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2023 Kids' Choice KidLit Writing Contest Prize Donors

Hello, friends! I hope you're all gearing up and preparing your entries for the Kids' Choice KidLit Writing Contest! We have over 160 kid judges signed up and ready to read your work! How exciting!

Today, I'm announcing all of the prize donors for this year's contest. This is an INCREDIBLE list of creators and prizes. PLEASE give them all a follow as a huge thank you for their donations!

You can go to THIS TWITTER THREAD to easily follow ALL of our amazing donors. Please like and retweet to spread the word.

And now, without further delay, the prizes for the 2023 Kids' Choice KidLit Writing Contest!

Zoom Call/AMA with Literary Agent Emily Forney (she/her)

Emily Forney is a literary agent for BookEnds Literary, a digital media and rhetoric teacher, cultural critic, and a writer for what feels like an eternity.

She currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona at the mercy of two cats and a dream of owning a goat farm one day.

After earning her MFA in Creative Writing from Northern Arizona University, Emily worked in editorial roles for literary magazines, journals, and digital prints before finding her home at BookEnds. She was named a 2022 Publisher's Weekly Star Watch honoree and was previously a Publishing Fellow with the LA Review of Books. She currently directs the BookEnds Publishing Fellowship, which mentors aspiring publishing professionals from marginalized communities and provides them with hands on education, resources, and workshops for roles throughout the industry. As a writer and former editor, she actively writes about identity, Blackness, and pop culture.

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

15 min. AMA with Literary Agent Kaitlyn Sanchez (she/her)

Kaitlyn Sanchez joined Bradford Literary in 2022 with two years of agenting experience under her belt. Kaitlyn is the proud co-creator and co-host of the Spring Fling Kidlit Contest and Kidlit Zombie Week as well as creator and co-host of the Kidlit Fall Writing Frenzy Contest. As a mom, wife, and middle school math teacher, Kaitlyn enjoys playing soccer, binge-watching TV shows, and, of course, reading, especially when she’s all cozied up with her husband and daughter reading together. Kaitlyn is an editorial agent and always works with her clients to make sure we’re putting out their best work. She’s highly communicative and invested in every aspect of helping her clients have a strong and happy career.

Kaitlyn is looking for children’s books (picture books through YA) in all categories, including graphic novels, nonfiction, and illustration.

Follow her on Twitter

Full PB Fiction or NF Critique with Literary Agent Joyce Sweeny (they/them)

Joyce Sweeney has worn many hats in the kidlit industry. They are the author of fourteen novels for young adults. They have edited, instructed, and encouraged writers for twenty-five years, successfully mentoring 78 traditionally published authors and still counting. They are very active in Florida SCBWI. They have also published poetry and managed a South Florida theater company.

As an agent, they pride themselves on client communication and are very editorial. They acquire picture books, chapter books, and middle grade, both fiction and non-fiction.They are particularly interested in graphic novels.

Their taste is eclectic, but they are always looking for underrepresented voices. They like science and aerospace, natural history, environmental and animal themes, and anything with a touch of magic. A lyrical voice is the surest way to their heart. Not a big fan of crude or bathroom humor, overtly religious stories or historical fiction.

Follow Joyce on Twitter

15 min. AMA with Literary Agent James McGowan (he/him)

James McGowan began his career right where he is: at BookEnds. He joined the team as an intern in the summer of 2015, and as the joke goes, they couldn’t get rid of him. He has worked in all departments at the agency and is now a literary agent representing a talented list of award-winning authors and illustrators. James’ list focuses on illustrated projects for young readers (board books, picture books, chapter books, and middle grade) as well as adult nonfiction and mystery/suspense novels.

In addition to being an agent, James is a children’s author. His debut picture book Good Night, Oppy! launched from Astra BFYR in 2021. He is born, raised, and currently living in Staten Island, NY. He is a professional snacker, a huge fan of Jeopardy!, and fluent in sarcasm. To learn more about James, his wishlist, or upcoming client books please visit the BookEnds website or his personal website. And to find a growing archive of thoughts no one asked for, follow James on Twitter and Instagram.

Winner's Choice of AMA or Query Critique with KiwiCo Press Editor Taryn Albright (she/her)

Taryn Albright has been in kidlit since 2011, when she went to a conference, learned about the business side of books, and convinced an agent to bring her and her teen perspective on as an intern.

