Meet the Presenters - SLRI 2016

Keynote Speaker:

Michelle Luhtala is the department chair of New Canaan (CT) High School Library, and facilitates a professional learning community for over 8,000 educators at She serves on the American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) Board of Directors and the Connecticut Digital Library's advisory committee on databases. Michelle is a contributing author to Growing Schools: Librarians as Professional Developers, and she developed curriculum for Rosen Publishing's Digital Literacy database. She blogs at

Tech Slam:

Mark M. Gadbois is currently celebrating his sixteenth year as the IT Specialist for the Lincoln Public Schools.  Prior to this, Mark was a high school and middle school science teacher in the Cumberland School Department and has served over twenty years in the military.  As a leader in IT, Mark has focused on providing bandwidth and access for staff and students.  Lincoln has focused its efforts on BYOD environments and has invested heavily in wireless network management and applications. In fact, Mark has brought Chromecasting to nearly every classroom in the Lincoln Public Schools to allow staff to project wirelessly from their Chromebooks.   Coupled with extensive PD to the staff, the students of the Lincoln Public Schools enjoy blended learning and modern methods of teaching to create a diverse and technologically rich experience.

Kimberly Ramos has been a North Kingstown educator since 1997, teaching ESL K-8, Gr. 2, and Gr. 4 at various times. She became the district’s Technology Instructional Coach in 2014. As such, she plays an integral role in the implementation of North Kingstown’s 1:1 Chromebook initiative and 5-year technology plan. She is responsible for the creation and delivery of blended learning professional development for faculty, staff, and students and regularly collaborates with other education professionals across RI. Kimberly is a recipient of the Highlander Institute Fuse Ignitor Award for District Leadership. A member of the Board of Directors of the RI Society of Technology Educators, she serves on the Professional Development and Events committees. She is also an active member of the RI Digital Learning Consortium. When she’s not advocating for blended learning, she can be found either on the golf course or at Fenway Park, cheering on the Red Sox.

Book Talks:

Leslie Bermel has been employed with Junior Library Guild for the past 15 years. She’s been an avid life-long reader. Leslie currently develops professional development workshops for librarians on a variety of topics but introducing librarians to the latest new-release books selected by JLG is her favorite topic. She holds an MBA from Grand Canyon University and is  currently working on her doctorate. Leslie resides in the Columbus, Ohio area with her son, Erik.


Brandi Fong has worked at the South Kingstown Public Library since 2004. In 2008, she became a Youth and Teen Services Librarian, dividing time between the Robert Beverly Hale branch and the Peace Dale branch. Brandi has been a member of the Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee since 2009, Committee Chair since 2013. She has also participated in other professional endeavors, including presenting at previous SLRI and RILA conferences. Even when hiking and camping in the woods, she always has a book with her.

Stephanie Barta is the Young Adult Librarian at Westerly Public Library.  She has been a member of the RI Teen Book Award Committee for four years, and is currently the Vice Chair. She is a member of the 2015 YALSA Morris Award Selection Committee and the Chair of the YALSA Research Committee.  Her favorite way to read is alongside her cat and two beagles.

Katie Tanner has been a library media specialist for seven years, working with grades Pre-K to Grade 6.  She spent the first three years of her career in West Warwick and these last four years in Cranston.  This is her third and final year on the Rhode Island Children's Book Award committee, which has been a great experience. 

Author Panels:

Elementary Moderator Emily Brown is the Youth Services Coordinator at the Cranston Public Library. Her professional experience includes both public and school library services. She served on the YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee from 2008-2010, has been published in School Library Journal, and frequently presents on the topics of gaming and graphic novels.

MG/YA Moderator Miranda Nero is a full-time cataloger for Ocean State Libraries and a part-time Children’s Librarian for the Cranston Public Library. She received her MSLIS from Simmons College in 2011 and her BA in Music History from the University of Rhode Island in 2009. She feels strongly about making library catalogs, collections, and programs inclusive and welcoming! In her free time, you’ll find her doing jigsaw and crossword puzzles, pub trivia, playing music, and reading queer literature (although lately her “to-read” list is filling up more quickly than her “has-read” list is.)

