Middle Grade Magic 2023

Join School Library Journal on March 9 for our fifth annual Middle Grade Magic virtual event, a day-long celebration of authors and creators dedicated to crafting literature for kiddos ages eight through 12. Get a first look at some of the most anticipated new titles for your young readers, from modern coming-of-age tales to eye-popping graphic novels to immersive fantasy. 

Attendees will also have the opportunity to check out the virtual exhibit hall, chat directly with authors, download educational resources, and enter to win prizes and giveaways.

EVENT HOURS: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM ET



All live sessions will be on Zoom. Make sure to log in to your work or personal Zoom account before the day starts to avoid having to log in for each session.

CE certificates are available in the event environment for all keynotes and panels, whether you view them live or on-demand.

Can't make the live date? No problem! Register now, and we will email you when the event is ready for on-demand viewing. The entire event is available until June 9, 2023.

By registering for this event or webcast, you are agreeing to the School Library Journal Privacy Policy and Code of Conduct Policy and agreeing that School Library Journal may share your registration information with current and future sponsors of this event.

If you have any questions, email us at sljevents@mediasourceinc.com.

9:00 - 9:30 AM ET | Exhibit Hall Opens / Visit the Booths


In-Booth Chat

9:05 - 9:25 AM ET: Booth Chat All About Summer Reading! (Sew It! Workshop)


9:30 - 10:00 AM ET | Opening Keynote
Bestselling author Angie Thomas presents her middle grade debut, Nic Blake and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy. (HarperCollins Children’s)
Moderator: Elisa Garcia, Supervising Librarian, MyLibraryNYC Collections, New York Public Library


In-Booth Chat

10:30 - 11:00 AM ET: Chat with Alma Fullerton, The Journal of Anxious Izzy Parker (Second Story Press)




10:05 - 10:55 AM ET | Family, Friends, and Growing Up
These kids are surviving their biggest challenge yet: adolescence. 
Janet Sumner Johnson
, The Winterton Deception 1: Final Word (Pixel+Ink)
Erika J. Kendrick, Cookie Monsters (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Rebecca Stead & Wendy Mass, The Lost Library (Macmillan Children's)
J.E. Thomas, Control Freaks (Levine Querido)
Moderator: Desiree Thomas, Librarian, Worthington Library (OH)


10:05 - 10:55 AM ET | Powerful Stories in Verse
These novels in verse beautifully depict tales of disability, family, and history. 

Kelly J. Baptist
, Eb & Flow (Random House Children's Books)
Meg Eden Kuyatt, Good Different (Scholastic)
Jasminne Mendez, Aniana del Mar Jumps In (Penguin Young Readers)
Thushanthi Ponweera, I Am Kavi (Holiday House)
Dana VanderLugt, Enemies in the Orchard (Zondervan)
Moderator: Maegen Rose, Director of Library Services & Upper School Librarian, Brooklyn Friends School (NY)



In-Booth Chat

11:00 - 11:45 AM ET: Chat with writer and illustrator Chuck Gonzales, Heavy on the Style (Reycraft)



11:00 - 11:50 AM ET | 2023 Middle Grade Debuts
Welcome the newest faces in middle grade stories. 
Clar Angkasa
, Stories of the Islands (Holiday House)
Ambreen Butt-Hussain, The Unlovable Alina Butt (Orca Book Publishers)
Brigid Martin, Totally Psychic (Inkyard Press)
Deke Moulton, Don't Want To Be Your Monster (Penguin Random House Canada)
Mac Smith, Scurry (Skybound Entertainment)
Moderator: Myiesha Speight, Book Reviewer, SLJ


11:00 - 11:50 AM ET | Navigating New Cultures 
Moving can have its challenges, but starting over in a different country is a whole other story.     

