Serving up a Love of Literature

Santa Barbara County Education Office’s 70th Annual Breakfast with the Authors

Serving up
a Love of Literature

Santa Barbara County Education Office’s
70th Annual Breakfast with the Authors

By Leslie Dinaberg | November 10, 2022

Children’s and Young Adult authors and illustrators recently gathered for SBCEO’s 70th annual Breakfast with the Authors. From left: Bonnie Lady Lee, Andrea J. Loney, Alexis O’Neill, Greg Trine, Nikki Barthelmess, James Burks, Mary Penney Hershey, Joan Bransfield Graham, and Anita Perez Ferguson. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom
Read all of the stories in our “Schools of Thought 2022” cover here.

There are so many different philosophies about education, but one of the few things we can almost universally agree on is that a love of reading goes hand in hand with learning. With an eye (and an ear, and a belly full of quiche, fruit, and doughnuts) toward nurturing that love of literature, the Santa Barbara County Education Office hosted its annual Breakfast with the Authors this fall for the 7th year!

Students, parents, teachers, librarians, community members, and of course, children’s book authors and illustrators gathered — many in seasonal costumes as their favorite literary characters, including Greg Trine (, whose latest book is Dino Mighty: The Heist Age — to talk about writing in general and the topic of “voice” in particular.

Anita Perez Ferguson writes historical adventures for young adults. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Emphasizing the importance of having voices coming from many different cultures and many different times in history, Santa Barbara native Anita Perez Ferguson ( writes the young adult Mission Bells trilogy, which weaves together historic figures and events with exciting action. She explained that her first book, Twisted Cross, “starts in Spain in the late 1700s. Most of you in this room know that we have the Mission Santa Barbara here in our community. And there’s a whole string of missions up and down the state of California. Before those were even built, this story begins as a boy who started in Spain and ends up in jail. He made a big mistake. In those days, in certain jails and companies, when they needed more people to work on the ships that were crossing over the Atlantic, they’d go get the prisoners out of the jail. And they ended up being the workers on the ships at this time.”

This creative signage was part of the Dyslexia Project booth. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Joan Bransfield Graham ( is a fiction writer and poet. Her books for children, Splish Splash and Flicker Flash, are what she described as “concrete poems about water and light” that can be used to inspire students to write their own poetry. “I have the opportunity to use many different kinds of voices in my poems,” she explained. Her picture poem book, The Poem That Will  Not End, is a charming vehicle to teach children about poetry forms, from sonnets to limericks, conversational poems, villanelles, and more! 

“I have a love for wildlife conservation. That’s my voice. I can anthropomorphize pretty much any animal on this planet and give it a voice,” said author Bonnie Lady Lee ( She both charmed and baffled the audience as she shared the challenges of being asked to develop a storyline for the Hershey Company, despite the fact that she’s “somebody who absolutely despises chocolate!”

Lee said, “This was a really challenging subject for me. One being I absolutely just hate chocolate. Being somebody who has such a passion for not liking it gave me a different voice and I came up with telling the story of how milk chocolate is made.”

Ironically, Lee’s presentation was followed by Mary Penney Hershey (, who quipped, “I was very worried that she was gonna say something bad about the Hersheys.” Hershey caught the eye of her first editor at Random House with the title of her first book, My Big Sister Is So Bossy She Says You Can’t Read This Book. “That was for her the first hearing of my voice. And then she read the 10 pages and asked for more, and eventually she bought it.”

A young reader holding the dictionary | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Her most recent book is titled Green Eyes and Ham, which is about “two 8th-grade boys who find that they have a crush on one another. Finding my voice to become that character — I tend to write in first person — was really exciting for me. I really enjoyed it. And I hope to write more about some of the marginalized groups that need voices.”

Author Nikki Barthelmess (, who writes young adult fiction, expounded on the concept of voice. “I wanted to start by talking about how our voices are all different,” she said. “So what is voice? The perspective from which the story is coming from. So when I’m telling a story, or when I’m coming into a room, for example, it’s a lot different than anybody else in this room because I’m a different person. I’m Nikki; I’m an author. I grew up in Nevada, but I’m from California. I grew up in foster care. I’m bicultural. So all that I bring to the table, that makes me who I am.”

Children’s book writer Andrea J. Loney ( had an apt analogy for creating characters. “If you like Legos, and you buy the box, and you’ve got the box, and you see the house or whatever you want to make with the Legos, you don’t just empty it out and all the blocks fall in place. … You actually have to spread them out and play with them. … You have to work at it. It’s the same thing with writing. And that’s part of how you find the voice.”

“There’s never one voice that you write; you have to play with voice itself when you’re writing,” echoed author Alexis O’Neill (, whose books include The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey, a picture book about the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System.

Andrea J. Loney | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Animator, author, and illustrator James Burks ( shared that taking improv classes and learning magic helped him learn to become a character. “I used to work at Starbucks,” he said. “I would go take my kids to school, and I would go sit at Starbucks and sit over in the corner with my laptop and my sketchbook. And I would have these made-up conversations between a bird and a squirrel. If you saw me over there, you would probably think I was crazy. ‘Why is he making those goofy faces?’ I’m trying to find the voice of these characters that I’m creating, whether they’re birds, squirrels, or little girls.”

In addition to the featured authors, the tireless team of education activist Cheri Rae (author of the book Dyslexia-Land) and Monie DeWitt (photographer extraordinaire) were on hand to provide information for Dyslexia Awareness Month in October. For more information about their work, visit


Read all of the stories in our “Schools of Thought 2022” cover here.


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