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Board of Directors

John Shableski

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John Shableski is a founding member of Reading With Pictures and is a nationally-recognized expert in the development of the graphic novel category for the publishing industry. He helped launch the Will Eisner Graphic Novel Grant program for the American Library Association and is the architect of the Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards for Pop Culture Classroom. John has been a consultant for a wide range of organizations, publishers, and events, including the Norman Rockwell Museum, Fordham University’s Teacher’s College, the New England Comic Arts in Education Conference, Reading With Pictures at Northwestern, Archie Comics, Heavy Metal Magazine, Zuiker Press, and ALA’s graphic novel programming for their annual conference. John has served as an advisory board member for Book Expo America, a jury member for Comic Con International’s Eisner Awards, and a jury member for Penn State University’s Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize. He has also created more than 500 hours of professional development programs for educators, librarians, retailers, publishers, and creators at industry trade shows, conferences, and conventions across North America.

Ronell Whitaker

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Ronell Whitaker is a high school English Curriculum Director in the Chicago area. He has over fifteen years of education experience, a majority of which included using comics in the classroom. He has presented across the country at conferences and conventions on the virtues of comics in the classroom. Ronell believes in comics, and he likes to think that comics believe in him.

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Jeff Barbanell, MEd
Director of Middle School Education

Jeff Barbanell brings 45 years of experience in hospitality, comics retail, financial services, and education to RWP’s Executive Board. Jeff pursued his bachelor’s degree at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, while spinning disks for KRLX radio from 1974-1979. As proprietor of Evergreen Inn and Images Illustrated with Kym Barbanell from 1985-1990, Jeff honed his entrepreneurial management skills in Flagstaff, Arizona. Returning to Scottsdale, Arizona, with his wife and two children in 1990, he joined and built Planned Brokerage Solutions on the foundation of his father’s insurance agency. In 2008, Jeff contributed “Shooter’s Marvelesque” to Sequart’s Teenagers From the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes. Completing a masters of elementary education in 2011, with later certification for Gifted/Talented and Career/Technical Education (2019), Jeff has created numerous comics, art and history-based lessons, and professional development programs, as well as presenting at San Diego Comic-Con, WonderCon, C2E2, and New York Comic Con. Integrating his five careers into a sixth fulfills his livelong advocacy for and research into sequential art learning, particularly in SpEd, STEM, Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), Second Language Acquisition (SLA), and Talent Development. Add Learning Management Systems (LMS) in the Global Virtual Classroom (GVC), and stir. The future looks bright!

Yaika Sabat, MSLS

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Yaika Sabat is a Senior Readers’ Advisory Librarian at Novelist and comes from a background of working with teens and adults in public libraries. As a part of NoveList’s editorial content team, she creates original content that helps connect readers with their next book. Yaika has served as a member of the Texas Library Association’s Lariat Adult Fiction Reading List and Intellectual Freedom Committees. A lifelong comics reader, she is a proponent of them as a unique medium of storytelling and believes they can be used to inspire readers. She is passionate about diverse representation in books and media. While she still loves superhero comics as they sparked her love of the medium, she reads widely. Her favorite include mythology and folklore inspired stories and all things scary. In her free time, you’ll find her watching horror movies, listening to podcasts, and relaxing with her two cats.

Tracy Edmunds, MAEd
Vice President, K-12 Education

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Tracy Edmunds, M.A. Ed., is an educator and author specializing in the use of comics and graphic novels in K-12 education. In her 12 years as an elementary teacher, she experienced first-hand the power of the comics medium in teaching and learning and now works to help educators, librarians, parents, creators, and publishers bring the power and joy of comics to all kids. Tracy currently works with DC Comics, Andrews McMeel, Teacher Created Resources, and Reading With Pictures, and served as the Chair of the Children’s jury for the 2020 Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards. You can find out more at

Kerry Freedman, PhD
Vice President, Academics

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Kerry Freedman is Professor of Art and Design Education at Northern Illinois University and Coordinator of Doctoral Programs in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Dr. Freedman is author of the book Teaching Visual Culture. She co-authored the books Postmodern Art Education: An Approach to Curriculum and Transforming Computer Technology. She edited the book Looking Back and co-edited the book Curriculum, Culture, and Art Education, which is made up of cultural histories of art education from different countries, and co-edited the International Encyclopedia of Art and Design Education. Dr. Freedman has published more than 100 articles and book chapters, including her research on comics and education, and her work has been translated into multiple languages. She has done over 200 national and international presentations and has been a Visiting Professor and Fulbright Scholar at several overseas universities. Professor Freedman has provided significant leadership through various service roles. For example, she is a past Senior Editor of Studies in Art Education, the research journal of the National Art Education Association and a World Councilor of the International Society for Education through Art, a UNESCO affiliate. Dr. Freedman has won numerous grants and awards. She is a past Illinois Higher Art Educator of the Year and a National Higher Art Educator of the Year. She has won the Manual Barkan Memorial Award for outstanding publication and the Australian Leon Jackman Award for distinguished research in art education. In 2018, she was presented with the Viktor Lowenfeld Award for excellence in scholarship and leadership, and in 2019, she was given the Edwin Ziegfeld Award for leadership in art education. Dr. Freedman is also honored to be a Distinguished Fellow of the National Art Education Association.

Betsy Gomez
Vice President, Editorial

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Betsy Gomez is the Banned Books Week Coalition coordinator and former editorial director for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending the First Amendment rights of the comics community. Gomez manages resources, programming, and editorial content for and advises CBLDF on educational and free expression matters. Gomez is the editor of CBLDF’s book about the women who changed free expression in comics, CBLDF Presents: She Changed Comics. With an extensive background in educational publishing, Gomez has worked as a content developer and editor for several companies, including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Pearson Education, among others. Gomez’s work combines her love of comics with her passion for education and the right to read.