Flora Ahn
, A Spoonful of Time (Quirk Books)
Akim Aliu, Dreamer (Scholastic)

Thanhhà Lai, When Clouds Touch Us (HarperCollins Children's Books)
Christina Matula, The Not-So-Perfect Plan (Inkyard Press)
Kelly Yang, Finally Seen (Simon & Schuster)
Moderator: Monisha Blair, Head Librarian, Key Middle School, Fairfax County (VA)

11:50 AM - 12:20 PM ET | Break / Visit the Exhibit Hall

In-Booth Chat

11:55 - 12:15 PM ET: Booth Chat New Product Launch! Librarian Requested! (Sew It! Workshop)

12:30 - 1:15 PM ET: Chat with writer and teacher Rob Sanders, Blood Brothers (Reycraft)



12:20 - 1:10 PM ET | Kids in Activism        
Amazing activists changing the world one story at a time.    

Stephen Bramucci
, Race for the Ruby Turtle (Bloomsbury)
Joy McCullough, Code Red (Simon & Schuster)
Colleen Nelson, The Umbrella House (Pajama Press)
Karyn Parsons, Clouds Over California (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Pari Thomson, Greenwild (Macmillan Children's)
Moderator: Cicely Lewis, Media Specialist, Gwinnett County Public Schools (GA)


12:20 - 1:10 PM ET | Yes, It’s True
Nonfiction titles that hit both the educational and funny button for young readers. 

Zaila Avant-garde, It's Not Bragging If It's True (Random House Children's Books)
Joseph Bruchac, Voices of the People (Reycraft)
Anne Dublin, She's a Mensch! Ten Amazing Jewish Women (Second Story Press)
David Roth & Rinee Shah, LOL 101 (Chronicle Books)
Jessica Speer, The Phone Book (Familius)
Moderator: Denise Dávila, University of Texas, Austin    



1:15 - 1:45 PM ET | Creative & Crafty in the Library 
Learn how to employ your own creative passions to engage students and inspire self-expression in your elementary and middle school students. 

Beth Kirchenberg, Middle School Librarian, Glen Ellyn Public Library (IL)
Lauren Knowlton, School Media Specialist & Librarian, Clarke County School District: Whit Davis Elementary School, Athens (GA)


1:15 - 1:45 PM ET | Student Connections with Clubs
Learn how to leverage student interests to build library clubs—from Japanese Calligraphy to an actual Vintage Shop—that are engaging, viable, and student-centered. 

Julie Stivers, Librarian, Mount Vernon Middle School (NC)
Bridgit Lapierre Valgenti, Library Media Specialist, Christa McAuliffe Middle School, Jackson (NJ)

In-Booth Chat

2:00 - 2:45 PM ET: Chat with author Joseph Bruchac, Voices of the People (Reycraft)

1:50 - 2:20 PM ET | Afternoon Keynote
Powerhouse authors Leah Johnson, Ellie Engle Saves Herself (Disney Publishing Worldwide) and Renée Watson, Ways to Build Dreams (Bloomsbury) share their forthcoming books, centering the often reluctant and unsung heroism inside young people’s hearts.
Moderator: Christine Scheper, Children’s Material Specialist, Queens Public Library (NY)


2:20 - 2:50 PM ET | Break / Visit the Exhibit Hall


In-Booth Chat

2:25 - 2:45 PM ET: Booth Chat Crafty, Creative and Community! Sewing for Service (Sew It! Workshop)



2:55 - 3:25 PM ET | Author & Editor Spotlight
Rex Ogle, Four Eyes (Scholastic) discusses his graphic novel series—and the ups and downs of middle school life—with publisher David Saylor (Graphix).


2:55 - 3:25 PM ET | Author & Editor Spotlight
Author Morgan Matson and Justin Chanda, Senior Vice President and Publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, chat about Matson’s middle grade debut, The Firefly Summer (Simon & Schuster).



3:30 - 4:20 PM ET | Stories You Can't Put Down    
From graphic novels, to epic fantasy, to choosing your own adventure—these stories have something for everyone.     
Art Baltazar
, YAHGZ: The Craynobi Tales Vol. 1 (Mad Cave Studios)
C. E. Berger, Sister from the Multiverse (Choose Your Own Adventure)
Michael Mann, Nightspark (Peachtree)
Camilo Moncada Lozano, Codex Black: A Fire Among Clouds (IDW Publishing)
Stephanie Rodriguez, Doodles from the Boogie Down (Penguin Young Readers)
Moderator: Ashley Leffel, Librarian, Frisco (TX)


3:30 - 4:20 PM ET | Tales from the Past
Inspiring stories from history set from the 1880’s to 1960’s.     

