Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Faculty Bios


Spring Spirit 2020 Faculty and PAL Critique Providers



 Talia BenamyTalia Benamy is an associate editor at Philomel Books (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers), where 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. Follow Talia on twitter @TaliaBenamy

Critique preferences: (fiction or nonfiction) picture books, middle grade and young adult SOLD OUT


Jennifer Chen TranJennifer Chen Tran is an agent at Bradford Literary. She represents both fiction and non-fiction. Originally from New York, Jennifer is a lifelong reader and has over six years of experience as an agent. As a person of color and second-generation daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, Jennifer is very interested in diverse writers and #ownvoices from underrepresented/ marginalized communities. As a former art major, Jennifer is also eager to grow her list of illustrators and actively looking for graphic novel projects, in both MG and YA. She obtained her Juris Doctor from Northeastern School of Law in Boston, MA, and a Bachelors of Arts in English Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. You can connect with her on Twitter @jenchentran or on Instagram @jenchentran .

Critique preferences: MG and YA graphic novels, MG with emotion and heart, and contemporary YA that has a keen sense of place and realistic dialogue.

Shirley Espada-RicheyShirley Espada-Richey
serves as the Assistant Regional Advisor for our region. Once upon a time, she was a Library Story Time Lady and a Spanish Immersion Teacher. She’s been an active SCBWI member since 2014 and has been all-about-the-craft by harvesting ideas with Tara Lazar’s Storystorm, devouring and dissecting picture books with REFOREMO (Read For Research Month) and Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Challenge, and by attending as many webinars as she can. She writes picture books, middle-grade novels, and dabbles with chapter books, too. Shirley has been the recipient of the 2017 SCBWI Nevada Mentorship (Eric Elfman), the 2019 #PBChat Mentorship (Jessie Oliveros), and the 2019 Las Musas Mentorship (Adrianna Cuevas). Shirley lives in the Sacramento area with her husband and their four children. Follow Shirley on Twitter @shirleyrichey.

Critiques not available.


 Luana HorryLuana Horry is an editor of picture books at Harper Collins Children’s Publishers. She has been part of Nancy Inteli’s group for over three years and worked on key titles such as the Pete the Cat series created by Kimberly and James Dean; the Fancy Nancy series written by Jane O’Connor; I’ve Loved You Since Forever written by Hoda Kotb; Fresh Princess written by Denene Millner; Not Quite Snow White written by Ashley Franklin and more. Luana is looking for character-driven, inspirational, and clever commercial picture books.

Critique preferences: (fiction or nonfiction) picture books – SOLD OUT



Naomi KinsmanNaomi Kinsman
is the award-winning author of Spilled Ink, A Writer’s Notebook, and the From Sadie’s Sketchbook series. She is the founder and Executive Director of Society of Young Inklings, an organization that empowers young writers. Over the past twenty years, Naomi has developed Writerly Play, an improv-based writing methodology that brings joy, deep inquiry, and play into the writing process. Naomi has a MFA in Writing for Children from Hamline University. Visit Naomi’s website at or connect on Twitter and Instagram @naomikinsman.

Critique preferences: middle grade fiction



Ellice LeeEllice Lee is the Art Director of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, where she designs fiction and non-fiction picture books, board books and novels. She has worked with award-winning talent including Alexandra Boiger, Rafael Lopez, Loren Long, Le Uyen Pham, Christian Robinson, Kadir Nelson, Ed Young, and Floyd Cooper. Titles she has worked on have appeared on the New York Times best-seller lists (most recently, Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor and She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton), featured in New York magazine, TIME magazine and have won Caldecott honors, Coretta Scott King awards, as well as being a finalist for the National Book Award. Learn more at  

Portfolio critiques only


Andrea J. LoneyAndrea J. Loney is an award-winning author of children’s picture books. Her works include TAKE A PICTURE OF ME, JAMES VAN DER ZEE (Winner of the Lee & Low Books New Voices Award and an NAACP New Image Award Nominee), BUNNYBEAR (Albert Whitman & Company and on the ALA Rainbow List), and DOUBLE BASS BLUES (Random House Knopf and a Junior Library Guild Selection). She is also a proud faculty member of the Highlights Foundation and at SCBWI events nationwide. You can find Andrea at or @andreajloney on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Critique preferences: picture books and nonfiction



