Meet Our Family Day Authors

Johnette Downing

Johnette Downing

Johnette Downing is a New Orleans multi-award winning musician, singer and author presenting Louisiana Roots concerts and author visits for children, as well as keynotes and workshops for educators globally. Dedicated to celebrating childhood, nurturing cultural exchanges and fostering literacy through her music and books, Johnette has performed in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe, Central America, North America and the Caribbean. Johnette’s presentations speak to a child’s interests in an engaging, interactive, thought-provoking, educational, entertaining and culturally respectful way; earning her a reputation for being the “Musical Ambassador to Children” and the “Pied Piper of Louisiana Music Traditions.”

Downing has garnered multiple awards including a 2017 Louisiana Writer Award, 59th Grammy Award Participant Certificate, eight Parents’ Choice Awards, four iParenting Media Awards, two Parent’s Guide To Children’s Media Awards, four National Parenting Publications Awards, a Family Choice Award, two Family Review Center Awards, Family Review Center Gold Award, Family Review Center Best of the Year Award, DAR Literacy Promotion Award, an Imagination Award, and a Haiku International Association Honorable Mention Award. Her work has received rave reviews on and in Nick Jr. Magazine, Family Fun Magazine, Parenting Magazine, Parent’s Magazine, Publisher’s Weekly, American Library Association’s Booklist, School Library Journal, Washington Post, Early Childhood News, Cookie Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, New Orleans Magazine, and Big Apple Parent to name a few. Further, she was selected as one of “The Women of the Year 2008” by New Orleans CityBusiness Magazine, “Thirty People to Watch in 2000” by New Orleans Magazine and “Forty Under Forty” by Gambit Weekly Magazine.

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 middle-grade book, Women in the Old West, which tells true stories of real women in what is now the United States, has received a coveted Kirkus star.

Donna Edwards

Louisiana First Lady Donna Hutto Edwards was born in Mississippi and moved with her family to Amite, Louisiana, where she met her future husband, Governor John Bel Edwards. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Southern Mississippi.

Mrs. Edwards has long been active in her community, supporting various organizations and school and church groups. Early in her marriage during the governor’s eight-year service as an Army Infantry Airborne ranger, the first lady volunteered her time and assistance to families of deployed Army service members.

While raising three children, Mrs. Edwards became a certified teacher and taught music for more than eight years. As Louisiana’s First Lady, she continues to advocate for teachers, public education and music and arts education. She started Louisiana First Foundation with a mission of service and support for children. Louisiana First Foundation is the rainbow cover for Louisiana Fosters, Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention and TeachMAM (Teach Music, Art and Movement).

John Bel and Donna married in 1989. They are the proud parents of three children: Samantha, Sarah Ellen and John Miller, son-in-law, Jonathan and three fur babies, Mollie, Bandit and Lady.

Freddi Evans

Freddi Williams Evans

Freddi Williams Evans is an author, independent scholar and arts education consultant. She is internationally recognized for her scholarship on Congo Square, a historical landmark of African and African American culture. Her book, Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans, the first comprehensive study of the historic location, received the Louisiana Humanities Book of the Year Award and is published in French.

Her book Come Sunday, A Young Reader’s History of Congo Square received the Bronze Medal Independent Publisher Book Award and was a finalist for Next Generation Indie Book Award. Her research and advocacy for Congo Square influenced the New Orleans City Council Ordinance that changed the official name of the location from Beauregard Square, named after Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard in 1893, to the popular name Congo Square in 2011.

Evans is also the award-winning author of books for children including Hush Harbor: Praying in Secret, The Battle of New Orleans: The Drummer’s Story, and A Bus of Our Own. She is co-author of the upcoming book, Passing It On: The Art of John T. Scott, which will debut in 2022.
Working in the community, Evans co-chaired the New Orleans Committee to Erect Historic Markers on the Slave Trade to Louisiana, helped to erect the UNESCO Site of Memory Middle Passage Marker, and currently serves on the New Orleans Legacy Project Committee.

Jonathan Fenske

Jonathan Fenske is the author and illustrator of the leveled readers Woodward and McTwee, Love Is in the Air, Guppy Up!, and A Pig, a Fox, and a Box, which was a 2016 Geisel Honor book. He is also the author of two picture books, Barnacle Is Bored and its follow-up, Plankton Is Pushy. Jonathan lives in South Carolina with his family.