Sandra Dallas
, Tenmile (Cherry Lake Publishing Group)
Sharon G. Flake, Once in a Blue Moon (Random House Children's Books)
Heather B. Moore & Allison Hong Merrill, The Paper Daughters of Chinatown: Adapted for Young Readers from the Best-Selling Novel (Shadow Mountain Publishing)
Doan Phuong Nguyen, Mèo and Bé (Lee & Low Books)
Moderator: Ruth E. Quiroa, Ph.D., Associate Professor, National Louis University (IL)

4:30 - 5:00 PM ET | Closing Keynote

Tillie Walden, Tegan Quin and Sara Quin, creators of Tegan and Sara: Junior High (Macmillan Children’s), discuss twinship, identity, and all the awkward and beautiful joys that come with growing up and coming out.
Moderator: Ashleigh Williams, Editor, Chapter Books and Middle Grade, SLJ



View On Demand

Keynote Speakers

Leah Johnson always wanted to be a superhero, but she became a writer instead, which she thinks is the next-best thing. Her best-selling debut novel, You Should See Me in a Crown, was a Stonewall Honor Book, the inaugural Reese’s Book Club YA Pick, and named one of Time’s 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time. Leah lives in Indianapolis, where she writes books about Black girls with big hearts, plays fetch with the best dog in the world, and talks about Miles Morales to anyone who will listen. Ellie Engle Saves Herself is her middle grade debut.

During the course of their career, Tegan Quin and Sara Quin have sold over one million records and released numerous studio albums. The duo have performed on some of the world’s biggest stages and are executive producers of the TV series High School based on their adult memoir of the same name. They are also the authors of the Tegan and Sara graphic novel series for young readers, illustrated by Tillie Walden. In 2016, they created the Tegan and Sara Foundation, which fights for health, economic justice, and representation for LGBTQ+ people. The sisters currently reside in Vancouver.


Angie Thomas is the author of the award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling novels The Hate U Give, On the Come Up, and Concrete Rose as well as Find Your Voice: A Guided Journal for Writing Your Truth. She is also a coauthor of the bestselling collaborative novels Blackout and Whiteout. Angie divides her time between her native Jackson, Mississippi and Atlanta, Georgia. You can find her online at www.angiethomas.com.

Tillie Walden is a cartoonist and an illustrator who is a twin from Austin, Texas. She has published numerous graphic novels, including her Eisner Award–winning memoir Spinning. She currently lives in Lebanon, New Hampshire, with her cat, Stan.

Renée Watson is a #1 New York Times bestselling author. Her novel, Piecing Me Together, received a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award. Her books include the Ryan Hart series, Some Places More Than Others, This Side of Home, What Momma Left Me, Betty Before X, cowritten with Ilyasah Shabazz, Watch Us Rise, cowritten with Ellen Hagan, and Love is a Revolution, as well as acclaimed picture books: Places Where Hurricanes Happen, and Harlem’s Little Blackbird, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. Renée splits her time between Portland, Oregon and New York City.




Flora Ahn is an attorney by day and an author and illustrator by night. Her work includes a children's chapter book series, Pug Pals (Scholastic) and an Audible Original, The Golden Orchard. Raised in California by her Korean immigrant parents, Ahn lives in Virginia with her two pugs and practices law in DC.

Akim Aliu is the son of a Nigerian father and a Ukrainian mother, and he spent years of his youth in Nigeria and Ukraine before moving to Toronto, Canada. A hockey prodigy, Akim was drafted into the NHL as a teenager and played for the Calgary Flames. In 2020, Akim wrote an article entitled “Hockey is Not for Everyone,” where he identifies the racism and violence he endured as a Black athlete within the sport of hockey. He has since founded the Time to Dream Foundation and the Hockey Diversity Alliance to work towards eradicating racism and intolerance in hockey, and he continues to play professionally in Europe.

