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Keynote Speakers


Sarwat Chadda

Sarwat has had over a dozen books published since 2009, specializing in YA and mid-grade high adventure with an eastern flavour, drawing on his British-South Asian heritage. He's also writing comic books, tv shows and his Indian mythology-inspired Ash Mistry series is under development with Lighthouse. He lives in London but has travelled widely. He has the honor of coming the farthest to speak at our conference!


Molly Idle

Molly Idle is the author and illustrator of the Caldecott Honor-winning picture book Flora and the Flamingo (and the rest of the Flora books too). She’s also the creator of the Rex series (which includes Tea Rex and Sea Rex), the mermaid tales Pearl and Coral, and most recently, Witch Hazel.


PJ Hoover

P. J. (Tricia) Hoover wanted to be a Jedi, but when that didn't work out, she became an electrical engineer instead. After a fifteen year bout designing computer chips for a living, P. J. started creating worlds of her own. She's the award-winning author of The Hidden Code and Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life, featuring a fourteen-year-old King Tut who's stuck in middle school. Under the Connor Hoover pseudonym, she is also the author of the popular Pick Your Own Quest series, which are interactive adventures perfect for everyone.

In-Person Faculty


Cate Berry

Cate Berry is the author of four picture books (Harper Collins, MacMillan), with more forthcoming in 2024-25. Cate holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, with an emphasis in humor, and has been a featured presenter at the Texas Book Festival, The Writing Barn, Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and many SCBWI conferences. Ms. Berry is the former humor columnist for Austin Family Magazine is a current editor at Bushel & Peck Books.

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Molly Blaisdell

Molly Blaisdell is the author/illustrator of 50+ books for children. She writes as Cece Barlow for teens. She is also the founder of TEENSPublish, a summer writing program for teens at the Larry Ringer Library.


Breanna Carzoo

Breanna Carzoo is the author-illustrator of the picture books Lou, Greenlight, and The Squish. She crafts illustrations with painted cut-paper collage and mixed media. Her debut picture book, Lou, was shortlisted for the 2023 Barnes and Noble Children’s and YA Book Awards and named on many state award lists, and both Lou and Greenlight were named Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Books of 2022 and 2023. She lives in Austin, TX, with her husband and dog.


Britta Jensen

Britta Jensen’s novel, Eloia Born, won the 2019 Writer’s League of Texas YA Discovery Prize and was long-listed for the Exeter Novel Prize. Subsequent publications include a sequel, Hirana’s War, as well as Ghosts of Yokosuka, “Why Not Ophelia” in the Castle Anthology of Horror- Femme Fatales, and “Noise in the Woods” in Mixed Bag of Tricks. Her stories explore themes of persevering through disability, found family, and the intersection of love and various cultures on new worlds. For the past twenty-one years she has taught creative writing and edited books. Friends often refer to her as a polyglot—which is a product of living twenty-two years overseas in Japan, South Korea, and Germany before settling in Austin, Texas with her awesome capoerista husband. She loves coaching authors and editing books with The Writing Consultancy and Yellowbird Editors.


Lynne Kelly

Lynne Kelly’s career as a sign language interpreter has taken her everywhere from classrooms to hospitals to Alaskan cruises. Her 2019 novel Song For a Whale, about a deaf girl named Iris who forms an unlikely bond with the “loneliest whale in the world,” has been described as “finely crafted,” “important,” and “uplifting” by reviewers from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. Song For a Whale received the 2020 Schneider Family Book Award and was named one of the best books of the year by New York Public Library. She lives near Houston, Texas. Find her on Twitter @lynnekelly.


Caroline Leech

Caroline Leech is Scottish/Texan author, podcaster, and coach of writing craft and presentation/media skills. Her historical YA novels, WAIT FOR ME and IN ANOTHER TIME, are both set in Scotland during World War two, and are published by HarperCollins, and she also writes women’s and middle-grade fiction. Caroline is a consultant and coach in strategic press, media and presentation skills, working with performing and literary arts companies, and also with authors and writing organizations. Through her individual and group coaching, webinars and speeches, and her podcast, Authors & Audiences, she helps creative literary artists identify and implement the best ways to present themselves and their books to their audiences with confidence and professionalism. Caroline has been a member of SCBWI Houston since 2010.


