Lifting Voices: Books Like Us: The Power of Seeing Yourself Reflected in a Book

 In Lifting Voices

Wednesday, February 17th, 1:00pm CST

Simon & Schuster editors and authors from the Denene Millner Books and Salaam Reads imprint share the moment when they were able to connect with a character that reflected their own personal narrative. Seeing themselves reflected in a book had a powerful impact on their sense of self and shaped the editors and writers they would later become. Moderated by Kendra Levin, Editorial Director, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

A Certificate of Attendance will be issued to those who attend this webinar. A recording will be posted to for those who cannot participate in the live session.


J. Elle


J. Elle was born in Houston, Texas, and is a first-generation college student with a bachelor’s in journalism and MA in educational administration and human development. An advocate for marginalized voices in both publishing and her community, J. Elle’s passion for empowering youth dates back to her first career in education. She’s worked as a preschool director, middle school teacher, and high school creative writing mentor. In her spare time, she volunteers at an alternative school, provides feedback for aspiring writers, loves on her three littles, and cooks up dishes true to her Texas and Louisiana roots. Wings of Ebony is her first novel.

Denene Millner

VP & Publisher at Denene Millner Books

Denene Millner is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning journalist, and director of the Denene Millner Books imprint. She has written thirty books for adults, teens, and children, among them Around the Way Girl, a memoir with actress Taraji P. Henson, and Early Sunday Morning, a children’s picture book. She is also the founder of, a critically acclaimed blog that examines the intersection of parenting and race, and the host of Speakeasy with Denene, a podcast produced by Georgia Public Broadcasting. Denene lives in Atlanta with her two daughters and their adorable Goldendoodle, Teddy.

Hena Khan


Hena Khan is a Pakistani American writer. She is the author of the middle-grade novels Amina’s Voice, Amina’s Song, and More to the Story and picture books Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, Under My Hijab, and It’s Ramadan, Curious George, among others. Hena lives in her hometown of Rockville, Maryland, with her basketball-loving family. You can learn more about Hena and her books by visiting her website at or connecting with her @HenaKhanBooks. Check out Mackin’s author interview with Hena.

Deeba Zargarpur

Editor at Salaam Reads

Deeba Zargarpur enthusiastically joined Simon & Schuster in March 2020. A graduate of Drexel University, Deeba began her editorial career at Disney-Hyperion, where she worked on both middle grade and young adult titles. Then, she took a detour into book packaging, where she created and edited a wide range of children’s and adult literature. Her aim is to acquire commercial books that empower young people from diverse backgrounds. Follow Deeba on Twitter and Instagram at @deebazargarpur.

Kendra Levin – Moderator

Editorial Director at Simon & Schuster

Kendra Levin joined Simon & Schuster as Editorial Director of Books for Young Readers in 2019. She began her career at Scholastic, then spent fourteen years at Viking Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, where she edited a wide range of children’s literature including the National Book Award longlisted New York Times bestseller SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson, New York Times bestsellers Girls Who Code by Reshma Saujani and Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, Indie Bestsellers Lovely War by Julie Berry and Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen, and many others. Her books have received such awards as the Printz Honor (The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry), the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award (Don’t Throw It to Mo! by David A. Adler), the Society of Illustrators Gold Medal (The Lost House by B.B. Cronin), and more. She is drawn to editing books for all ages that empower young people and that transport readers deep into an under-explored world, subculture, mythology, or time period. She loves form-challenging fiction of all genres, and has a weakness for stories of true love and for puns—the worse, the better. A regular contributor to Psychology Today, Kendra has been moonlighting as a certified life coach since 2008 and is the author of self-help book The Hero Is You.

Kia Heise, Ph.D. – Host

Professional Learning Specialist

Kia Heise, Ph.D., Professional Learning Specialist, earned her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Minnesota. From 2008-2020, she taught Sociology courses at the University of Minnesota, Normandale Community College, California State University-Los Angeles, Augsburg University, Metropolitan State University, and Inver Hills Community College. Her teaching focused on helping students understand and alleviate social inequalities. She and her husband Chris wrote and illustrated the picture book, Little Sock. Kia brings an equity and sociological perspective to our work.

Kia Heise