Clar Angkasa was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, and graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Illustration. Clar (pronounced like Clark but without the 'k') is short for Clarisse (yes, like in The Silence of the Lambs). An illustrator, animator, and comic artist with a passion for narrative art, she draws inspiration from stories, nature, and wholesome people. Her work has received such honors as the MoCCA Arts Festival Awards of Excellence, an Adobe Awards Top Talent, and more. She is currently based in Brooklyn, New York.

Zaila Avant-garde is a multitalented powerhouse. Hailing from New Orleans, she won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee, making her the first African American winner in the competition's history. Currently fifteen years old, she was named SportsKid of the Year 2021 by Sports Illustrated Kids. Zaila also holds two Guinness World Records for her basketball skills: the most bounce juggles in one minute with four basketballs and most basketballs dribbled simultaneously by one person. Her success has been celebrated by the likes of Barack and Michelle Obama, LeBron James, and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

Art Baltazar is a super-cartoonist machine from the heart of Chicago. Art is a creative force behind The Eisner Award winning Itty Bitty Hellboy and The New York Times Best Selling, Eisner Award, Harvey Award Winning DC Comics' Tiny Titans, and Artist of The DC Super-Pets children’s book series. Recently, he became co-Founder of the Aw Yeah Comics comic shop and co-Creator of the Aw Yeah Comics comic book series starring Action Cat & Adventure Bug.



Kelly J. Baptist is the inaugural winner of the We Need Diverse Books short-story contest. Her story is featured in the WNDB anthology Flying Lessons & Other Stories and inspired her first full-length novel, Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero. Kelly is also the author of the picture book The Electric Slide and Kai and The Swag Is in the Socks, which was inspired by her love of unique socks, as well as her older sister’s hero work as a speech-language pathologist. When she’s not writing, Kelly is usually thinking about writing and dreaming of palm trees while living in southwest Michigan.

C. E. Berger is a scientist and author of speculative fiction. She studied film production and philosophy at Boston University and spent a few years working in Hollywood before returning to school to pursue science. She got another bachelor’s degree in physics from the Ohio State University and a PhD in computational physics from UNC Chapel Hill a few years later. Since school is obviously her natural habitat, she now works as a professor at Smith College, where she studies the complicated interactions of subatomic particles and encourages the next generation of brilliant scientists.



Stephen Bramucci is the author of The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo and its sequel, The Danger Gang and the Isle of Feral Beasts. He has written for National Geographic, Afar, Fodors, and dozens of online and print outlets. As a travel and adventure writer, he has explored the Australian outback with the Jawoyn Indigenous people, tracked cheetahs by foot in South Africa, lived with Komodo Dragons on the island of Rinca, and trekked alone into the Ecuadorian Amazon. Proceeds from this title will be donated to https://www.turtleconservancy.org



Joe Bruchac is a writer and traditional storyteller, who lives in the Adirondack Mountains region of northern New York. Much of his work is inspired by his Native American (Abenaki) ancestry. He is the author of more than130 books for young readers and adults.

Ambreen Butt-Hussain was born in Pakistan but lived in England and Scotland before finally settling in Canada. She has a bachelor of science from the University of Toronto and a master of education from Queen’s University. She has years of experience as an elementary school teacher, some experience as a writer and a lifetime of experience being the awkward new kid trying to fit in. She lives in Milton, Ontario.



Justin Chanda joined the editorial staff at Simon & Schuster in 2005. A graduate of New York University, Justin was named publisher of the S&S Books for Young Readers imprint in 2007 and McElderry Books and Atheneum Books for Young Readers in 2009. He oversees the publication of nearly 350 titles per year and continues to edit a full list as well working with incredible authors and illustrators. Justin is also an adjunct instructor for the NYU Graduate Publishing Program.

