Meet Our Family Day Authors

Shawn Amos

For Shawn Amos, it’s about the story. As a producer, songwriter, musician, author, and keeper of the American blues music flame, he’s made a name as both a teller of tales and an astute shaper of others’ stories.

He comes by the storytelling chops naturally. The only child of William Morris agent-turned-cookie entrepreneur, Wally “Famous” Amos, and singer Shirley “Shirl-ee May” Ellis, young Shawn spent hours in shadowy nightclubs, on the funky streets of 70s Hollywood, and in his own broken home, listening intently to people’s stories. He helped make his father’s cookie hustle real. In young adulthood, he jumped from screenwriting for A & M Films to the stage, crafting acclaimed Americana music that wrestled with race and identity. On the other side of the microphone, Shawn oversaw soul icon Solomon Burke’s last three albums, and produced seminal CD collections Q: The Musical Biography of Quincy Jones, and Grammy-nominated box set Rhapsodies in Black: Music and Words from the Harlem Renaissance, among others.

Since 2014, as the Reverend Shawn Amos, with harmonica in hand, Shawn has brought blues to audiences from LA to Amsterdam, delivering unbridled joy – both live, and through recordings. Blue Sky, the 2020 release by his band, The Reverend Shawn Amos & the Brotherhood, hit Number 6 on the Billboard Blues Album Chart, and scored four out of five stars from American Songwriter magazine.

For his 2022 debut novel, Cookies & Milk, Shawn delves into his past to concoct a wildly entertaining story about the strength of family, and the power of forgiveness – plus just the right amount of semisweet chocolate – to mend hearts. Shawn’s doppelganger, Ellis, embarks on hilarious and sometimes harrowing misadventures as he helps his dad open the world’s first chocolate chip cookie store in the multihued 70s landscape of music, ambition, and often-challenging elders.

Shannon Kelley Atwater

Shannon was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, FL. In 2005, she moved to New Orleans, LA to attend Loyola University where she graduated with a BA in Visual Arts. She fell in love with the city and her husband and they planted their roots and never left. Her first picture book is Alligators Don’t Like Flowers. When she’s not writing, drawing, or painting, Shannon is raising her three kids and playing dress up as a larger than life flower with her Mardi Gras Krewe, Krewe des Fleurs.

To learn more about Shannon head to or connect with her on Instagram @shannonkelleyatwater

Alex Beard

American painter and author Alex Beard is best known for his elaborate wildlife compositions created in his signature style of gestural painting, which he has coined “Abstract Naturalism.”

Raised in a family that fostered philanthropy, creativity and exploration, Alex has traveled extensively around the world. The diverse cultures, colors, and climates of Africa, India, China, Australia and the Americas have profoundly influenced both his professional and artistic practice.

While earning his BA from Tufts University, he studied painting and drawing at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In his early twenties Alex moved to New Orleans to continue his formal training at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts.

Fueled by curiosity about the cultures and wildlife he had been exposed to in his early years, Alex has spent much of his life traveling to the some of the world’s most remote wildlife outposts - paintbrush in hand. His time in nature enables him to continually hone his style – creating complex compositions in which abstraction and figuration collide, while exploring themes of cultural and environmental interconnectivity.

Alex’s work figures prominently in several private and public collections and he has exhibited extensively throughout the United States, including solo exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Hong Kong.

An impassioned conservationist and philanthropist, in 2012 Alex established The Watering Hole Foundation – a public charity engaged in saving endangered wildlife and preserving their environments. His documentary, Drawing the Line, fused his artistic talent with his dedication to preservation, chronicling the plight of the endangered Wild African Elephant, as seen through the eyes of a conservationist artist.
Alex has authored and illustrated a critically acclaimed series of storybooks published by Abrams and Greenleaf. The series, Tales from the Watering Hole, includes The Jungle Grapevine (2008), Monkey See Monkey Draw (2009), Crocodile Tears (2010), and The Lying King (2018). In 2016 Glitterati Editions published Alex's monograph A Brush With Nature: Abstract Naturalism and the Painting of Life.