Sean Fay Wolfe has been writing short stories for as long as he can remember, but his first novel was the first book of the Elementia Chronicles, Quest for Justice. He started writing this series when he was 14 years old, inspired by his love of reading and  fascination with the dynamic world of Minecraft, the popular video game in which the series is set. He finished writing the first book when he was 16 years old, and self-published it through CreateSpace soon afterwards. Over the next year, he promoted Quest for Justice by giving presentations in schools and being active on social media, while simultaneously writing a sequel, The New Order. In early 2015, he signed a deal with HarperCollins to republish Quest for Justice, and to publish both of its sequels. Since signing with HarperCollins, he has talked to thousands of kids around the world, and gone to many high-profile events including MineCon in London, ComicCon in San Diego, and the Emirate Airlines Festival of Literature in Dubai.

Kevin Blake is the author of over 15 nonfiction books for young readers, ranging in topics from the vanished Roanoke Colony to feral pigs to Harry S. Truman.  Two of his books just recently won national awards.  When he’s not writing, he works as a lawyer for Hinckley Allen & Snyder LLP in Providence, Rhode Island.  Kevin earned his bachelor’s degree from Brown University, his master’s degree in American History from Harvard University, and his law degree from Columbia Law School.

Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people to publish them as books with pictures - such as the Award-Winning Lady Pancake & Sir Rench Toast (Sterling), as well as the forthcoming picture books Pirasaurs! (Scholastic 8.30.16), Dear Dragon (Viking/Penguin 9.6.16), and more. Josh is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA and the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences. Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts. Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.

To research some of her 30+ nonfiction books, Susan E. Goodman has paddled down the Amazon, flown up to the Arctic Circle, and survived three minutes on the same twirling Multi-Axis Trainer that made Alan Shepherd lose his lunch. Her most recent book is The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial. Others include How Do You Burp in Space? and It’s a Dog’s Life, which share seven state book award nominations between them; All in Just One Cookie, an ALA Notable; and On This Spot: An Expedition Back Through Time, a Washington Post Top Picture Book. Learn more about Susan and her school visits at

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 featuring magical places that everyone will want to visit. Her debut The Monstore released in June 2013, with I Thought This Was a Bear Book and Little Red Gliding Hood following in Fall 2015. Normal Norman made his entrance in March. Tara is the founder of PiBoIdMo, the picture book writer's alternative to NaNoWriMo, hosted every November on her award-winning blog "Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)" at She has developed PiBoIdMo Junior for schools to teach brainstorming techniques and story structures authors utilize...that kids can use, too!

Jeff Mack has written and illustrated a long list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and early readers, including the Clueless McGee series, Good News Bad News, Hush Little Polar Bear, Look!, and most recently, Playtime?. He has also illustrated many books for other authors, including James Howe's Bunnicula and Friends series and Eve Bunting's Hurry! Hurry!. At home in Western Massachusetts, he travels both nationally and internationally visiting schools and libraries to talk with kids about creating books. Visit him at

Heidi Stemple didn’t want to be a writer when she grew up. In fact, after she graduated from college, she became a probation officer in Florida. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old that she gave in and joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published twenty books and numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children. Heidi, her two daughters, her mom, and a couple cats live in Massachusetts on a big old farm with two houses.

Victoria J. Coe has long been a fan of books, dogs, and the Boston Red Sox. Today she combines these passions as the author of the Fenway and Hattie series, written in the voice of a dog named Fenway. A teacher of creative writing, she loves to visit classrooms and share point of view activities with elementary students.

Susan Ross is the author of Kiki and Jacques (Bank Street Best Children's Book List, 2016), her debut middle grade novel about a Somali refugee girl and local Maine boy overcoming cultural challenges to find their way to friendship. Susan was born and raised in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine, and attended Brown University and NYU School of Law. She lives with her family in Westport, Ct. Susan's website is and twitter, @SusanRossAuthor. She has a CCSS Educators Guide available at and an Author Visit Brochure. Susan will be offering a free class Skype Q&A to any teacher or librarian attending the conference! 