New York Times best-selling author Sandra Dallas, the author of 16 adult novels, five middle-grade novels, and 10 nonfiction books, was dubbed “a quintessential American voice” by Jane Smiley, in Vogue Magazine. Sandra’s novels with their themes of loyalty, friendship, and human dignity have been translated into a dozen foreign languages and have been optioned for films. Sandra lives in Denver and Georgetown, Colorado, with her husband, Bob, and is the mother of two daughters.

Anne Dublin is a former teacher-librarian and award-winning author living in Toronto. She has a particular interest in Jewish history and has written biographies of June Callwood and Bobbie Rosenfeld, as well as the collective biography Dynamic Women Dancers. She is also the author of the children’s historical fiction novels The Orphan Rescue, 44 Hours or Strike!, A Cage Without Bars, and Jacob and the Mandolin Adventure.

Sharon G. Flake is the author of The Skin I’m In, which has sold over a million copies worldwide and has been translated into numerous languages. Since its publication, Flake has authored over a dozen books, winning multiple Coretta Scott King Honor Awards; ALA Notable and Top Ten Recommended Books citations, and an NAACP Image Award Nomination, among many accolades. She has been writing books from her home (and Panera’s) for over twenty years.

Janet Sumner Johnson is the author of picture books The Recess Genius 1: Open for Business, Braver Than Brave, and Help Wanted: Must Love Books, which was the winner of the 2021 CLEL BELL Read Award, as well as middle grade novel The Last Great Adventures of the PB&J Society. Though her full-time occupation as evil tyrant/benevolent dictator (aka Mom) takes most of her time, she sneaks in writing at night when her inner funny bone is fully unleashed. She lives in Utah with her husband and three kids.

Erika J. Kendrick is a national speaker, mental health advocate, and former NBA cheerleader. She is a Stanford University graduate with an MBA in marketing and international business from the University of Illinois. She is the author of Squad Goals, her debut middle grade novel, and Cookie Monsters.

Beth Kirchenberg has worked with Middle Schoolers in public libraries for 10 years. She has served on the YALSA Morris Award committee for debut YA literature, AISLE Lincoln Award committee for YA literature, and the AISLE Rebecca Caudill Award for grades 4-8. She loves turning her favorite crafty pastimes into inventive and engaging programs for youth.

Lauren Knowlton has been a professional librarian for fifteen years. For the last nine years, she has been a school media specialist and librarian at Whit Davis Elementary School in Athens, GA. As a school librarian, she loves to explore the uses of technology in the classroom and embraces activities that have kids playing, experimenting, and expressing themselves creatively in the library. A true crime devotee with a bachelor's in criminal justice, Lauren currently lives in Athens with her husband, her 4-year-old daughter, and 17-year-old stepson.

Meg Eden Kuyatt is a neurodivergent author and college-level creative writing instructor. She is a 2020 Pitch Wars mentee, and the author of poetry books. When she isn’t writing, she’s probably playing Fire Emblem. If she could be a Pokémon, she’d be Charizard. Find her online at www.megedenbooks.com or on Instagram at @meden_author.

Thanhhà Lại is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Inside Out & Back Again, her debut novel in verse, which won both a National Book Award and a Newbery Honor; the acclaimed Listen, Slowly, which was named to numerous best book of the year lists; and the award-winning Butterfly Yellow. She was born in Việt Nam and now lives in New York with her family. To learn more about Thanhhà, visit www.thanhhalai.com.

Camilo Moncada Lozano is an Mexico City-based artist best known for his work on Codex Black, which has garnered hundreds of thousands of views in its original incarnation on Tapas. Along with his work in comics, Camilo is responsible for the 2017 animated short film Donají & the Magical Poncho.

Michael Mann is a primary school teacher by day and mostly writes when he should be sleeping at night. He was a winner of SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices 2020, and the 2019 London Writer’s Award (Spread the Word). As a person of British and Indian heritage, he is passionate about diversity in children’s literature. He’s a fan of board games, reading, cloud spotting, and outdoor swimming.

