Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Meet the Team

Michigan’s first regional advisor was Carol Farley of Mt. Pleasant, who took this leadership role in 1982 and served 22 Michigan members. Our SCBWI chapter currently has just over 500 members and is led by Michigan Regional Advisors, Leslie Helakoski and Carrie Pearson, as well as a talented and diverse group of volunteers:

Leslie Helakoski, Co-RA, has been a Regional Advisor for Michigan since 2008 and a member of SCBWI since 1998. She is the author and sometimes illustrator of eight picture books including The Michigan Reads books, Big Chickens and Woolbur, Doggone Feet!, and Hoot and Honk Just Can’t Sleep with more in the pipeline. She lives with her family in Kalamazoooooo!

Carrie Pearson, Co-RA, has been a Regional Advisor since 2013 and lives on the shore of Lake Superior in Marquette. She became an SCBWI member in 2005 when she decided she’d better learn more about writing for children if she was going to spend so much time doing it. Carrie is the PAL author of a nonfiction picture book, two informational fiction picture books, and a STEM bio launching fall 2020. She received an SCBWI Works of Outstanding Promise (WOOP) award and won the SCBWI-MI Picture Book Mentorship Award (2008) to work with Newbery Award author and Michigander, Lynne Rae Perkins. She loves helping people in the children’s book community learn about the business and improve their craft.

Kirbi Fagan, Co-Illustrator Coordinator is a Metro Detroit based illustrator who specializes in creating art for book covers and comics. Her illustrations are known for their magical themes, nostalgic mood and feminine heroines. She received her bachelor’s degree in Illustration from Kendall College of Art and Design.Kirbi is passionate about participating in the illustration community both online and at large. Currently, she teaches illustration at College for Creative Studies in Downtown Detroit. When not painting, Kirbi enjoys writing stories, spending time with her family and rollerblading with her dogs, Sophie and Maisey. Her recent clients are Marvel Comics, Disney, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Books, Orbit Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt & Dark Horse Comics. Recently, she’s been recognized with the Jack Gaughan Award: Best Emerging Artist 2017, Muddy Color Rising Star 2017, and International Illustrator of the Future.

Deb Pilutti, Co-Illustrator Coordinator has been pursuing childish endeavors for most of her life. She has designed theme park graphics, children’s toys and clothing, and now is writing and illustrating for children. Her newest book, THE SECRETS OF NINJA SCHOOL (Holt/Ottaviano) comes out later this month. Other books she’s illustrated or author/illustrated include TEN RULES OF BEING A SUPERHERO, (Ottaviano/Macmillan), BEAR AND SQUIRREL ARE FRIENDS, and THE IDEA JAR (Simon & Schuster). Deb lives in Ann Arbor, MI.

Jodi McKay, PAL Coordinator
, lives in Grosse Pointe, Michigan with her husband, son, a couple of mischievous pets, and at least one ghost. She discovered that she loved to write when she was 8 years old but decided to finish school before pursuing it full time. Now she is an active member of the incredible kid lit community and is proud to be represented by Linda Epstein at Emerald City Literary Agency. Jodi is the author of the picture book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS? published by Albert Whitman & Co. Her website is (Look for the teacher’s guide!)

Dave Stricklen, Indie/Self Publishing Coordinator: In a former life, David was an airport police chief with 30 years experience in law enforcement. Now retired, he has written a series of sought-after Indie MG fantasy adventure books: Beneath and Beyond, Through the Eyes of the Beast and The Heart of the Swarm. The start of a new series entitled Ripley Robinson and the Worm Charmer will be out in 2019. His books and school visits are filled with magic and creativity. For more information go to In addition to being the Michigan Indie coordinator, David is also an active SCBWI advisory committee member and Grand Rapids Shop Talk Coordinator.  David believes that independently published authors should strive to exceed the national average. Quality editing, proofing, typesetting, artwork, printing, promotion, and school visit programs can all be accomplished at a professional level.

Jennifer Rumberger, Shop Talks Coordinator, has been a member of SCBWI since 2010. She began writing professionally in the magazine markets and is published in Keys for Kids, SCBWI-MI News, Nature Friend and Stories for Children magazines. She is also busy working on picture book manuscripts and has finished a middle-grade novel.  Her first picture book, DUCKLINGS ON THE MOVE, is available from MeeGenius, an e-book publisher.  She works full-time as an administrative assistant and lives in the metro-Detroit area with her husband and two sons. Learn more about Jennifer at

Charlie Barshaw, Networks Day/Mid-Michigan Shop Talk Coordinator, and Go To Guy, has been an SCBWI member since 2009, when he lost his job but found his profession. Charlie is best known as the husband of author/illustrator Ruth McNally Barshaw, of “The Ellie McDoodle Diaries” fame.  Charlie wrote for newspapers and magazines in his younger days and is now working on some middle-grade novel ideas. He was co-chair of the 2013 Fall Revision Retreat and the 2014 Mackinac Island Conference. Charlie is also the Co-Coordinator of the Lansing Area Shop Talk (LAST).

Anita Pazner, Advisory Committee member, spends her time in West Bloomfield and Boyne Mountain. Her publishing background is in newspapers, magazines and corporate video scripts. Being in love with everything kid related, she currently writes picture books, middle-grade and young adult novels and completed an MFA in writing for children. She especially enjoys meeting other book people, learning from them and hopefully passing on any knowledge she may have.