Kevin Lewis

Kevin Lewis plays with words like kids play with blocks. He can arrange them in rhythmic rows (CHUGGA CHUGGA CHOO CHOO, 1998), stack them up (THE LOT AT THE END OF MY BLOCK, 2001) and then knock them down again (THE RUNAWAY PUMPKIN, 2003). He takes them on the car (MY TRUCK IS STUCK, 2002), to the playground (DINOSAUR DINOSAUR, 2006), in the tub (TUGGA TUGGA TUG BOAT, 2006), and he’s even been known to use them to get his own way (NOT INSIDE THIS HOUSE, 2011). His most recent books are BROWN SUGAR BABY (2022) , BROWN SUGAR BABY CHRISTMAS JOY (2023), and BROWN SUGAR BABY SWEETEST LOVE (2023). Kevin has worked as an editor for 25 years at companies like Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, and Disney. In 2018, Kevin became an agent for the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, primarily focusing on writer-illustrators and diverse voices. He lives in a large, 200-year old farmhouse in New York’s Hudson Valley with his husband and a dog named Kat and two cats named Rue and Prim.


Alvina Ling

Alvina Ling is VP and Editor-in-Chief at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers where she has worked since 1999. She edits children's books for all ages, including A Big Mooncake for Little Star and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Bryan Collier, The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown, Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Troublemaker by John Cho, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, and The Cruel Prince by Holly Black. She co-hosts the podcast Book Friends Forever with author Grace Lin and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two cats.


Laurent Linn

Laurent Linn, Art Director at Simon & Schuster, collaborates on picture books, middle grade, and teen novels with both celebrated and new illustrators. He is also the author/illustrator of the YA novel, Draw the Line. Laurent is on the SCBWI Advisory Council and is Artistic Advisor for the Original Art exhibit at the Society of Illustrators in New York. Laurent began his career as a puppet designer/builder in Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop, creating characters for productions including the Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island films, eventually becoming Creative Director for the Sesame Street Muppets, winning an Emmy Award. www.laurentlinn.com


Stephanie Frescas Macías

Stephanie Frescas Macías (she/her) is an assistant editor at Lee & Low Books. She grew up on both sides of the US–Mexico border and earned a bachelor's from Barnard College. Stephanie assisted on award-winning titles like the picture book Where Wonder Grows and YA verse novel Thirty Talks Weird Love. She also edited the novel When You Get to the Other Side and the picture book Empty and Me, which has garnered two starred reviews.


Molly O'Neill

Molly O’Neill is an agent with Root Literary. She loves the creative process and early-stage project development, is invigorated by business strategy and entrepreneurial thinking, and is fascinated by the intersections of creativity, commerce, innovation, storytelling, and community. Over the course of more than twenty years in publishing, she has worked as a marketing expert, and publishing-adjacent tech start-up executive, and as an editor and agent of multiple award-winners, #1 New York Times bestsellers, and publishing phenomenons; all of these skills now power her expertise as a literary agent and advocate for her clients and their careers. Her client list includes both emerging and established authors, illustrators, and graphic novelists. mollyoneillbooks.com


Madeline Smoot

Madeline Smoot is the former publisher of CBAY Books and, before that, the Editorial Director for Children’s Books at Blooming Tree Press. In other words, Madeline knows a lot about publishing and the process of bringing a book to market. Now she writes books, publishes them, talks about them and helps other authors get their books ready for the market. She also publishes under the names Lori Bond and Elliot Addison.


Kris Tarantino

Kris Tarantino primarily writes picture books filled with humor and heart. Her debut picture book, Be My ValenSLIME, (WaterBrook/Random House), received a starred review from School Library Journal and praise from Publishers Weekly. She has participated as a faculty speaker on several SCBWI Writer Panels and has received numerous writing and mentor awards. Kris holds a B.A. in Business, Marketing, and Art.

Online Faculty


Sydney Dunlap

Sydney Dunlap writes upper middle-grade books tackling tough, timely topics with hope and heart. She is a former teacher and published poet who has also written for a newspaper. Her debut novel, IT HAPPENED ON SATURDAY, is a Moonbeam gold medalist and Cybils Award nominee that was selected for an all-community read soon after its release. It was also featured on School Library Journal’s 2023 Mock Newbery Blog and highlighted in Kirkus Reviews as promoting mental health in kids. Her next book, RACING THE CLOUDS, (Jolly Fish Press/North Star Editions), publishes in February 2025.


Susan Fletcher

Susan Fletcher has written twelve novels for kids and young adults, including SHADOW SPINNER, ALPHABET OF DREAMS, THE DRAGON CHRONICLES, and JOURNEY OF THE PALE BEAR. Her next novel, SEA CHANGE, will come out from Abrams next year. Her books have been translated into nine languages and include a Golden Kite Honor as well as recognition by the American Library Association’s Notable Books and Best Books for Young Adults, BCCB Blue Ribbon Books, and School Library Journal’s Best Books. Susan taught for many years in the M.F.A. in Writing for Children program at Vermont College. She lives in Bryan, Texas with her husband, historian R.J.Q. Adams, and their dog, Neville.