Brigid Martin is a New York based writer, reader, and serial hobbyist with a soft spot for friendly ghosts. Brigid received her master's degree from Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business and undergraduate degree in English and Music from Stony Brook University. Brigid has enjoyed a career in the publishing field for nearly a decade and is excited to be on the other side of the page with her debut novel, Totally Psychic.



Wendy Mass is the New York Times bestselling author of The Candymakers series, Bob, and many other novels for young readers, including the Schneider Family Book Award-winner A Mango-Shaped Space, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life (which was made into a feature film), Every Soul a Star, Pi in the Sky, the Twice Upon a Time series, and the Willow Falls series that began with 11 Birthdays. She and her family live in New Jersey.

Morgan Matson is the New York Times bestselling author of six books for teens, including Since You’ve Been Gone and Save the Date. The Firefly Summer is her debut middle grade novel. She lives in Los Angeles but spends part of every summer in the Pocono Mountains.

Christina Matula grew up in Ottawa, Canada. Being a child of immigrant parents, she has always been curious about other cultures and far-off places. Dumplings are her favorite food, especially her mother’s savory Taiwanese jiaozi and her father’s sweet Hungarian gomboc. She is the author of the middle-grade book The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei and the forthcoming The Not-So-Perfect Plan, as well as the picture book, The Shadow in the Moon. Christina has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Hong Kong and now lives in Finland with her husband, two children, and puppy.



Joy McCullough’s debut young adult novel, Blood Water Paint, won the Washington State and Pacific Northwest book awards, as well as honors including the National Book Award longlist, finalist for the ALA Morris Award, a Publishers Weekly Flying Start and four starred reviews. She has since written picture books and young adult and middle grade novels that have been Junior Library Guild Selections, Indie Next Selections, finalists for the Washington State Book Award, and a New York Times bestseller. Code Red is her newest middle grade novel.



Jasminne Mendez is a Dominican-American poet, playwright, translator and award winning author of several books for children and adults. She is an MFA graduate of the creative writing program at the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, a University of Houston alumni, and a Canto Mundo Fellow. Based in Houston, she is the co-founder and program director of the Latinx literary arts organization Tintero Projects and co-host of Inkwell, a poetry and writing podcast series.



Allison Hong Merrill was born and raised in Taiwan and came to the US at twenty-two as a university student. She holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and writes both fiction and creative nonfiction in both Chinese and English. Her work has won both national and international literary awards.

Heather B. Moore is a USA Today bestseller and award-winning author of more than seventy publications. She’s lived on both the east and west coasts of the United States, including Hawaii, and attended school abroad, including the Cairo American College in Egypt, and the Anglican School of Jerusalem in Israel. She loves to learn about anything in history and, as an author, is passionate about historical research.

Deke Moulton (she/they) is a writer currently living in the US Pacific Northwest. They are a former US Army drill sergeant and trained as an Arabic linguist during their time in service. Don't Want to Be Your Monster is their debut book.

An author and middle-school teacher, Colleen Nelson earned her Bachelor of Education from the University of Manitoba in her hometown of Winnipeg. Her previous works include the critically acclaimed middle-grade novels Harvey Comes Home, Harvey Holds His Own (a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award), Harvey Takes the Lead, and The Undercover Book List. The titular building from Colleen's 2023 novel The Umbrella House is a real place, which inspired Colleen during her years in New York City.

Doan Phuong Nguyen was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the United States when she was in elementary school. After growing up in the South, she settled in the Midwest. Doan Phuong loves anything pink and cute but enjoys writing incredibly sad, emotionally evocative novels. She received her MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Mèo and Bé is her first middle grade novel. Find her at doanphuong.com.

Rex Ogle is the author of Free Lunch, recipient of the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. His graphic novel series, Four Eyes, is based on the highs and lows of his middle-school years growing up in Texas. Under the pen name Rey Terciero, he authored Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy and Swan Lake: Quest for the Kingdoms. Before becoming a full-time writer, Rex worked as an editor for many years and championed a number of licensed titles. When he's not busy writing, Rex can be found hiking with his dog, playing Mario Kart with his friends, or reading a new favorite book.

