridge’s Award-winning non-fiction titles; James Yang’s Bus! Stop! and Stop! Bot!; Deborah Freedman’s Shy and Carl; and the children’s book adaptation of Al Gore’s AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH.

Twitter: @JimHoover17

Jorge Lacera, Illustrator, StudioLacera

Jorge Lacera was born in Colombia, and grew up in Miami, Florida, drawing in sketchbooks, on napkins, on walls, and anywhere his parents would let him. After graduating with honors from Ringling College of Art and Design, Jorge worked as a visual development and concept artist at American Greetings, Irrational Games and Ghost Story Games. As a big fan of pop culture, comics, and zombie movies, Jorge rarely saw Latino kids as the heroes or leads. He is committed to changing that, especially now that he has a son.

Jorge lives in Cypress, Texas with Megan and their son, Kai.

Twitter: @jlacera
Instagram: @jlacera

Megan Lacera, Author, StudioLacera

Megan Lacera grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, with a book always in her hands. She became
a writer and creator of characters and worlds for entertainment companies like American Greetings, Hasbro
and GoldieBlox, and later formed her own creative company, Studio Lacera, with husband Jorge Lacera.
After reading many stories to their son, Megan realized that very few books reflected a family like theirs—multicultural, bilingual, funny, and imperfect. She decided to change that by writing her own stories.  MG

Megan lives in Cypress, Texas with Jorge and their son, Kai.

Twitter: @meganlacera

Jennifer Laughran, Senior AgentAndrea Brown Literary Agency

Jennifer Laughran has a bookselling background and has been at ABLA since 2007. She represents select author-illustrators of picture books and graphic novels, and authors of middle grade and YA fiction. Her favorite stories have a classic feel, inspire genuine emotional reaction (laughter or tears — but preferably both!), and reflect the gorgeous diversity of our world.  PB, MG, YA

Twitter: @literaticat
Instagram: @literaticat

Saba Sulaiman, Associate Agent, Talcott Notch Literary Services

Saba Sulaiman is an Associate Agent at Talcott Notch Literary Services, a boutique agency located in Milford, CT. She holds a BA from Wellesley College and an MA from the University of Chicago, where she studied modern Persian literature. Being a first generation immigrant in the process of negotiating her own identity and sense of belonging in a place she now calls “home,” she is committed to highlighting more diverse voices with compelling stories to tell; stories that demonstrate the true range of perspectives that exist in this world, and address urgent and often under explored issues with veracity and heart. You can learn more about Saba on her website ( or follow her on Twitter @agentsaba. MG, YA

Twitter: @agentsaba

Caroline Leech, Author

Caroline Leech is a Scottish writer who has lived in Houston TX since 2007.  She writes novels for teenagers, and her books, WAIT FOR ME and IN ANOTHER TIME, were published in 2017 and 2018 by Harper Teen. Both stories are set in Scotland during World War Two. WAIT FOR ME won the 2014 Joan Lowery Nixon Award at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Houston, as well as the YA categories of both the Romance Writers of America Emily and Lone Star contests. MG, YA

Caroline is married with college-bound children, and she serves on the Advisory Board of Inprint, Houston’s leading literary non-profit organization. You can find her at

  Joy Preble, Author, Children’s Specialist Brazos Bookstore

Joy Preble is the author of a medium-long list of young adult novels including the DREAMING ANASTASIA series, the SWEET DEAD LIFE series, and FINDING PARIS, which SLJ called, “An intricate guessing game of sisterly devotion, romance, and quiet desperation.” Her newest novel, IT WASN’T ALWAYS LIKE THIS, was called “epic and addictive” by Beautiful Creatures’ author Kami Garcia and “a suspenseful treat with a gooey romantic center” by the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. In no particular order, Joy is fond of her family, her basset-boxer, clever cocktails, and people who don’t whine. She teaches writing widely, including at Writespace Houston and The Writing Barn, and is also the Children’s Specialist and Buyer at Houston’s Brazos Bookstore. Visit Joy at or follow her on Twitter @joypreble. MG, YA