Since then, she has been an agency assistant, an author assistant, an editor at small presses and mid-sized presses, an author of write-for-hire projects and live entertainment for Disney Parks, and a freelance editor. She's seen all sides of the book creation process—and has never fallen out of love with books.

In her non-editing time, Taryn has dabbled in her own writing, but her favorite thing about publishing is working closely with authors to create amazing books.

In her non-book life, Taryn was a swimmer through college and a powerlifter for five years (including a double bench press national champion). She currently lives in the Bay Area.

Follow Taryn on Twitter

Winner's Choice of Query critique, PB MS critique, or Phone call from Author Tara Lazar (she/her)

Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been.

Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books where anything is possible.

Her picture books available now are:

  • THE MONSTORE (Aladdin/S&S, 2013)

  • I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK (Aladdin/S&S, 2015)

  • LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (Random House Children’s, 2015)

  • NORMAL NORMAN (Sterling, 2016)

  • WAY PAST BEDTIME (Aladdin/S&S, 2017)

  • 7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY (Disney*Hyperion, 2017)



  • THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN (HarperCollins, 2020)

  • BLOOP (HarperCollins, 2021)

Tara is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Her last name rhymes with “bazaar”—you can listen to Tara pronounce her name on She’s not Tara Laser-beam (although that would be awesome).

Follow Tara on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

PB MS Critique from Author Jody Jensen Shaffer (she/her)

Jody Jensen Shaffer is the author of over 80 books for children. Her forthcoming books include CREEP, LEAP, CRUNCH! A FOOD CHAIN STORY (Knopf 2023) and SOMETIMES I AM HOT LAVA (Beaming Books 2024), as well as A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK (Paulsen), a 2021-22 Iowa Goldfinch Award nominee, PRUDENCE THE PART-TIME COW (Godwin), finalist for the 2019-2020 Missouri Show Me Award and 2017 pick for the National Book Festival from Missouri, IT'S YOUR FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, BUSY BUS! (Beach Lane), an Amazon best seller, Book Box pick, and AmazonKids+ choice, EMERGENCY KITTENS! (Doubleday), WHO IS JACKIE CHAN? (Workshop), and more. Jody lives in Missouri with her family.

Follow Jody on Twitter

Free Spot in a Future Kidlit Hive Webinar (details forthcoming) from Author Justin Colón (he/him)

Justin is a Latinx children’s author and active SCBWI member represented by Jennifer March Soloway of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. He’s also the founder of the Kidlit Hive, offering webinars, workshops, and multi-week classes focused on the craft and business of creating books for children

Justin has several forthcoming picture books, including Impossible Possums (Disney-Hyperion, 2024) and The Quacken (Simon & Schuster, 2024).

In his other life, Justin is a professional, formally trained voice and on-camera actor and has co-starred in shows such as Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Gotham, The First Wives Club, Sneaky Pete and Limitless.

Follow Justin on Twitter and subscribe to the KidLie Hive mailing list HERE

1 Hour Zoom Critique from PB Author Brian Gehrlein (he/him)

Brian Gehrlein is the creator of Picture Book Spotlight and #PBCritiqueFest, a member of SCBWI, and is represented by Jennifer Mattson of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. He wrote a book. It's called THE BOOK OF RULES.

Brian teaches high school English and lives in Liberty, Missouri with his wife, Katherine, sons Peter and Albee, and their two corgis!

Brian tweets things sometimes. You can read the things by following him on Twitter: @briangehrlein. If you want to stay up on Spotlight interviews and other PB Spotlight happenings, subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight. Want to say hi? Contact Brian here.

Wondering how to pronounce "Gehrlein?" It's like "airline" with a "G."

Follow Brian on Twitter

15 min. AMA with PB Author Valerie Bolling (she/her)

Valerie Bolling is the author of the 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite award-winning and CT Book Award finalist LET’S DANCE! (2020). In 2022 Valerie welcomed TOGETHER WE RIDE and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN!. Sequels to these books (TOGETHER WE SWIM and BING, BOP, BAM: TIME TO JAM!) as well as the Scholastic Acorn early reader series, RAINBOW DAYS, are slated for 2023. I SEE COLOR will be published in 2024.

A graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University, Teachers College, Valerie has been an educator for 30 years. She currently works as an Instructional Coach and, additionally, teaches picture book writing classes. She is also a WNDB mentor and deeply immersed in the kidlit writing community, particularly involved with SCBWI, the 12X12 Picture Book Challenge, and Black Creators HeadQuarters.

Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut and enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater, and dancing.

Follow Valerie on Twitter

PB Critique or giant pencil amigurumi from Author-Illustrator Kim-Hoa Ung (she/her)

Kim-Hoa Ung is a picture book author/illustrator and an amigurumi artist. Her two children inspired her to become an author/illustrator. One day while reading, her daughter asked why there weren’t any characters like her. It made Kim-Hua think about how nice it would be for her little girl to be able to identify with a character similar to her. That’s how Kim-Hua's dream of publishing a children’s book came about.

Her debut book, A GIFT FOR NAI NAI is set for publication in December 2023 From Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan

Follow Kim-Hoa on Twitter and Instagram

15 min. AMA from PB Author Ha Dinh

Ha Dinh is a primary school teacher, blogger, author, wife to her high school sweetheart, and mama of two. Her debut picture book, WHERE WILDFLOWERS GROW was inspired by her experiences of living in a refugee camp in the Philippines as a child. It is set to be published in the Summer of 2023, and she can't wait!

Follow Ha on Twitter and Instagram

Query Critique or 15 min AMA from Author Allen Wells (he/him)

Allen Wells grew up in Jackson, MS where he spent a lot of his time with his head stuck in a book or creating worlds through his words or solving problems and puzzles.

When he isn’t writing, he’s trekking across the world, designing building engineering systems, in Alexandria, VA where he currently resides.

Upcoming Books include

IT'S PRIDE, BABY (FSG, Spring 2023)

DANTE PLAYS HIS BLUES (HarperCollins, Summer 2024)

Follow Allen on Twitter

15 min. AMA call with Author-Illustrator Jen de Oliveira (she/her)

Jen de Oliveira is a writer, cartoonist, and elementary school teacher from the Bay Area, California. She is also the co-creator of Sunday Haha, a free weekly comics newsletter for kids. REGGIE, the first in a series of early reader graphic novels, will be published in Summer 2023 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. ​

Follow Jen on Twitter and Instagram

PB MS Critique from PB Author Susan Yoon

Susan Yoon is a writer of books for children and an avid hobby doodler. She has a debut picture book, WAITING FOR TOMORROW, coming out in 2023. She hopes you’ll check it out.

Growing up Susan was not an avid reader or writer, although she did both, very slowly and steadily. Eventually her love of writing caught fire, and although she's done all kinds of writing — from poetry to screenplays to short stories — it was writing stories for kids that made her feel like my words had found their true home.

Other than writing, Susan's advanced skills include: inability to forget birthdays, matching faces to names, making meatballs, remembering nothing from books except for scenes that include food, and eating meatballs.

Follow Susan on Twitter and Instagram

PB MS or Dummy critique from Author-Illustrator DK Ryland

DK is an author/illustrator whose debut picture book, GIRAFFE IS TOO TALL FOR THIS BOOK comes out in 2023 with Page Street Kids. She loves to draw animals and nature and enjoys quirky and subversive humor. Before becoming an author/illustrator DK filmed wildlife in Africa, was a collegiate and professional athlete, and taught middle school English. DK received a PBChat mentorship with Cori Doerrfeld in 2019 and was a PBParty finalist in 2020. When not writing and illustrating, you can find DK going on adventures with her husband and kids, playing sports, or reading a good book - while petting a cat or dog.


Follow DK on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest

A Signed Copy of A COSTUME FOR CHARLY by PB Author C.K. Malone (they/them)

PB critique, non rhyming, up to 1000 words from PB Author C.K. MALONE (they/them)

C.K. Malone (they/them) is a bigender award-winning educator and literature coach at the secondary level. When not grading essays or helping students, they're busy helping design culturally and LGBTQIA+ responsive units for the district and working as a climate and culture coach. When they're not writing, they're coaching and advising through alignment with the Genders and Sexualities Alliance Network. CK's debut picture book, A COSTUME FOR CHARLY with illos by Alejandra Barajas, was released this year, and their 2024 with illos by Shelly Swann is their newest joy.

Follow C.K. on Twitter

Dummy Critique from Author-Illustrator Marietta Apollonio

Marietta Apollonio is an author-illustrator who grew up in New York making mud pies, reading comic books, and playing in the woods. She holds a BFA in illustration, and during her 20 years as a freelance illustrator, enjoyed eight-years as co-op gallery co-owner and 10-years at a Boston based graphic design firm. She spends her time as an "adult" illustrating and writing for picture books, visiting local libraries and bookstores, horseback riding, making mud pies, and exploring the woods of central Massachusetts with her family.