Karyn Parsons is best known for her role as Will Smith's cousin Hilary Banks on NBC's The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. After leaving acting behind, Karyn has gone on to found and produce Sweet Blackberry, an award-winning series of children's animated films, to share stories about unsung Black heroes in history. The videos have been screened on HBO and Netflix, and enjoyed by schools and libraries across the country. She is the author of Flying Free: How Bessie Coleman's Dreams Took Flight, How High the Moon, and Saving the Day. Karyn lives with her family in Providence, Rhode Island.

Thushanthi Ponweera is an author and poet from Sri Lanka. Before daring to follow her dream of being published, she was a marketing specialist and entrepreneur. Her writing reflects the frustration she feels at the inequality and injustice she sees around her, and the deep love she feels for her island home. Thushanthi currently lives in Colombo with her husband and two children. I am Kavi is her first novel.

Stephanie Rodriguez is a Bronx-born comic book artist and illustrator. She graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 2011 with a BFA in illustration and her work has been featured on BuzzFeed, Remezcla, VaynerMedia, and NPR. Doodles from the Boogie Down is her debut middle grade graphic novel.

David Roth is a New York–based stand-up comedian who performs all over the United States and has made over a dozen comedy festival appearances. He has written jokes for magicians, public speakers, rappers, and Saturday Night Live stars. David co-produces the hit show The Charm Offensive at Punch Line San Francisco. He's also a highly awarded advertising creative director and has written and produced two Super Bowl commercials.

David Saylor is a VP and Creative Director in the Scholastic Trade Publishing Group and is the Publisher and founder of Scholastic’s groundbreaking graphic novel imprint, GRAPHIX. David is also the art director for all American editions of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Throughout his career, David has done a mix of art direction, design, and editing on picture books, illustrated novels, and graphic novels—and has been lucky to work with some of the most well-known artists and writers in children’s books. In 2019, David was named a Carle Honors Mentor Honoree for contributions to the field of children’s literature.

Rinee Shah is an illustrator and advertising creative director based in Brooklyn, New York. Her illustration projects have been featured in Wired, The Huffington Post, and Fast Company. She has written sketch comedy and directed short comedy films that have played in comedy film festivals around the country. She's also the author-illustrator of The Made-Up Words Project and the illustrator of Off: The Day the Internet Died, a Bedtime Fantasy.

Mac Smith is a self-taught comic artist living in the Pacific Northwest with his extremely furry dog. He also creates concept art for studios such as Blizzard, Warner Bros., Games Workshop, and Bethesda. SCURRY is his debut graphic novel. More of his work can be found at mac-smith.com.


Jessica Speer is a highly acclaimed author of books for kids and teens. Blending science, stories, and fun activities, her writing unpacks tricky stuff that peaks during childhood and adolescence. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores topics in ways that connect with kids.

Rebecca Stead is the New York Times bestselling author of When You Reach Me, Liar & Spy, First Light, Goodbye Stranger, Bob, and, most recently, The List of Things That Will Not Change. Her books have been awarded the Newbery Medal, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Fiction and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Rebecca lives in New York City, where she is always on the lookout for her next story idea.

Julie Stivers (she/her) is the librarian at Mount Vernon Middle, an alternative public school in Raleigh, NC. As a 2018 ALA Emerging Leader, she helped develop AASL’s Defending Intellectual Freedom: LGBTQ+ Materials in School Libraries. She was named a 2019 Library Journal Mover and Shaker and is the Author/Editor of Include (ALA, 2022). Her research and practical interests center culturally sustaining pedagogy, building inclusive library spaces, and exploring the power of manga and anime with her students. She tweets at @BespokeLib.

J.E. Thomas grew up near Colorado’s Front Range mountains. She spent her early summers stuffing grocery bags with books at the local library, reading feverishly, then repeating the process week after week. J.E. has bachelors’ degrees in Mass Communications and Political Science, as well as a master’s degree in Public Communications. She wrote Control Freaks while working as an administrator at the same independent school she attended as child.