Deb Gonzales, Webmistress and Social Media Maven, served as RA for the Austin SCBWI Chapter, was an adjunct professor, a Montessori teacher for ages 3 to 12, a school administrator, an educational consultant, a curriculum designer, and a writing workshop instructor. One of her most interesting adventures in teaching was with PBS’s Barney Kids. She earned her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Art in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and is a contributor of ReaderKidZ, a website committed to fostering a love of reading for kids ages K-5. She has published a series of early readers and, when she’s not working away on her middle-grade novels, Deb creates activity-based teacher guides for all genres. Deb is represented by Melissa Nasson of Rubin Pfeffer Content, LLC. Check out her work at Should you have any needs regarding the website and social media – event announcements, registration issues, or just want to stop by and say, “Hi!” –  contact Deb at debbadee5 [at] gmail [dot] com.

Nina Goebel, The Mitten Blog Co-Editor (Illustrative Design), is a native of Bavaria and lives in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. She has been an SCBWI member since 2011. Nina is primarily a graphic designer and illustrator, who started writing in 2012 as well. She is also an active member of the Grosse Pointe Art Center and volunteers for an art therapy program for inner city kids in Detroit. Both of these activities have given her the opportunity to teach workshops and facilitate art shows with disadvantaged youth and adults. Access to find out more about Nina.

Deborah Diesen, ListServ Administrator/Old and New Member Liaison, has been a member of SCBWI since 2001.  She loves to write in rhyme and is the author of several children’s picture books, including the New York Times bestseller, The Pout-Pout Fish.  Debbie lives with her family in Grand Ledge, MI.

Kristin Lenz, The Mitten Blog Co-Founder and Co-Editor, is a social worker who lived in Georgia and California before returning to her home state of Michigan. Currently, she lives with her husband and daughter in metro-Detroit.  Her short story, The Power of Butterflies, was published by Hunger Mountain online and was a finalist for the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing. She is represented by Carrie Pestritto at the Prospect Agency.

Patti Richards, The Mitten Blog Co-Editor, of Farmington Hills is a full-time freelance writer, editor and blogger. Her articles on parenting and education have been featured in print and on the web for over 25 years. Patti is currently a regular parenting and relationship contributor for and Demand Media Studios. Her children’s stories have been published in Boy’s Quest Magazine, Bumples Magazine and MeeGenius. Patti was a recent finalist in the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing at Hunger Mountain for her picture book, DANCING GRANNIES. You can learn more about Patti at her blog, Sensibility and Sense, A Perfect Blog for Imperfect Writers.

Ann Finkelstein, Mentorship Coordinator, has been an SCBWI member since 1999. During that time she’s served as a Co-RA, planned many conferences and convinced her husband to join SCBWI. Her published works include science and math articles in Highlights, Cricket and Spider magazines. She currently writes novels for teens. She lives in Haslett and tutors high school students in reading, writing, math and science. Ann is also the Co-Coordinator of the Lansing Area Shop Talk (LAST).

Heather Shumaker, Up North Shop Talk – Traverse City Coordinator, is the author of three books for adults and a debut middle-grade novel THE GRIFFINS OF CASTLE CARY coming out in spring 2019. She’s been a member of SCBWI since 2013, blogs at and loves all things kid lit.

Isabel O’Hagin (Ph.D.), Kalamazoo  Shop Talk (KAST) Co-Coordinator, has been a member of SCBWI since 2013. As a pre-published author, she writes stories steeped in Latino culture from the southwest where she lived most of her life. She has written two middle-grade novels, several picture books and is currently working on a YA novel. In 2018 she was recognized as a runner-up in the SCBWI-MI Novel Mentorship Contest. Her publication credits include teacher education articles, book chapters in early childhood music, and serving as editor for a state education journal.

Julia Richardson, Kalamazoo Area Shop Talk (KAST) Co-Coordinator, has a debut picture book tentatively titled, Little Dandelion Seeds the World pending publication at Sleeping Bear Press. She is rep’d by Victoria Selvaggio of Storm Literary Agency. She lives in Mattawan and has been a member of SCBWI since 2014. Learn more about Julia here:  

Betsy McKee Williams, Ann Arbor Shop Talk Co-Coordinator, has been a member of SCBWI since 2012. In a former academic life, she studied and published short pieces on early American history and the history of childhood. Today she supports college student writing by day, writes fiction after hours, and is completing an MFA in Writing for Young Readers through the Solstice MFA Program at Pine Manor College. Betsy writes middle-grade fiction and believes in the importance of precise historical accuracy for novels involving time travel.


Alexia Andoni, Ann Arbor Shop Talk Co-Coodinator has agreed to join the fun. Her writing email is

Pat Trattles, Critiques and First Pages Coordinator, lives in Holland, Michigan. She started thinking about writing for children when her daughter was 6 months old. Pat joined SCBWI three years later when pregnant with her second daughter. Pat is the PAL author of two early readers, one fiction, one non-fiction. She currently spends most of her writing time writing for state assessments in conjunction with the Common Core. In her spare time, she works full time at a senior care center, attends her daughter’s collegiate soccer games and plays with her grandson.