Alex’s studio in the heart of the New Orleans’ Magazine Street Shopping District. It is both the creative hub of his artistic practice and a successful enterprise. The studio is open to the public in a way that encourages and fosters interaction between the artist and his audience.

Alex lives in New Orleans with his wife, two children, two cats, a dog, many birds, and a mess of other critters at "The Pink Elephant" in the Garden District.

Johnette Downing

Johnette Downing

Marti Dumas

Marti Dumas

Marti Dumas is a mom, teacher, writer, and creative entrepreneur from New Orleans. An expert in childhood literacy, Marti has worked with children and teachers across the country for the last 15 years to promote an early love of reading both in and out of the classroom. Her best-selling Jaden Toussaint, the Greatest series combines literacy with STEM skills, and humor, and adds much-needed diversity to the children’s chapter book landscape. Her latest book, Wildseed Witch, is a middle-grade fantasy being heralded for its skillful combination of social media, family, and magic.

Matt Haines

In April 2017, I began walking from Georgia to Maine along the Appalachian Trail. I had never written professionally before then, but when I finished that 159-day, 2,189.7-mile hike, I went back to New Orleans and decided to give it a shot.

Since then I've written for local publications such as The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit Weekly, Very Local New Orleans and, as well as technology companies like Align and nonprofit organizations such as 504ward. National clients I have written for include Voice of America, Lonely Planet, CNN Underscored, Zagat, Fodor's Travel, Rosetta Stone, Great Big Story and AlltimePower.

I love writing about food, travel and just about anything that helps me understand people and their unique motivations better. There's little more fun to me than asking people questions!

When I'm not writing, I like to explore and learn about New Orleans, one of America's awesome national parks, or wherever else I happen to be traveling.

My focus these days is the book I'm working on, titled The Big Book of King Cake. It's the first-ever coffee table book dedicated to king cake and will feature 75 of my favorite Carnival cakes, as well as the diverse and talented bakers who make them.
And if you'd like to say hello or ask me a question, send me an email. I like answering questions almost as much as I like asking them!

K.A. Leigh

K.A. (Kristin) Leigh is a Florida-born animal lover with a passion for helping others through her writing. She and her illustrator husband, Derek Roberts, created the Brudders® book series to give kids an engaging way to learn different social emotional concepts.
Believe it or not, Kristin first spent almost 15 years in the corporate world as both a financial auditor and recruiter. “As an auditor, people inherently don’t like you,” she jokes, “But that’s where I learned how critical emotional intelligence and empathy can be to fostering meaningful relationships in life.” From there, Kristin dedicated herself to helping others overcome social struggles.
Kristin also has a huge heart for children who feel isolated or lonely as they grow through new challenges in life. With Brudders the bear, Kristin and Derek provide a safe, trusted, and relatable friend for children to lean on and learn from.
Kristin holds both a Masters and Bachelor’s degree in Accounting, and lives in Tampa, Florida with Derek. They enjoy hiking and biking in nature and remembering their angel dogs, Jellybean and Brudders, whom this series was named after.

To connect with Kristin, feel free to email her at or follow Brudders' adventures on Instagram and Facebook at @ bruddersbooks.

Julie Buehrle Luyster

Julie Buehrle Luyster, an educator, who enjoys using sensory teaching to help students explore and experience our beautiful world. Originally from Akron, Ohio, she attended Hillsdale College,Michigan and has a Masters Degree in Science Teaching from Loyola University in New Orleans.

Julie’s first book, Our Five Senses: What We See, Hear, Smell, Taste and Touch reached the Amazon top 100 Ebooks in Baby & Toddler Sense & Sensation Childrens Books within its first months launch.

She attributes Chautauqua Institution and the “Highlights writing Conference” as an inspiration to enrich her interest in Childrens writing.

Julie and her husband Mark, raised their four children in New Orleans and Houston where they now reside.

Michael Strecker

Michael Strecker is a writer from Louisiana. His short fiction has appeared in “The Critic,” a literary journal that has published some of the country’s most highly regarded writers, including Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor and Graham Greene. His short story “The Woman at the Well” was selected as a finalist in the Tennessee Williams Festival’s 2021 Fiction Writing Contest. He was also named a Tennessee Williams finalist in 2022. In addition, he is the author of several books for children published by Sterling Publishing and Pelican Publishing Company. His fourth children’s is pending publication by Scholastic. He is also an award-winning standup comedian who has performed with some of the country’s top acts including Ken Jeong, Jack Johannsen and Rhett Butler. He lives with his wife Jillian and their sons, Stephen and Joseph, in Mandeville, La.