Pari Thomson is a senior commissioning editor for picture books at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. Half Persian, half English, she has lived in many places, including India, Pakistan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Belgium. She studied at Oxford University and now lives in London, not far from Kew Gardens.

Bridgit Lapierre Valgenti has been a middle school librarian since 2008. She began her career in a 5-8 Middle School in Dover, NH, before moving with her family to New Jersey.  At McAuliffe she coaches the First Robotics Tech Team, is an advisor to the TSA Club and coordinator of the Thrifter Upper Club.  When she is not reading or in the library; she is hiking with her dog, playing in the ocean or spending time with her family.

Dana VanderLugt is a writer and teacher who believes firmly in the power of stories to change hearts and minds. She descends from a family of apple growers in Michigan, where she lives with her husband, three sons, and a spoiled golden retriever. And yes, she makes a mean apple pie.

Kelly Yang is the New York Times bestselling author of Front Desk (winner of the 2019 Asian Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature), Parachutes, Three Keys, Room to Dream, New From Here, and Finally Seen. Front Desk also won the Parents’ Choice Gold Medal, was the 2019 Global Read Aloud, and has earned numerous other honors including being named a best book of the year by Amazon, The Washington Post, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and NPR. Learn more at KellyYang.com.


Monisha Blair is the head librarian at Key Middle School in Springfield, VA. She earned her Masters of Information from Rutgers University in December 2020, with a concentration in School Library Media. She achieved a B.A. in Journalism from George Washington University in 2005. Since January 2020, Monisha has reviewed middle grade fiction, picture books, and young adult fiction for School Library Journal. She served on the SLJ Best Books Committees for 2020-2022.

Denise Dávila is an assistant professor of children's literature and literacy education at the University of Texas at Austin who has served on multiple book award committees. Her research agenda focuses on families' engagement with children's books by/for/and about members of marginalized communities to support early literacy development.

Elisa Anais Garcia is the Supervising Librarian of MyLibraryNYC, Collections at The New York Public Library in partnership with the New York City Department of Education, The Brooklyn Public Library, and The Queens Public Library. She is motivated to foster a love of reading in reluctant readers and therefore strives to introduce them to a diverse world of experiences through books.

Ashley Leffel is the librarian at Griffin Middle school in Frisco, TX.  Before becoming a librarian, she taught music for many years. She loves reading all types of books and fangirling for her favorite authors. When not reading, she enjoys Broadway musicals and can quote just about every episode of Bob’s Burgers.

Ruth E. Quiroa, Ph.D., is an associate professor at National Louis University where she teaches graduate courses in youth literature and in literacy. A former kindergarten, bilingual second-grade educator, she completed her doctoral degree at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Ruth’s current research focuses on the history of Latinx youth literature. She has served on several youth literature award selection committees.

Maegen Rose is the Director of Library Program and Upper School Librarian at Brooklyn Friends School (NY). She received a bachelor’s degree from Pitzer College, a master’s degree in social service administration from the University of Chicago, and a master’s degree in library science from Dominican University. Maegen is an active member of many local and national library organizations. She reviews books for School Library Journal and served on the 2019-2021 Coretta Scott King Book Awards Jury. Maegen is a member of Library Journal’s 2021 class of Movers & Shakers and currently chairs the 2023 Children’s Literature Legacy Committee.

Christine Scheper is the Children’s Material Specialist at Queens Public Library (NY).

Myiesha Speight holds a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in English with a minor in History from Winston-Salem State University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In 2019, she received her Master's of Library and Information Science with a specialization in Diversity and Inclusion from the University of Maryland College Park’s iSchool located in College Park, Maryland. Myiesha Speight is currently a Book Reviewer for SLJ.

Desiree Thomas is a Youth Services Librarian in Worthington Ohio. She has worked in libraries for the past 22 years and believes that our lives are made better when we share stories and learn about each other. She is an avid gardener, yogi, and reader’s advisory enthusiast. 

Ashleigh Williams, Associate Editor of Chapter Books and Middle Grade, School Library Journal



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