Sherry Garland

Sherry Garland is the award-winning author of more than 30 books for children, young adults, and adults. A fifth generation Texan, Ms. Garland sets many of her books in the Lone Star State. Several of her books focus on Vietnam because of her close association with Vietnamese families in the Houston area. Among the many awards her books have received are ALA Notable, BBYA, Best Book in Field of Social Studies, Reading Rainbow Feature, Western Writers of America Spur Award, California Young Readers Medal, Texas Institute of Letters Award, Parent’s Choice, Texas Bluebonnet List, Texas Lone Star List, several state reading lists, and many more. One of her popular Dear America Series books was made into an HBO feature.


Zoie Janelle Konneker

Zoie Janelle Konneker (she/her) is an Editorial Assistant at Peachtree Publishing Company. Raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, she graduated from Georgia Tech in with a B.S. in Literature, Media, & Communication in 2020 and has been with Peachtree since 2021. Between her graduation and her acceptance of a full-time role at Peachtree, she worked as a Foster Coordinator at a metro-Atlanta animal shelter. She identifies as neurodiverse and is a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community. Her goal is to leave the world better than she found it by elevating underrepresented voices in children’s literature and putting relevant, relatable stories in the hands of those who need them most.


Carolyn Leiloglou

Carolyn Leiloglou is the award-winning author of the middle-grade series The Restorationists and the picture book Library’s Most Wanted. Her poems and stories have appeared in children's magazines around the world including Highlights, Cricket, and Clubhouse Jr. Carolyn lives in Texas with her husband Demetrios, their four children, whom she homeschools, and their dog Nugget.


Carina Licon

Carina Licon is an Assistant Editor at Holt BYR. She is from El Paso, TX and is interested in compelling, commercial middle-grade and young adult fiction with complex characters who sit at the heart of a story and leap off the page. She is looking for contemporary YA and MG; thrillers that make you bite your nails in anticipation; spooky, atmospheric MG; gothic YA horror or fantasy; stories about mental health; intergenerational BIPOC stories; stories of everyday life in a BIPOC household (especially Latinx); romance with lots! of! angst!; and grounded YA fantasy. She is not looking for high fantasy series, sci-fi, or in-verse novels.


Jasminne Mendez

Jasminne Mendez is a best-selling Dominican-American poet, translator, playwright, audio book narrator and award winning author of several books for children and adults. Including the middle grade novel in verse Aniana del Mar Jumps In (Dial) which received the 2024 Pura Belpre Honor Award. Her other books have received prizes from the Texas Institute of Letters, the Writer’s League of Texas and the International Latino Book Awards. She is an MFA graduate of the creative writing program at the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University and a University of Houston alumni. She is the Program Director for the literary arts non-profit Tintero Projects and she lives and works in Houston, TX.


Joy Preble

Joy Preble is the author of a medium-long list of young adult novels, some creepy horror short stories for grown-ups, and two forthcoming picture books in 2025, Happy Passover, Edie Rose! (KarBen/Lerner) and Lost and Found Hanukkah (Chronicle Books). She is fond of clever conversation and clever cocktails, teaches writing at Writespace Houston and also tutors writing at Lone Star College. Follow her on IG @joypreble


Monica Rodriguez

Monica Rodriguez is the Director of Brand Management at Context Literary Agency. Her love for books can be traced back to elementary school, where the best days were spent attending book fairs and author readings. Monica is also a Junior Agent with a mission to help uplift underrepresented voices in publishing, specifically within the Latinx community. In children’s literature, she is actively looking for PB, MG, YA & Graphic Novels. She is also open to adult and non-fiction submissions.


Rachel Toalson

Rachel Toalson writes under the name R.L. Toalson and is the author of THE COLORS OF THE RAIN, a middle grade historical novel-in-verse (little bee, 2018) that won the 2020 Arnold Adoff Poetry Honor award for New Voices; THE WOODS, a middle grade magical realism book (little bee, 2019) that was named to the ILA’s Children’s Choices Reading List; THE FIRST MAGNIFICENT SUMMER (Simon & Schuster, 2023), an upper middle grade literary novel; and its forthcoming sequel, SOMETHING MAYBE MAGNIFICENT (Simon & Schuster, May 2024) as well as more than 20 middle grade and YA books under the pen name L.R. Patton. She runs a YouTube channel with several shows, including "On My Shelf," "Writing Tips with Rachel," and "Real Talk with Rachel." Her kids' poetry has been published in print magazines and literary journals around the world. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and six sons.

Conference Illustration logo artwork by Laura Fisk Instagram:@laurafiskstudio