  Crystal Allen, Author

Crystal Allen is the author of How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy, which received a Florida Sunshine State Award Master List nomination and was a Junior Library Guild selection. She is also the author of the acclaimed middle grade novels The Laura Line, The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown, and The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: The Wall of Fame Game. She currently lives in Sugar Land, Texas, with her husband, Reggie, and two sons, Phillip and Joshua. You can visit her website at MG

Varsha Bajaj, Author

Varsha Bajaj is the author of picture books The Home Builders, This Is Our Baby, Born Today, T is for Taj Mahal, and How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight? She grew up in Mumbai, India, and when she came to the United States to obtain her master’s degree, her adjustment to the country was aided by her awareness of the culture through books. In addition to her picture books, she wrote the middle-grade novel Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood, which was shortlisted for the Cybils Award and included on the Spirit of Texas Reading Program, and Count Me In, released this year. PB

Sandra J. Howatt, Author

Sandra J. Howatt is the author of SLEEPYHEADS (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster), illustrated by Joyce Wan. This picture book received a starred Kirkus review, and was nominated for the 2014 Kirkus Prize. It was on the 2015 CCCB List, in the 2015 Kansas NEA Reading Circle catalogue, chosen for the Scholastic Book Club, translated into Chinese, and is now available as a Little Simon Classic Board Book. Sandra is a past nominee for the Joan Lowery Nixon Memorial Award. A former dance educator and artistic director, she has transitioned from telling stories on the stage to telling stories on the page. Visit her at  PB

Christina Mandelski, Author

Christina Mandelski was born in South Florida, where her love of reading was cultivated in a house full of books. Stories like The Little House series, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Secret Garden, filled her imagination and fueled her dreams to be a writer. That dream came true when her first young adult novel, THE SWEETEST THING, was published in 2011, and she’s beyond thrilled about her upcoming series for Entangled Crush. Chris lives in Houston with one handsome husband, two beautiful daughters, and two freakshow cats. She has a fondness for the beach, her family and friends, and she still loves to read (especially curled up with a good cup of coffee!) She also enjoys shopping, traveling and eating, especially cake. Always cake. When she’s not doing these things, you can find her holed in a cozy spot with her laptop, writing. Visit her at MG, YA

  Ana María S. Rodríguez, Author

For almost 20 years, Ana María S. Rodríguez has been writing for children and adults about the wonders and mysteries of science and nature, as well as outstanding historical and every day people. Her 26 published nonfiction books and over 80 magazine articles have been recognized as “describing great scientific discoverers in a lively, colorful, and creative manner” (Edward Jenner, Conqueror of Smallpox, Science Books & Films). Of her latest series, Animal Secrets Revealed!, School Library Journal – Series Made Simple, said is “Highly engaging, fascinating animal science for readers.” For more information about her work, Ana’s Science 4 Kids blog, and events, visit her website at www.anamariarodriguez.comNF

  Dotti Enderle, Author

Dotti Enderle has had a successful career as an award-winning children’s author with more than sixty published books by a variety of houses. Her books range from picture books to YA, as well as educational and classic adaptations. Learn more about Dotti at  OR at, the home of her intriguing alter ego, Dax Varley.   MG, YA

E-Critique Faculty 

The following faculty will be offering e-critiques only, and will not be in attendance at the conference.

Melissa Warten, Assistant Editor, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers

Melissa Warten is an assistant editor at Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, working on picture books, middle grade, young adult novels, graphic novels, and select nonfiction projects. She most enjoys working on contemporary stories, though open to hints of magic or fantasy, and is on the hunt for a strong sports story or a good thriller. Outside of publishing, she’s a pop culture addict, Ultimate Frisbee player, and of course, a reader. Find her on Twitter at @melissa_warten.