Debbi Michiko Florence

Debbi Michiko Florence is the author of the Jasmine Toguchi chapter books (JLG selections, the Amelia Bloomer and CCBC Choices lists, and a Cybils award winner), and her middle grade debut Keep it Together, Keiko Carter. A third-generation Japanese American and native Californian, Debbi lives in Connecticut with her husband, rescue dog, rabbit, and two ducks. Visit her at

Deandrea Green

Deandrea Green is an author, advocate and plus size model. Deandrea is a NewOrleans native. DeAndrea is the author of Skating On A Rainy Day,The Who Dat Movers-Jump Team and DeWayne and Mr. Shrimp Po Boy. Deandrea discovered her passion for writing at the tender age of 12; her love for children was her inspiration in becoming a children’s book author. Even Deandrea’s nieces and nephews are the characters in all her children's books. Deandrea is a known advocate for helping the youth, individuals with special needs and women through her charitable work and her non-profit organization; Crowns and Glory Foundation.

Jared R. Green

Elizabeth Johnson

A Brooklyn, New York native, Elizabeth Johnson is a break-out author with a very promising writing career ahead of her. Signed with PlaTy Multimedia & Publishing, Elizabeth is introducing her first work to the world of children’s books on May 16, 2021. Her debut title, Just Like my Dad, is co-authored with the already well-established author, Tyrell Plair. Elizabeth is currently the Director of Marketing with PlaTy Multimedia and Publishing. Elizabeth was named the 2021 Author’s Porch and PULSE magazine’s Author of the Year.

Elizabeth’s resume boasts an Associate of Science in Early Childhood Education, an Associate of Arts in General Education, and she is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Organizational Management. Currently residing in Palm Bay, Florida with her husband and son, Elizabeth spends her spare time baking, watching football, traveling, honing her skills as a photographer, and volunteering in the church and her local community.

Tyrell Plair

Born in the windy city of Chicago, Illinois, Tyrell Plair knew the wind would blow his way, even if he had to create the breeze. He took an interest in reading and writing at a young age, which led him to begin writing poetry for his classmates.

Over the years, Tyrell honed his skills as a writer by ghostwriting novels, penning screenplays, and adding film directing to his repertoire. In 2019 he released his debut novel “Stolen Innocence” as an independent author. In 2021 Tyrell and his co-author Elizabeth Johnson released their first youth novel “Just Like My Dad”. Realizing the struggles as an independent author, Tyrell decided to write and produce books as a business, thus forming “PlaTy Multimedia & Publishing.” Tyrell has written and produced commercials for “Outrageous Love Foundation,” “L&J Multicultural Barbershop,” and other film projects. Tyrell also has several new novels on the way, including the highly anticipated Urban thriller “Illusions.”

With a roster full of talent and drive to match, Tyrell envisions PlaTy Multimedia as being the number one media and publishing company in the world. With a roster that boasts experienced and talented authors, such as Alonzo Strange of “Tit4Tat” and Alan Little, creator of the “Country Boy” series, Tyrell Plair feels like there literally is no limit to what they can achieve.

Tyrell developed unheralded leadership skills as a soldier in the United States Army with a tour in Kuwait. He also holds a Bachelor of Science in Applied Psychology with a Media and Technology concentration from the University of Phoenix. When not fulfilling his role as Chief Operating Officer of Platy Multimedia, you can find Tyrell locked in on a game of chess, fishing, or enjoying his family and friends.

Kevin Sherry

Kevin Sherry is the author and illustrator of many children's books, most notably The Yeti Files series and I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean, which received starred reviews and won an original artwork award from the Society of Illustrators. He's a man of many interests: a chef, an avid cyclist and screen-printer, and a performer of hilarious puppet shows for kids and adults. Kevin lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Maleeha Siddiqui

MALEEHA SIDDIQUI is an American writer of Pakistani descent who loves to tell unapologetically Muslim stories for all ages. By day, Maleeha works as a regulatory affairs professional in the biotech industry. She grew up and continues to reside with her family in Virginia. Barakah Beats is her debut novel and an Indies Introduce pick. Her forthcoming middle-grade book, Bhai For Now takes a fresh and fun new spin on the Parent-Trap story.

