Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Creating Compelling Kidlit Characters with Disabilities: A Panel Discussion and Q&A with Five Kidlit Authors

Date(s) - 07/27/2022
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm


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This event is made possible by a

Regional Grant from SCBWI! 




Join SCBWI Ohio North for this important and insightful event!


During this 90-minute panel and Q&A discussion, five published kidlit authors and author/illustrators will share personal insight and experiences and discuss disability representation in picture books, middle grade, and young adult books.




Maryann Cocca-Leffler 

Maryann Cocca-Leffler is an award-winning author and illustrator of over 70 books for children. 

A Kirkus reviewer said of Maryann; “Cocca-Leffler knows children inside and out.”

 Maryann has been a passionate disability rights advocate since her daughter, Janine Leffler, was born with CP in 1985. Her advocacy and interest in the topic of disability rights have inspired many books;  We Want to go To School! The Fight for Disability Rights, co-authored with Janine, is the true story of the people behind the 1972 landmark case which ensured public education for all. Together they have developed a website with a mission to help change public perception of children with disabilities. ( New in August 2022 is a picture book biography, Fighting for Yes! The Story of Disability Rights Activist Judith Heumann. Judith fought for YES! when she and others held a sit-in until Section 504 was signed into law in 1977, which laid the foundation to the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.

Maryann’s family and New England roots have inspired many books along the way, including Clams All Year,  Bus Route to Boston, and the picture book Janine. Other recent books include, The Power of YET and her debut middle grade novel, Heart Stones, a mystery set on the coast of Maine, where Maryann happily resides.

To find our more about Maryann’s work:


Halli Gomez

Halli Gomez writes for children and young adults and works at her local independent bookstore. When no one is looking, she sock skates through the house and talks to dogs like they are human. When people are looking, she enjoys reading, outdoors, and breaking out of escape rooms with her family. Her young adult novel, List of Ten (Union Square and Co. 2021) won the 2021 AAUW North Carolina award for Young People’s Literature. Halli lives in North Carolina with her husband, two boys, and two dogs.

To find our more about Halli’s work:
twitter: @Halli_Gomez
Instagram: @halli_gomez_author



Zainab Khan 

Zainab Khan is a member of SCBWI, Inked Voices, 12×12 and volunteers as a mentorship reader for WNDB. As a Muslim woman of Pakistani heritage who has lived in different parts of the world, she writes diverse and neurodiverse stories that promote empathy, kindness and unity between children of all faiths and cultures. Zainab’s personal experiences have led her to advocating for children with disabilities. Zainab has a two book deal with Candlewick with the first book, NOURA’S CRESCENT MOON, coming out in the Spring of 2024.  She is donating part of the proceeds from her books to GIVELIGHT. ORG. This organization cares and educates orphans in ten different countries.



Katie Mazeika

Katie Mazeika is an Ohio girl, born and raised! She grew up in Cincinnati, went to The Columbus College of Art and Design, and now lives in the Cleveland area with her husband, two kids, and two dogs.

Katie can’t imagine a better job than making books for young readers. She loves creating characters that make an impression. Katie specializes in telling stories based on real people and events and likes to highlight disabled voices in her work. She’s the author/illustrator of ANNETTE FEELS FREE, a picture book biography about Annette Kellerman coming out with S&S/ Beach Lane Books in September 2022. She has a second picture book biography about Beulah Henry (a.k.a. “Lady Edison”) coming out with S&S/Beach Lane Books in 2023. Katie illustrated books for the Chicken Soup for the Soul BABIES series: EVERYONE SHARES (EXCEPT CAT) by Jamie Michalak (Charlesbridge 2022) and EVERYONE SAYS PLEASE (EXCEPT CAT) by Jamie Michalak (Charlesbridge 2022), and is at work illustrating a third book in the series. 

When she’s not drawing, Katie likes to spend her time gardening or reading other people’s books. 

To find our more about Katie’s work:
Instagram: @kdmazart



Lyn Miller-Lachman 

Lyn Miller-Lachmann is an author of fiction and nonfiction for young readers as well as a translator of children’s books from Portuguese and Spanish to English. Her debut YA novel Gringolandia was a 2010 ALA Best Book for Young Adults and an Américas Award Honor Book. Her other novels include the companion to Gringolandia, Surviving Santiago, the middle grade novel Rogue, the middle grade historical verse novel Moonwalking (co-authored with Zetta Elliott) and the forthcoming (fall 2022) YA historical novel Torch. Many of these novels, as well as her chapter book biography She Persisted: Temple Grandin, explore the lives of autistic people past and present.

To find our more about Lyn’s work:
twitter: @LMillerLachmann
Instagram: @lynmillerlachmann



Moderated by Michelle Bacon 

Michele Bacon loves prime numbers, tabletop games, roller derby, glassblowing, downhill skiing, and travel. Always eager to immerse herself in other cultures, she’s visited all 50 states and dozens of countries, but she was born right here in Northern Ohio. As a child, Michele was drawn to people’s stories, and she remains eager to learn how you got that scar or fell in love. Her contemporary realistic fiction focuses on families, friends, and the complicated relationships therein. Her published YA novels are Life Before, which is set in Trumbull County, and Antipodes.

twitter: @michelebacon
Instagram: @writermichelebacon



This event is made possible by a Regional Grant from SCBWI. 



Registration Fee: SCBWI members free; Non-SCBWI members $10

Registration Closes: Tuesday, July 26, 2022 at 7:00 pm EST

The Zoom link for this event will be emailed the day of the event. If you registered for this event and have not received a link an hour before the event, please email Kellie at Thank you!


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The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is dedicated to providing a safe and harassment-free environment for all of its members and will take any and all necessary steps to address and prevent harassment at events associated with SCBWI. Harassment under this policy may include verbal comments, written comments, displayed images, or behaviors such as intimidation, stalking, body policing, unwelcome photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, unwelcome sexual attention or advances, and bullying or coercion. 

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If the conduct at issue involves one of SCBWI’s employees, SCBWI will utilize whatever corrective action is appropriate based on the result of the investigation and subject to SCBWI employment policies and practices.



SCBWI will make every reasonable effort to conduct all investigations into allegations of harassment, intimidation, or discrimination in a manner that will protect the confidentiality of all parties and witnesses. Notwithstanding the above, confidentiality is not absolute, and those with a legitimate business reason to know and be informed of the allegations will be so informed. Parties to the complaint should treat the matter under investigation with discretion and respect the reputation of all parties involved.


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