Big Chief Juan Pardo

Big Chief Juan Pardo and the Golden Comanche Mardi Gras Indians is an electrifying display of a culture that dates back over two hundred years in New Orleans. Chief Juans soulful voice brings any audience to feel like they are in the jazz filled streets of New Orleans. This percussion-heavy tribal music infused by the funk styles of the Meters, Willie T, and the Neville Brothers can only be performed by those who are chosen. The Chief and his Golden Comanches have studied the traditions of those before them and now are the keepers of the flame. Juan not only performs the music of this tradition but also writes and produces music that has become staples among tribes in New Orleans. Chief Juan has recorded and performed with many bands such as Galactic, 101 Runners, and Rhythm Conspiracy. He has graced the stage with names like Pattie Labell, Cryil Neville, Anders Osborne, Trombone Shorty, and Doctor John, to name a few. Chief Juan and the Comanche travel the world to bring the tribal and funk sound of New Orleans Culture to people everywhere.

Valerie Thompkins

Valerie Thompkins, author of Girls Like Me, is an Atlanta based speaker, consultant, and mentor who is passionate about diversity and representation in children’s books. She believes in highlighting stories which showcase families of all backgrounds in positive, main character roles. Valerie is on a mission to empower children and families to explore STEM careers and build an interest in learning from an early age. For more literacy resources, join her uplifting communities on Instagram and TikTok @authorvaleriethompkins.

Gayle Webre

Gayle holds a Master’s + 30 from the University of Southwestern Louisiana (currently ULL) and has worked in elementary education for 25 years, primarily designing and implementing enrichment curricula for gifted children. She generally lives with her nose in a book or talking about books she’s read. When she’s not writing, hosting gatherings for her family and friends, or playing with her grandchildren, you can find her riding her tricycle!

Gayle’s debut picture book, When I Was an Alligator, was illustrated by Drew Beech and published by UL Press in 2020. In 2022 When I Was an Alligator represented Louisiana at the Library of Congress National Book Festival. Look for her next book, When I Was a Pelican, to be released in 2023.

Traci N. Todd

When Chicago native Traci N. Todd was born, her parents decided her initials should stand for dynamite, just like her father's. He raised her on Ray Charles and Nina Simone, and her mother read her every good book. Traci is the author of Nina: A Story of Nina Simone, illustrated by Christian Robinson, and is also a children's book editor. Her newest picture book Holding Her Own: The Exceptional Life of Jackie Ormes, illustrated by Shannon Wright, shares the prolific life of Jackie Ormes whose groundbreaking cartoons became some of the first empowering depictions of Black women in America. Traci lives in Queens, New York, with her partner.

Traci Swain

Traci Swain has been involved in children’s publishing since 2011. She helps foster the joy of reading by producing content with students, renowned authors, and educators who go above and beyond for their young readers.

Her love of writing began after taking creative writing courses at a summer day camp when she was 12. Her class was assigned to write in a journal each day, and thus her love of sharing stories began.

Traci started writing children’s books to help connect young readers with topics that make them laugh and want to learn new things. She hopes her stories will help encourage a love of reading, inspire creativity, and build confidence and self-esteem – all while teaching empathy, inclusion and kindness. Finding a Friend is her debut title.

Bellen Woodard

BELLEN WOODARD is the beloved trailblazer and CEO of More than Peach®️ , LLC. As the World’s 1st Crayon Activist®️ and pioneer of “skin-color” crayons, Bellen has transformed an entire industry with a first-of-its-kind, innovative and inclusive project and art brand that have now become a global movement. She’s received many notable awards and has been featured by Scholastic, TIME, Vogue, TODAY, Nickelodeon, and many others. Now a middle schooler, Bellen embodies self-expression and discovery and enjoys traveling, dance, and spending time with family, friends, and her two dogs.