Her first book, JACK THE LIBRARY CAT releases March 1, 2023 from

Follow Marietta on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook

Winner’s choice or AMA call or PB critique with PB and MG Author Kelly Swemba

Kelly Swemba was born and raised in a suburb of Cleveland, OH, with her parents and two brothers. Her childhood was spent outside playing baseball in the field next to her house, attempting to fish at the neighborhood pond, and staying out until the stars peeked into the sky.

In addition to being outside, she also also loved going to the library. With card in hand, she discovered an amazing world, and her love for books was started.

Kelly went to college at Xavier University where she earned her degree as a registered nurse. She went on to obtain her master’s degree in psychiatric nursing. She still lives in Ohio, but now with her wonderful husband, two children, and one very fluffy Goldendoodle named Theo. She loves to write books in hopes to encourage imagination, support the big emotions of little ones, and foster their love for learning.

Her debut Picture Book, MISSING VIOLET releases January 31, 2023

Follow Kelly on Twitter

15 min AMA with PB Author Angela Pham Krans

Angela Pham Krans is a consultant by day, chicken farmer on weekends, and a children’s book author in all the time and spaces in between.

Her stories are inspired by life experiences, family interactions (she has a huge family), lots of animal videos and just moments that make her giggle. Ideas spark any time of the day but hot showers are the best time!

She is represented by Katherine Wessbecher from Bradford Literary Agency.

Angela's Debut Picture Book, FINDING PAPA releases in February 2023. Her lyrical debut picture book, based on her own experience as a child and powerfully brought to life by Caldecott Honor artist Thi Bui’s vivid illustrations, reminds us that love and courage can stretch an ocean and that nothing can keep us apart from those we care about.

Follow Angela on Twitter and Instagram

PB Critique from Author Jessica Stremer (she/her)

Jessica Stremer is a mom, military spouse, and author of two forthcoming nonfiction picture books - GREAT CARRIER REEF (Holiday House, 2023) and LIGHTS OUT (Paula Wiseman Books, 2024) - as well as a third soon to be announced title. Jessica obtained a B.S. in Biology, with an emphasis in Ecology, from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. She enjoys combining her love of science and writing to create books that inspire kids to explore the world around them and beyond. Jessica received honorable mention for the SCBWI 2021 Ann Whitford Paul award, and took first place for her nonfiction entry in the 2021 Rate Your Story writing competition. When not writing, Jessica loves spending time with her family traveling, hiking, and camping. Jessica currently resides in Okinawa, Japan.

Follow Jessica on Twitter

PB Critique from Author Danielle Sharkan (she/her)

Danielle Sharkan is a PB Author with two upcoming titles coming out in 2024 and 2025.

Danielle finds inspiration from nature, her family, history, politics and everyday life. Danielle is a polyglot, and a lifelong learner. She has earned several degrees: a BA in Political Science, Jewish Studies and minor in Spanish from McGill University, MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and an MA in Social Studies Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, with an endorsement in ESL Education. Danielle has taught ESL, Social Studies, Spanish, and Literacy in New York, Illinois, California, Colorado, Israel and Chile.

Danielle’s journey to publication began in 3rd grade when she won first place and was published in her local newspaper. And in 10th grade she was chosen by her English teacher to pair up with an up and coming software company to create original children’s content. She joined the kidlit community in 2020 and was a winner of the FallWritingFrenzy contest 2020, 50preciouswords contest 2021, and received and Honorable Mention in 2022. She also received and HM for Rate Your Story in 2021, and was chosen as a PBChat Mentee in 2021. She is represented by Charlotte Wenger at Prospect Agency. When Danielle is not writing, her two young children keep her on her toes, and you can find her walking the many trails in her neighborhood, practicing yoga, or cooking up new recipes.

Follow Danielle on Twitter

15 min AMA with Author Aya Khalil (she/her)

Aya Khalil, M.Ed, is an award-winning author and freelance journalist. She holds a master’s degree in Education with a focus in teaching English as a second Language. Aya and her books have been featured in Oprah Daily, Teen Vogue, Yahoo!, Book Riot and USA Today. Her writing has been published