Mitali PerkinsMitali Perkins has written many books for young readers, including Between Us and Abuela (2020 Charlotte Huck Honor Book), Forward Me Back To You (one of 2019 SLJ’s and Kirkus’ Best YA Books of the Year), You Bring the Distant Near (nominated for a National Book Award, six starred reviews), and Rickshaw Girl (adapted into a film by Sleeperwave Productions), all of which explore crossing different kinds of borders. Mitali also writes about light topics like poverty, immigration, child soldiers, microcredit, and human trafficking, thanks to living overseas for many years and studying Political Science at Stanford and Public Policy at U.C. Berkeley. Her goal in fiction is to make readers laugh or cry, preferably both, as long as their hearts are widening. She lives and writes in the East Bay. You can find Mitali online at, on Twitter @MitaliPerkins, or on her Facebook Author Page (Author Mitali Perkins).

Critiques not available.


PAL Critique Providers:

The SCBWI members below are local “Published and Listed” authors with years of writing and speaking experience and multiple published titles. While they are not on the speaking faculty, you may select them if you sign up for a manuscript critique. Please note that they are not offering face-to-face meetings during the conference.


JaNay Brown-WoodJaNay Brown-Wood is an author and educator. Her first picture book Imani’s Moon won the NAESP Children’s Book of the Year Award, was a Northern CA ACL 2014 Distinguished Book, as well as a “NYC Reads 365” pick for 2016 and 2017 and a RIF Multicultural Book pick for 2015. Her second book Grandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Story received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, was a Bank Street Books Best book of 2018, and won the CELI Read Aloud Book Award through the University of Mississippi. She has published poems featured in Highlights for Kids and Highlights High Five and her poem Falling Leaves was included in the poetry anthology titled Thanku: Poems of Gratitude (Lerner/Millbrook, Fall 2019). Furthermore, JaNay has eight forthcoming picture books including Shhh! The Baby’s Asleep (Charlesbridge, forthcoming 2021) and the Where in the Garden four-picture-book series (Peachtree Publishing, 2021-22). JaNay has also served as a mentor in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks mentorship program, has been a faculty member and speaker at several SCBWI conferences, and is represented by the fabulous Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary. JaNay is on Twitter @janaybrownwood and her Facebook page is JaNay Brown-Wood, Author & Educator.

Critique preferences: (fiction, rhyme or prose) picture books and middle grade 


Lori MortensenLori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s book author of more than 100 books and over 500 stories and articles. Recent titles include, Nonsense, the Curious Story of Edward Gorey (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Away with Words, the Daring Story of Isabella Bird (Peachtree), about a Victorian traveler who defied society’s boundaries for women and became the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society, If Wendell Had a Walrus (Henry Holt), Chicken Lily, (Henry Holt), Mousequerade Ball (Bloomsbury) illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Betsy Lewin, and Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range (Clarion, 2016) a sequel to Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013. When she’s not letting her cat in or out, she’s tapping away at her computer, conjuring, coaxing, and prodding her latest stories to life. For more information about her books, upcoming releases, teacher activities, and critique service, visit her website at You can connect with Lori on Twitter @lorimortensen.

Critique preferences: (fiction or nonfiction) picture books and early chapter books


Danna SmithDanna Smith is an award-winning author of over a dozen picture books, including ARCTIC WHITE, SWALLOW THE LEADER, MOTHER GOOSE’S PAJAMA PARTY, and four Little Golden Books. Her nonfiction picture book, THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE: A STORY OF MEDIEVAL FALCONRY, received two starred reviews and is a Junior Library Guild Selection. Danna is currently living in Northern California, where she is hard at work on her next book. Website: FaceBook: @dannasmithauthor. Twitter: @dannasmith8.

Critique Preferences: (fiction or nonfiction/rhyme or prose) picture books