Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

JambaLAya Faculty

Grace Elizabeth Kendall, Senior Editor, FSG Books for Young Readers/Macmillan. Grace works on a range of material from picture books to YA novels, fiction and nonfiction. She publishes exciting projects from debut authors, seasoned veterans, and award-winners, including MAMA AFRICA! by National Book Award Winner Kathryn Erskine, illustrated by CSK John Steptoe Winner Charly Palmer; YOU BRING THE DISTANT NEAR by Mitali Perkins, which was a Walter Honor Book, South Asia Book Award Winner, and a National Book Award Nominee; UNBROKEN: 13 STORIES STARRING DISABLED TEENS, edited by Marieke Nijkamp; and BETTY BEFORE X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renée Watson. Grace also publishes ongoing series, like the Jasmine Toguchi chapter books by Debbi Michiko Florence and Elizabet Vukovic. And she has a special love for fantasy that questions power structures, as in BLACK WINGS BEATING by Alex London and THE BONELESS MERCIES by April Genevieve Tucholke, both of which received several starred reviews. @GraceKendallLit.

Jennifer Laughran joined Andrea Brown Literary Agency in 2007 after a long career as a bookseller, buyer and event coordinator. Always on the lookout for sparkling YA and middle grade fiction with unusual and unforgettable characters and vivid settings, she loves funny books, thrilling books, romantic books, books that make her cry, and all-around un-put-downable books… and her true favorites are all of the above.  Some clients include beloved and award-winning author-illustrators like Giselle Potter, Don Brown, Raul the Third and Phoebe Wahl; middle grade authors like Daniel Pinkwater, Kate Messner, Alex Gino and Linda Urban; YA authors like Erin Jade Lange, Paula Stokes, Karen Rivers and Ellen Emerson White, among many others. She also has a publishing podcast called the “Literaticast”. Visit for more information.

Laurent Linn, Art Director for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, began his career as a puppet designer/builder in Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop where he created characters for various productions, including the Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island films, eventually becoming the Creative Director for the Sesame Street Muppets, winning an Emmy Award. Currently, at Simon & Schuster, Laurent art directs picture books, middle-grade, and teen novels by creators including Tomie dePaola, Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Bryan Collier, Raúl Colón, Jonathan Maberry, Taeeun Yoo, and Rosemary Wells. Laurent is on the SCBWI Board of Advisors and is Artistic Advisor for the annual Original Art exhibit at the Society of Illustrators in New York. He is also the author and illustrator of Draw the Line, a YA novel the New York Times calls “Epic.” Find him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter: @LaurentLinn, and


Recipient of the 2017 Louisiana Writer Award, Johnette Downing is a musician and children’s book author dedicated to celebrating childhood, nurturing cultural exchanges and fostering literacy through her Louisiana roots music, books and programs.  Called the “Musical Ambassador to Children,” Johnette has performed on five continents and has received twenty-three awards for her twenty-four picture and board books, and ten recordings. Her latest book is Who Got the Baby in the King Cake? with River Road Press. Johnette has garnered multiple awards including a 2017 Louisiana Writer Award, 59th Grammy Award Participant Certificate, Parents’ Choice Awards, iParenting Media Awards, among many others.


Freddi W. Evans is an independent scholar, arts education consultant, and award-winning author of books for children as well as adults. She is internationally recognized for her scholarship on historic Congo Square and is the author of Come Sunday, A Young Reader’s History of Congo Square and Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans, which is the first comprehensive study of the location, the recipient of the 2012 Louisiana Humanities Book of the Year Award, and has been published in French. Evans’s research and advocacy influenced the 2011 New Orleans City Council Ordinance that made the popular name “Congo Square” the official name of the landmark. Her work for children include Hush Harbor – Praying in Secret, The Battle of New Orleans: The Drummer’s Story, and A Bus of Our Own.  Her new entrepreneurial venture, “Let’s KNOW” Card Games, targets children and adults and combines her expertise in history, culture and education


250x Nina KooijNina Kooij is the Editor in Chief of Pelican Publishing Company, Inc., in Gretna, Louisiana. She edits picture books, middle-grade and YA novels, adult biographies and histories, cookbooks, and music and art books. She has worked with many New Orleans luminaries, including Leah Chase and John Besh, Errol and Peggy Scott Laborde, and Richard Campanella. Her children’s authors include Johnette Downing, Dianne de Las Casas, Jim Harris, and the late Mary Alice Fontenot and James Rice. She estimates that she has edited over 230 picture books in her career. Pelican Publishing Company, established in 1926, enjoys national recognition as a medium-sized company with a backlist of over 2,500 titles and fifty to sixty new titles produced yearly. Follow Pelican Publishing at: and on Twitter: @PelicanPub


Catherine Frank started as an editorial assistant at Viking Children’s Books, a division of what is now Penguin Random House, just two weeks out of college. She spent more than a decade with Viking, rising through the ranks to become Executive Editor. After eleven years of living in Brooklyn and working in Manhattan, she returned to New Orleans with her family. She now is a freelance editor at Catherine Frank Editorial Services. Catherine edited award-winning fiction and nonfiction children’s books ranging in format from board books to novelties and picture books to young adult fiction. Books acquired and edited by her have received awards and honors including: The Boston Globe Horn Book Award, the Golden Kite Award, the Charlotte Zolotow Award, the New York Times Best Illustrated Award. She actively works with authors, agents, packagers, app developers, and publishers ranging from small presses to the largest trade houses.  Visit Catherine at:  and on Twitter: @CatherineSFrank


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