Annie Nybo, Editor, Freelance

Annie Nybo is a children’s book editor with over eight years experience who has worked at Simon & Schuster, Albert Whitman & Company, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. She currently freelance edits from San Diego and reads movie scripts for Netflix. Visit her at NF, PB, MG, YA

Elizabeth Law, Editor, Holiday House

Elizabeth Law is an editor at Holiday House who specializes in mining their backlist and acquiring middle grade fiction. She has worked in children’s and young adult publishing for 30 years, including most recently as publisher of Egmont USA and as a freelance book doctor and editor at ElawReads. Elizabeth was previously Associate Publisher at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and Viking Children’s Books, and has edited and published every genre from picture book through nonfiction and YA and New Adult. Some of the many authors and artists Elizabeth has worked with are Dan Gutman, Andrew Clements, Michael Grant, Tony diTerlizzi, G. Brian Karas, Holly Black and the estates of Ludwig Bemelmans and Don Freeman. Check out Elizabeth’s blog at and follow her on Twitter @Elawreads. NF, PB, MG, YA

Kelsey Horton, Editor, Delacorte Press

Kelsey Horton is an editor at Delacorte Press, acquiring middle grade and young adult fiction. She is always on the lookout for high concept stories and compelling characters across all genres. Some of the authors on her list include Andrew Prentice, Amanda Searcy, Dana Alison Levy, Donna Gephart, Laura Ellen Anderson, Kathleen Benner Duble, Kelly Coon, Namina Forna, and Sophie Kinsella. You can find her on twitter @KelseyMHorton and see more of what she’s looking for on her Manuscript Wish List.   MG, YA

  Linda Camacho, Agent, Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency

Linda Camacho was always a fan of escaping into a good book, so the fact that she gets to make it her career is still surreal. She graduated from Cornell with a B.S. in Communication and has seen many sides of the industry. She’s held various positions at Penguin Random House, Dorchester, Simon and Schuster, and Writers House literary agency until she ventured into agenting at Prospect. She’s done everything from foreign rights to editorial to marketing to operations, so it was amazing to see how all the departments worked together to bring books to life. Somewhere in between all that (and little sleep), Linda received her MFA in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Now at Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency, Linda continues to work with colleagues and clients who inspire her every day in both the children’s and adult categories. MG, YA

Melanie Castillo, Associate Agent, Root Literary

Melanie Castillo is an associate agent at Root Literary. After graduating with an MS in writing and book publishing from Portland State University, she worked as an editorial project manager at Quarto and then as a freelance editor for several years before joining Root Literary in 2018. What she loves most about the job is the balance of the creative with the entrepreneurial. Melanie began building her list in 2019 and is actively looking for fiction and narrative nonfiction as well as author/illustrators. She’s especially excited to find high-concept commercial and literary leaning general fiction, young adult novels with a strong voice and propulsive pacing, and heartfelt and humorous middle grade novels across genres—from contemporary and realistic to historical and fantasy and everything in between. When it comes to fantasy, she tends to gravitate toward worlds that feel grounded in our own reality. No matter the genre, her favorite books often have a strong emotional undercurrent that carries the reader to the last chapter. Melanie was born and raised in Southern California in a multicultural, blended family, so she has a soft spot for books that shine a spotlight on the nuances of family relationships and identity. She lives in Anaheim with her husband, a local sous chef, and a pack of animals currently comprised of two cats, one dog, and a geriatric turtle. You can find her on Twitter at @wellmelsbells. NF, MG, YA

 Ann Rose, Agent, Prospect Agency

Ann Rose is Prospect Agency’s newest agent, but she isn’t new to publishing. Over the last few years she has been exploring this field by working and mentoring with literary agents in various capacities. Everything she has experienced from editorial work to the magic of finding the perfect match between author and editor has hardened her resolve to join this wonderful profession. Now she’s thrilled to be building her own list and is actively seeking clients ready to grow amazing careers with her. Ann’s perfect manuscript is a character driven story that isn’t afraid to push boundaries. She loves an unlikeable character — even though she is incredibly likeable herself! MG, YA



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