Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Faculty and Sessions

Alexprofile picAlex Arnold
Editorial Assistant, Katherine Tegen Books (an imprint of HarperCollins Children's Books)
Twitter:  @AlexYArnold

Revving Your Story Engine: The Essentials of Crafting an Unforgettable Plot
During this two-hour workshop, we will discuss strategies for constructing a plot that compels your reader to keep turning pages. Through guided exercises, participants will have the opportunity to begin outlining a new story or workshop the plot of a work-in-progress.

Alex Arnold works on young adult and middle grade fiction. She is especially interested in quirky and heartwarming middle-grade; voice-driven, contemporary YA; strong friendship stories; and historical with a fresh hook in both middle-grade and YA. 

Giuseppe Castellano
Art Director, Penguin Group USACastellano_photo_grayscale
Twitter: @pinocastellano

A Children’s Book Art Department: An Inside LookIn this segment, attendees will be introduced to Giuseppe Castellano and the imprints he oversees at Penguin Group including Grosset and Dunlap, PSS!, Warne, and the Penguin Young Readers.

We will get a look into what his department looks for in illustrators and what methods they use to find them. The segment will also cover best practices in illustrating children’s books as well as discussing formats. This section of the seminar is meant to offer attendees a deeper insight into the day to day inner workings of the children’s book art department.

Giuseppe Castellano is an award-winning designer, illustrator, and art director at Penguin Group USA, with over 14 years of experience in book publishing. He oversees the imprints of Grosset & Dunlap, PSS!, Frederick Warne, the Penguin Young Readers, and Poptropica.

Read more from Giuseppe, including his popular #artips series for illustrators, on Twitter: @pinocastellano.

                                                    Sara D’Emic                            and                                    Rori Shay            
Associate Agent, Talcott Notch Literary                                                             MD/DE/WV SCBWI Member and Author of The Elected Series
Twitter:  @SaraDEmic                                                                                          releasing on Earth Day, 2011
Twitter: @RoriShayWrites                     

                                                                                                                    Sara_3704.CR2 Small file              
headshot_Rori_ShaySocial Media 101 for Authors

Moreso now than ever before, agents and editors expect authors to already have a platform and a presence on the Internet. Whether you’re a social media novice or expert, this session will give you ideas you can use as an author to increase your presence and make the most of social media.  You’ll learn how you can interact with other authors, and the answer to social media success riddles such as which author got a publishing deal after she acquired 36K twitter followers?  Which self-published author got a film offer from a prominent producer after he saw her tweets and website?  We can all learn from tales like these and hope you’ll come prepared to ask and answer questions of your own.

How to Query and Find an Agent
We work hard writing our novels, and after the first draft is finally complete and you and your critique group have reviewed it over and over again, what’s the next step in the process?  This breakout session will talk about the nitty-gritty of finding an agent through querying and addresses questions such as:  What are good query letter examples?  How can you get your submission noticed?  What are the mistakes newcomers make, and how can you avoid them?  Bring a copy of a query letter you want critiqued (names x’ed out), and we’ll review a few during our session.

Sara D’Emic is an agent with Talcott Notch Literary based in Milford, CT, though she spends her time all over the CT/NY/NJ area. She represents adult and young adult fiction with an emphasis in mystery, fantasy, science fiction, and horror. She earned a BA in writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College in Boston. She is excited to be here with her client, Rori Shay, author of The Elected Series coming out in April.

Rori Shay lives in Maryland with her husband, two daughters, and two proficient hair shedders-Misch the cat and Gerry the ninety lb black lab. She studied public relations and marketing at the University of Maryland and received an MBA from George Washington University. Besides writing, she likes to travel, run, read (of course), go pumpkin-picking and snow-shoe! Her first book in The Elected Series, releases April 22nd, 2014.

  Alyson HellerAH_Headshot
  Associate Editor, Aladdin, Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing
  Twitter: @EditorAlysonH

  First Pages!

One of the trickiest things in writing is perfecting that opening chapter of a manuscript—and drawing in the reader enough so they want to stay for the rest of the book. In this session, we will go over some examples of published first chapters, what works, and why it works.  At the end of the session, based on time, we will ask for a few brave volunteers to share their first chapter pages and do quick critiques, putting what was discussed in the session to good use!


  Alyson Heller edits everything from picture books to middle-grade novels for the Aladdin list. Some of her       upcoming projects include The XYZs of Being WickedLucky Me and I Thought This Was a Bear Book by   faculty member Tara Lazar. Alyson also edits many of the books within the Aladdin MIX line and several on-going series. Whether it’s for someone 2 or 12, she loves strong characters with distinctive and true voices, and a fun/unique commercial hook.  Tweet her @EditorAlysonH.

Christa HeschkeChristaheadshot
Agent, McIntosh and Otis, Inc. Literary Agency
Twitter: @ChristaHeschke

Fantasy Writing: From World-Building to Querying
How do you come up with unique ideas for a fantasy project and create compelling characters in today’s competitive market? Christa offers her ideas along with tips on world-building and writing within the genre for middle grade and YA audiences.  The difference between writing for adult and middle-grade/teen audiences within fantasy, and suggestions on querying, word count etc will also be addressed.