Michael Strecker

Michael Strecker is the author of The Young Comic’s Guide to Telling Jokes Books. 1 and 2 (Sterling) and Jokes for Crescent City Kids, (Pelican). His fourth joke book for kids is scheduled to published by Scholastic. He also writes fiction for adults. His short story A Lake Catherine Lesson 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 by the 2021 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. In addition to his writing, Strecker is a stand-up comedian, who has performed at some of the top comedy clubs in the country. He lives in the New Orleans area with his wife Jillian and their sons, Stephen and Joseph.

Jeanette R. Weiland

Ms. Weiland currently works for the New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA) as the Senior Vice President of Bio, Innovation, & Special Projects. In this role, she reports to the CEO and is responsible for facilitating collaboration with local institutions and companies, attracting new businesses and investment to the City, assisting existing businesses and startups with retention and expansion efforts, and working with area partners to help ensure that the state’s legislative environment is friendly to all of these efforts. All of the organization’s work is conducted with an intentional focus on equity and inclusion, and in 2021 the International Economic Development Council awarded the team with six awards recognizing its work.

Prior to joining NOLABA, Jeanette served as the Financial Operations Manager for Ochsner Health’s Retail Division, where she created strategic plans and managed budgets, projections, productivity dashboards, and built pro formas for numerous business divisions. In addition to leading cross-functional teams for Retail M&A activity, Jeanette translated complex financial data into relatable platforms such as infographics, reports, and presentations that provided easily-understood information to diverse audiences.

Before joining Ochsner Health, Jeanette served as the Executive Vice President of CIC Wealth – a privately-owned, independent wealth management firm with several offices located in the greater Washington, D.C. area. As a team, the firm was responsible for managing over $300M of client assets. Her areas of expertise included working with high-net worth individuals and business owners to create and manage defined benefit and contribution plans, actively manage investment portfolios, and implement tax-advantaged retirement income strategies for individuals and families. Jeanette was a Registered Representative (Series 7 & Series 66) and was awarded a Chartered Retirement Plan Specialist (CRPS®) designation from the College for Financial Planning. Prior to CIC Wealth, Jeanette worked with the wealth management teams at Capital One Bank and UBS Financial Services in New Orleans, LA.

Ms. Weiland currently serves as a board member for KIDsmART, the New Orleans Garden District Association, Louisiana BIO, and had her second children’s book published in Fall of 2020. She graduated from Louisiana State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in International Trade and Finance, and received both her Master of Arts in Arts Administration degree and Master of Business Administration degree from the University of New Orleans.

While enrolled in graduate school in the evenings, Jeanette worked within the Development Department of the LSU Health Sciences Center’s School of Dentistry, where she and two other staff members were responsible for the fundraising practices and alumni affairs of the school. Before she began her graduate education, she interned on Capitol Hill for former U.S. Senator John Breaux of Louisiana and lived in Beijing, China where she studied the Mandarin dialect.

Chris Yandle

A native of Houma, Louisiana, Dr. Chris Yandle is a former college athletics administrator and an award-winning public relations professional at both the K-12 and higher ed levels. After spending more than a decade with five different NCAA Division I college athletics programs, he transitioned to K-12 communications in St. Tammany Parish in 2017. He returned to higher education at the state level in March 2021. Considered among the leading communications professionals in college athletics, Chris served as the Assistant Athletic Director for Communications at the University of Miami (2012-2014) and Georgia Tech (2014-2016). Prior to moving to Miami, he spent four years at Baylor University (2008-2012) where he was one of the leaders behind the successful Heisman Trophy campaign of quarterback Robert Griffin III in 2011.

He is a 2004 graduate of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (B.A., Public Relations) and a 2007 graduate of Marshall University (M.S., Athletic Administration). He earned his Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership from Mercer University in December 2019.

Since publishing his first book, Lucky Enough: A Year of a Dad’s Daily Notes of Encouragement and Life Lessons to His Daughter, in September 2018, Chris has appeared nationally on NBC’s TODAY and The Kelly Clarkson Show as well as numerous media outlets throughout the New Orleans Metro.