Mentorship Program

Every year, KidlitNation awards mentorships to diverse voices in children’s literature. The sprogram is open to any children’s writer or illustrator of color. 

Previous Mentorship Winners

Catherine Ann Velasco

2019 Mentee

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.

Gabriella Davis

2019 Mentee

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

2019 Mentee

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.

Previous Mentors

Russ Busse

2019 Picture Book Mentor

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.

Barbara Binns

2019 MG or YA Mentor

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

Matthew Kirby

2019 MG or YA Mentor

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.