Christa Heschke graduated from Binghamton University with a major in English and a minor in Anthropology. She started in publishing as an intern at both Writers House and Sterling Lord Literistic, where she fell in love with the agency side of publishing. Christa has been at McIntosh and Otis, Inc. since 2009 where she is looking for picture books, middle grade and young adult projects and is currently building her list.

Debra HessDebra Hess Photo
Author, Senior Editor, Highlights for Children, and faculty, Highlights Foundation

NONFICTION:  Why it isn’t just “not” fiction
What separates fiction from nonfiction? What is narrative nonfiction? Is it the same thing as creative nonfiction? What is an expert review? Is a bibliography really necessary? Do I need to worry about the common core standards? What about POV? How do I know where to send my story?  Does it matter if I make up dialogue? (YES!) Do you care if my grandchild loved my story? (NO.)  Who are the great writers in this genre today? Learn the ins and outs of how to research, write, and sell your nonfiction manuscript.

Debra Hess joined Highlights for Children as a Senior Editor in June 2009.  She is the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction books for children, including Thurgood Marshall, the Fight for Equal Justice, a NY Public Library Best Books for the Teenage, and Wilson Sat Alone, an acclaimed picture book that was made into a PBS Storytime Special.  Debra was Editorial Director of Weekly Reader Custom Publishing, Editor of Scholastic News, and Senior Editor at Scholastic Library Publishing.  She has been published by Simon and Schuster, Harper Collins, Hyperion, and Harcourt.

Shelley Koon
Writer, artist, MD/DE/WV Critique Group Coordinatorshellk

Five Easy Pieces: A Simple Approach to Author Websites 
Shelley will talk you through five steps to building your website! Find out how to choose a domain name and why you should register your own. Is it better to build a website yourself or pay a professional? What should your website look like and what should you post on it? Better yet what should you not post on it? What’s SEO and why is it important?

Whether you’re building your first website or looking for tips for to spiff up your existing site this session is for you!

Shelley Koon is a writer, artist, photographer, web developer, serial MMO player, lover of Halloween and all things that go bump in the night.  She loves horseback riding, long walks in the rain, kittens, puppies and manipulating people and their worlds in both Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Word.  She is also the Critique group Coordinator for the SCBWI MD/DE/WV region and having just completed the critique group database is now working on an online critique forum for the region.


Tara Lazartarafall2011picclose
Author and PiBoIdMo Creator
Twitter: @taralazar

From Manuscript to Dummy for Picture Book Writers
What makes a solid picture book manuscript? We’ll examine topic and theme to ensure you’ve got a compelling hook and talk “high-concept”. We’ll then dig into our own manuscripts to hone our beginnings, middles and endings. Confused about art notes and how to “leave room” for an illustrator? We’ll look at how popular books balance text and art. Finally, we’ll learn about picture book construction and try plugging our stories into a dummy. Do they fit? How is the pacing? Scene changes? Page-turn surprises? A simple book is not simple to write, but by the end of this 2-hour workshop, you’ll leave more confident than ever in your ability to create a sellable picture book manuscript.

Tara Lazar is a children's book author, foodie, mother and boogeyman assassin (currently booked at 3:00 a.m. nightly). She writes quirky, humorous picture books and founded Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo). Her debut The Monstore released in 2013, with I Thought this was a Bear Book to come this September. Tara lives in New Jersey with her husband and two daughters. Discover original stories, book reviews, giveaways and boogeyman extermination advice at

Lesléa NewmanLesléa_Newman (high rez)
Web site:
Twitter: @lesleanewman

He Continues to Make a Difference: The Story of Matthew Shepard
Lesléa Newman uses poetry from October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard as well as photographs and guided imagery to show how we, as children’s
book writers, can and must make a difference to make the world a safer place
for our youth.

In the Flesh: Fleshing Out Our Characters
Characters live in bodies, and teens, in particular have a very intense relationship with their physical selves. In this workshop, we will explore the importance of physical description and what our characters' bodies say about them through several writing exercises.

Lesléa Newman is the author of 65 books for readers of all ages, including the novel-in-verse, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, which was named a 2013 ALA Stonewall Honor Book. Among her published works are also the middle grade novel, Hachiko Waits; the YA novel, Jailbait, and the picture books A Sweet Passover, Just Like Mama, Donovan’s Big Day, and Heather Has Two Mommies. She teaches in Spalding University’s brief-residency MFA in Writing Program.
Learn more at

Mary Quattlebaum

Mary is the author of many picture books, books of poetry, and novels for children, including Pirate vs. Pirate, The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans, Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods, and the popular Jackson Jones chapter book series. Awards include Random House's Marguerite de Angeli Prize for First Novel, Parenting magazine's Reading Magic award, SIBA's Best Picture Book, NAPPA Gold Award, and Bank Street Best Book. Her books are included on numerous state Children's Choice and summer reading lists. Mary also writes for Gale/Cengage, an edcational publisher and children's magazines such as Cricket, Highlights, Spider, Ladybug, and Babybug. She is on the faculty of Vermont College's MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Mary reviews children's books regularly for the Washington Post and Washington Parent and loves dressing as a book buccaneer and visiting arrr-some young readers at schools.