Jeff Mondak

Jeff Mondak is the author of the 2016 poetry collection The Toy Box Ate My Brother, along with dozens of poems published in anthologies and magazines in eight different countries. Jeff also co-wrote all of the songs on two children’s music CDs, Mick Brady’s Triple the Pickle, and Sergio Wals’ Michael Closed the Bathroom Door.

As a tremendous fan of music, but one utterly lacking in musical ability, Jeff has been especially happy to hear his songs played on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” the Dr. Demento Show, and on lots and lots of children’s music and folks music programs. Jeff and his musician friends have staged poetry and music programs at schools and libraries throughout the United States.

Janet Riehecky

Janet Riehecky is a freelance writer for children. She published her first book, Sharing, in 1988 and since then has published 132 books for children. Her work includes both fiction and nonfiction and ranges from preschool picture books and character values to science, history, and biography for elementary-aged students. Her twenty-four volume series Dinosaurs! won the 1989 Summit Award for Best Children’s Nonfiction, and her Tasmanian Tiger was a 2008 Junior Library Guild selection. In fiction, she has done a series of fairy tale rewrites and several mystery novels.

Janet has worked as a high school English teacher, a college professor, and a children’s book editor. She is an adjunct writing professor at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois, and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Mystery Writers of America, and the Society of American Magicians.

She is a popular speaker in elementary schools where she gives a variety of talks, including The Magic of Writing, in which she uses magic tricks and illusions to illustrate the fiction writing process; Writing Magical Nonfiction, in which she uses magic tricks and illusions to illustrate the nonfiction writing process; and Dinosaur Encounter, in which she shares her collection of over 50 fossils and casts of dinosaur bones (which includes a 5′ 7″ Apatosaurus femur and an entire foot of a Tyrannosaurus) to teach how scientists learn about dinosaurs. She also has a program for young children, The Care and Feeding of Pet Dinosaurs, which is just for fun.

Janet is married and has one son. She loves to read, is active in her church, and volunteers her time with the American Baptist Church’s White Cross. She also loves dinosaurs. On a dig in western Colorado she dug up the first bone found of a brand new dinosaur, Mymoorapelta. She currently lives in Elgin, Illinois.

Holly Coop

Holly Coop resides in Joliet with her family. She is an author and artist who enjoys writing spiritual and inspirational poetry and motivational quotes.  She has self-published two books, “A Cup of Inspiration To Go Please – My Heart Runneth Over”, and “Heart Strings – Forever Wander.” Her third, “Locks of Love – A Book of Encouragement” will be released early Fall 2017.

Holly publishes a blog,, and has an Etsy shop,

Holly’s books can be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble in both hard copy and e-book and at

Brett Weiss

In 2009, Brett Weiss decided he wanted to volunteer in Kenya. A teacher in high school economics, US history, and international relations, he has a particular interest in experiencing immersion in a community where he will learn firsthand about the difficulties of the aftermath of colonialism.

Determined to ask questions and listen, he made his first trip to Dago, a small village in Western Kenya. As a teacher, his curiosity is riveted on the children and the education system. What he learns in Dago shakes his world and opens his eyes to the void that is eroding the potential success of the next generation.

Brett returned to the U.S. quite moved by his experience in Kenya, realizing that many of the children he met would never be able to get an education and escape abject poverty. This was the impetus for him to start the Bernard and Elsie Weiss Dago Scholarship Fund, named after his parents. His goal is to sponsor as many young people as he can through high school, and he sets out with the passion and sincerity that have made his program so successful.

Brett’s book implores readers to support this mission in whatever way possible. The need is enormous; the smallest token of interest or help can bring about the grandest results. He also encourages readers to take their own personal journey, asking: Is it your time to start this journey? For more information visit:

As I started to leave the classroom, the teacher came up to me and thanked me for giving the student the pen. When I asked him why the student began crying when the pen ran out of ink, the teacher explained that it was hard for these children to get pens, and the boy was worried he might never get another one. He was wondering how he would be able to continue going to school. Quote from the book – Brett Weiss

Claire Hartfield

Claire Hartfield is the author of two children’s books. Her highly acclaimed picture book, Me and Uncle Romie (Dial Books for Young Children 2002), is based on the life and art of world-renowned collage artist, Romare Bearden.

Her second book, A Few Red Drops (Clarion Books), is slated for release January 2, 2018 and is currently available for preorder. This YA nonfiction tells the story of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 and how the building tensions and conflicting interests exploded in bloodshed that sent shock waves across the nation.

In addition to her writing, Claire is a senior consultant in elementary education.

Mike Grosso

Mike Grosso is a musician and fifth-grade teacher who always keeps a guitar in his classroom. His father gave him his first lesson, and his mom taught him how to keep a steady rhythm.

Mike continues to write and record music at his home in Oak Park, Illinois, where he lives with his wife, son, and a drum set he plays much too loud.

I Am Drums is his first novel, and its accompanying soundtrack, Songs for Sam(antha), is available through many digital music outlets and streaming services.

Mollie Johanson

Mollie Johanson has loved creating and crafting cute things for as long as she can remember. She is the author of Stitch Love: Sweet Creatures Big & Small and a regular contributor to Simply Sewing Magazine, as well as a variety of blogs, books, and magazines.

Mollie lives in St. Charles, IL, and is happiest with a cup of coffee, some stitching, and her family close at hand. Visit her at

Joyce Burns Zeiss

Joyce Burns Zeiss has always wanted to be a writer. After retiring from teaching junior high school, she became a member of the Off Campus Writes Workshop in Winnetka, Illinois.

Her experiences resettling a Cambodian refugee family in 1979 and her subsequent trips to refugee camps in Africa have fueled her interest in the plight of the refugee. Her first novel, Out of the Dragon’s Mouth, (Flux 2015) is based on the true-life experiences of a fellow teacher who crossed the South China Sea in the hold of a fishing boat. To learn more, visit her website .

Carrie Worthington

Carrie Worthington became a mental health advocate after her husband and her son were both diagnosed with a mental illness. Carrie herself was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and trichotillomania. A tireless advocate dedicated to raising awareness about mental illness, Carrie became passionately involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness and helped to grow the NAMI Will-Grundy Chapter.

Besides authoring Living with Mental Illness from the Real Life Diaries Series, she has also contributed to Hello From Heaven, as well as Poetry and Prose, both from the Grief Diaries Series. She has contributed to several more books from the Grief Diaries that will be released in 2018.

Her website is her blog as she renegotiates and rebuilds her life as a widow. She is also working on a book about her struggles with grief after the passing of her husband in 2011. Her books, as well as the other Grief Diaries Series books can be purchased on Vixie Shop as well as other local bookstores.

Living with Mental Illness are true stories by ordinary people about facing challenges, living with stigma, and finding hope in life with mental illness.  Confessing struggles, fears, and hopes, the collection of heartfelt stories offers firsthand insight into the diversity of mental illness for nonclinical perspectives, and highlights the unexpected ways ordinary people find strength courage and hope even when bound by societal stigma.