Mentorship program for diverse voices in children’s literature

2019 KidlitNation Mentorship for Kidlit Creators of Color

2019 Mentees

Mentee Cathy Ann Velasco

 Cathy Ann Velasco

Cathy will be mentored by author Matthew Kirby

Catherine Ann Velasco spent 22 years at newspapers, covering issues important to children and families. She created Teen Scene, a weekly page dedicated to youth’s stories and art. She thrived on seeing students get their work published. Velasco has won numerous journalism awards that now decorate her sparkly purple writing room.

Velasco is author of Behind the Scenes of Pro Baseball and Behind the Scenes of Pro Basketball (Capstone, 2019). She is currently revising her middle grade novel, Hammerin’ Hector vs. Godzilla Gomez. Guess who wins?

She loves working on her craft and is a network representative for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators-Illinois. She is also a grant writer and currently lives in a Chicago suburb with her husband and 15 Japanese koi. You can find on Twitter @CatStaten.

2019 Mentee Gabriella Davis

Gabriella Davis

Gabriella will be mentored by Editor Russ Busse (Abrams Books for Young Readers)

Gabriele grew up on the outskirts of a small city in a racially and culturally diverse family. A voracious reader, she longed to see families like hers reflected in the books she read. She began writing her own books in the fourth grade, after her teacher gave her an A+ on the very first draft of a story called “The Little Teacup.” She has been writing ever since. Gabriele has a BA in English and an MA in magazine journalism. She has worked as a children’s magazine editor, a freelance language arts writer, and a writer of educational materials. She briefly worked in a bookstore where she spent most of her paychecks on books. Gabriele actively participates in SCBWI, 12×12, and numerous kidlit classes, workshops, and critique groups. She lives among the rolling hills of Northwestern Connecticut where she tutors, teaches yoga, rides her bike, spends time with her family, and writes books that inspire children to laugh, love, discover their inner strength, and feel embraced.

Suzannah Gonzalez

Suzannah will be mentored by author Barbara Binns

Suzannah Sebayan was born in Chicago, the only American-born child of her parents who emigrated from the Philippines. Her child’s birth and observation of the lack of Filipino voices in children’s literature inspired her to write stories featuring Filipina American characters and cultural experiences, the kind of stories she wished she had growing up. She worked as a journalist for more than 20 years at news organizations, including Reuters, the Austin American-Statesman and St. Petersburg Times. She holds degrees from the University of Chicago and University of Texas at Austin.


Mentorship applications are now closed. Congratulations to our winner: Cathy Ann Velasco, Gabriele Davis, and Suzannah Gonzalez!

Application opens May 20, 2019 – June 9, 2019

Mentorship winners will be announced early August.  KidLit Nation’s 6 month mentorship program runs from August-February.
KidLit Nation’s mentorship program is a 6-month mentorship connecting industry professionals with creators of color.

Meet Our Mentors

Picture Book Mentorship

Russ Busse Headshot

Russ Busse

Russ Busse is a Senior Editor at Abrams, where he works primarily on Entertainment titles and Licensed programs, as well as graphic novels and picture books. Among others, he has edited licensed books for Marvel, Lucasfilm, Warner Bros. and Hasbro, working with bestselling authors like Barry Lyga and Gina McIntyre. He gravitates towards anything with a lot of heart and humor (an off-the-wall premise is a major plus), and he generally looks for genre-bending stories that bring readers in immediately, with strong characters and unique twists. His Netflix queue is always in shambles.

Middle Grade or YA Mentorship

Barbara Binns headshot

Barbara Binns

B A Binns is an award-winning African American author of contemporary, multicultural children’s novels and adult short stories. This African American author of contemporary, multicultural children’s novels and adult short stories, has degrees in Biochemistry and Computer Science. She is the eldest of five children and grew up on Chicago’s south side. Like many of her characters, she was forced to assume adult roles at a young age. Now she hopes to inspire both readers and fellow authors of color.

She is a member of the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of Children’s Authors and Illustrators of Color (ACAIC), Romance Writers of America (RWA), the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and BCALA (Black Caucus of the ALA).

She teaches on-line writing classes to authors interested in inserting diversity in their works, and speaks at high schools and libraries across the Midwest.

Her debut young adult novel Pull won several awards, including the 2009 Golden Rose contest, the 2010 National Readers Choice Award. It was named one of the 2012 YALSA Quick Picks For Reluctant Young Adult Readers. She has also written Being God (2012) and Minority Of One (2013), and numerous short stories. Her debut middle grade novel, Courage, was published in 2018.

She blogs about YA and multicultural issues on, She is also a guest blogger once a month at the Romancing the Genres blog –

Middle Grade or Young Adult Mentorship

Matthew Kirby

Matthew J. Kirby is the critically acclaimed and award-winning author of the middle grade novels The Clockwork Three, Icefall, The Lost Kingdom, Infinity Ring Book 5: Cave of Wonders, and The Quantum League series, the Dark Gravity Sequence, and the Assassin’s Creed series, Last Descendants. He was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start, he has won the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery, the PEN Center USA award for Children’s Literature, and the Judy Lopez Memorial Award, and has been named to the New York Public Library’s 100 Books for Reading and Sharing, and the ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults lists. He is also a school psychologist, and currently lives in Utah with his wife and three step-kids. You can find him online at


  1. Your manuscript does not have to contain identifiably diverse content; we’re only interested that the creator is from an underrepresented racially diverse background. This includes, but is not limited to Native American, Asian, Black or African American, Latino, Pacific Islander, or Middle Eastern.
  2. No writer can be previously traditionally published in any genre of children’s literature

How to Enter

  1. Please look at the mentors’ bios and decide which mentorship you’d like to apply to.
  2. Include in the subject line: KLN: Mentorship: Mentor’s Name
    • Russ Busse (Picture Book Mentorship)
    • Barbara Binns (Middle Grade or YA Mentorship)
    • Matthew Kirby (Middle Grade or Young Adult Mentorship)
  3. In the body of the email, in 250 words, describe your diverse background and what receiving a mentorship will mean for your career.
  4. Submit entire picture book manuscript. For novels, you should at least have the first 30% completed.
  5. Include your name, email address, address, and phone number at the bottom of your email.
  6. Do not include name or contact information on the manuscript.
  7. Please email to Barbara Binns at between May 15, 2019 and June 15, 2019 11:59 Central Standard time.

Get Involved

We are a donation-supported, volunteer organization that helps serve underrepresented writers and illustrators of children’s books.