Amy DeLuca is a two-time Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist who writes Young Adult contemporary romance. She also writes Young Adult paranormal and urban fantasy as Amy Patrick. She is the author of 5 published novels in the Hidden Saga. Amy has been writing professionally since three weeks after college graduation—which was a LONG time ago—first working as a news anchor and reporter for six different TV stations in four different states over the years, including here in Rhode Island. She was the evening news anchor at ABC 6 in Providence, where her husband John DeLuca still anchors the news. Now she writes fiction full time as well as doing freelance work as a video host and voiceover artist. She’s even narrated a few audio books. Amy has always loved to read-- when she was in middle school she read the Lord of the Rings trilogy 17 times back-to-back. She was also a bullied nerd. Are the two related? You decide. She hates shopping, loves Outlander, Game of Thrones, Marvel movies, and Coke Zero. She grew up in Mississippi and now lives in Barrington with her husband and two teenaged sons.

Megan Frazer Blakemore is the author of several middle grade and young adult novels, including, most recently, The Firefly Code. She is also a school librarian in Maine where she lives with her family.

New York Times bestselling author, Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s novel, Fish in a Tree, is an ALA Schneider Family Book Award winner, an ALA Notable Book, a Global Read Aloud Choice, a SLJ Best Book, and a Nerdy Winner. Her first novel, One for the Murphys (both published by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin), is the winner of The Tassy Walden Award, is an ABA New Voices Pick, A Nerdy Book Winner, and an Editor’s Choice Book with Scholastic Book Clubs. Lynda’s books have appeared on 33 state award lists thus far. For twelve years, she proudly directed the SCBWI-NE Whispering Pines Retreat.

Peter Johnson's fiction and poetry have received fellowships from the NEA, RI Council on the Arts, and The Academy of American Poets. His most recent novels are the middle-graders, The Life and Times of Benny Alvarez (HarperCollins, 2014) and The Amazing Adventures of John Smith Jr., aka Houdini (HC, 2012), and the YA novel, Out of Eden (namelos, 2015).

Makerspace Session:

Phyllis Humphrey is a teacher librarian at Cole Middle School in East Greenwich, RI. Phyllis has been a school librarian for 24 years, 18 of them in East Greenwich --13 years in an elementary school and 5 years at the middle school. She became interested in bringing DIY and Makerspace activities into the library environment and educated herself by going to conferences, reading professional journals, and visiting other innovation spaces. Inspired by FabNewport and Warwick Public Library’s Idea Space, Phyllis approached her principal with the idea of creating a Makerspace and convinced administration to support her application and eventual Champlin Grant Award. 

Michelle Steever is a Library Media Specialist at East Elementary School in Sharon, MA. Michelle has 15 years experience working in middle and elementary school libraries.  She is currently working in a fixed-schedule K-5 elementary library with 25 iPads and access to laptop carts. Programs and activities include offering coding activities and curriculum to K-5 students, MinecraftEDU club to fourth-grade students, LEGO WeDo Early-Robotics program to second grade students, BeeBot robots, LEGO StoryVisualizer activities, Green Screen tech, OSMOs, digital citizenship curriculum, and more!

Allison Barker is a current GSLIS student at URI in the School Library Media Program. Allison has been interested in the maker culture and STEAM learning since her undergraduate career. For the past year, she has been thoroughly investigating and exploring the scholarly and professional literature surrounding libraries and makerspaces. Along with her academic endeavors, she has been working as a graduate assistant for Media Smart Libraries, an IMLS grant-funded project designed to advance the digital and media literacy competencies for children, teens, families, and librarians in Rhode Island.

Brian Jepson is an Acquisitions Editor for O'Reilly Media who focuses on hardware, the Internet of Things, and Digital Fabrication. He's also the co-organizer of Providence Geeks, a founding member of the National Maker Faire planning and production team, and co-producer of the Rhode Island Mini Maker Faire. He's also been involved in various ways over the years with AS220, a non-profit arts center in Providence, Rhode Island. AS220 gives Rhode Island artists uncensored and unjuried forums for their work and also provides galleries, performance space, fabrication facilities, and live/work space.

FabNewport is an Innovation and Design Studio. Stop by our table to learn how to use powerful technology and materials to make (almost) anything. We teach technical, artistic, and design skills while cultivating the personal attributes required for success in life. Discover your passion through play!

Presenters are subject to change.

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