Melissa Jacobs
Vice President, Advocacy

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Melissa Jacobs is the Director of Library Services for the NYC Department of Education/New York City School Library System. Melissa started her career as an elementary school librarian and then spent 14 years as the Coordinator for Library Services. Melissa has been named a Library Journal Mover and Shaker and has contributed to School Library Journal, Knowledge Quest, Teacher Librarian, and School Library Connection. In her spare time, she enjoys relaxing with her husband, two daughters, two orange cats, and Chiweenie. 

Katherine Kan
Vice President, Libraries

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Katharine “Kat” Kan has been reading comics since before she could read the words in the comic strips. She has worked in libraries for several decades, and added lots of comics to the library collections, for all ages. Kat also works for Brodart Books & Library Services, as the graphic novel selector. Over the past three decades, she has conducted workshops and participated in convention panels and webinars promoting comics in libraries and in classrooms. A second-generation comics fan (her father used his newspaper delivery money to buy the early Superman and Batman comics back in 1939), she raised her sons to enjoy comics, and encourages her grandsons to read them, too. She chaired the Young Adult Library Services Association task force that created the Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, and she wrote the “Graphically Speaking” graphic novel review column for Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) for more than 25 years. She also served as the first librarian Eisner Award judge.

Kuo-Yu Liang
Vice President, Global Partnerships

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Kuo-Yu Liang has spent 30+ years in the books and comics business. His first job out of school was at Central Park Bookstore in San Mateo, California. From there, the journey took him to publishing (Random House), distribution (Diamond Comics), events (New York Comic Con), and he has served on various advisory boards (including Lucasfilm and Comics For Community, Compassion & Culture) and founded a pop culture publishing consultancy (Ku Worldwide). Originally from Taiwan, he now lives in Seattle. “Having the opportunity to serve on the Reading With Pictures board is a privilege to give back to the industry that has given me so much,” says Liang.

Carrie Nelson
Vice President

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Carrie Nelson currently serves as Managing Director for Lavesson Media, a Las Vegas based consulting firm connecting businesses, government, and school districts to make a difference in education. Ms. Nelson’s career began with traditional media and educational materials where she opened over 90 new school and public libraries for Follett Learning in the Southwest. She most recently represented curriculum and coding developers in the EdTech space. Relevant educational content that bridges education with tech certifications to enable students to be workforce ready.

Alex Simmons
Vice President

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Alex Simmons is an award-winning freelance writer of plays, books, and comics; as well as a teaching artist, guest speaker and creative consultant. He’s written for Disney Books, Penguin Press, Simon and Schuster, DC Comics, and Archie Comics. Simmons is the creator of the acclaimed adventure comic book series, Blackjack, and he’s developed concepts and scripts for several animation projects. As a teaching artist Simmons has developed and taught master classes and workshops for students and educators in the US, West Indies, Africa, and Europe. He’s served on panels, and delivered lectures on children’s entertainment mediums, as well as empowering young people through the arts. Simmons founded the annual family event, Kids Comic Con, and three comic arts exhibits, which have traveled abroad. He continues to develop, and advocate for, comics and creative arts program for young people around the world.

Christina Taylor, MSIS
Vice President, Social Media

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Christina Taylor, MSIS, is a veteran educator who helps learners advance their critical thinking practice. For fourteen years, she taught high school English Language Arts in Texas public schools before leaving the classroom to broaden the impact of her efforts as a school librarian. As an educator, Taylor recognizes that ready access to myriad information sources demands that the modern educational environment be a service-oriented information workshop where users acquire and hone skills vital to life-long learning in a dynamic world. With this recognition serving as her guiding principle, Taylor has acquired professional skills both pedagogical and technical in service of creating innovative learning experiences and providing strategic support services to learners over the course of her career and professional studies. Taylor is passionate about education and mentorship, seeking out opportunities to support historically under-served populations in her community: she is a former President of the Board of Directors for Girls Rock Austin, former Chair of the Texas Maverick Graphic Novel Reading List Committee, Co-chair of the Central Texas Teen & Kids Comic Con, Webmaster & Facebook Page Administrator for Round Rock High School, and the current Social Media Manager for the Texas Library Association’s Young Adult Round Table. Learn more about her at, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Goodreads as @CETaylor05

Rachelle Cruz, PhD
Director, Engagement and Collaboration

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Rachelle Cruz is from Hayward, California. She is the author of God’s Will for Monsters (Inlandia, 2017), which won an American Book Award in 2018 and the 2016 Hillary Gravendyk Regional Poetry Prize. She was appointed the 2018-2020 Inlandia Literary Laureate. She co-edited Kuwento: Lost Things, an anthology of Philippine Myths (Carayan Press, 2015) with Melissa Sipin. Her most recent book, Experiencing Comics: An Introduction to Reading, Discussing and Creating Comics, was published in Fall 2018. Her work has appeared in As/Us, Yellow Medicine Review, The Lit Pub, The Collagist, Bone Bouquet, PANK, Muzzle Magazine, Inlandia: A Literary Journey, among others. She hosts The Blood-Jet Writing Hour with Muriel Leung. She is a Lecturer in the Creative Writing Department at the University of California, Riverside. An Emerging Voices Fellow, a Kundiman Fellow and a VONA writer, she lives and writes in Southern California.

Lee Francis, PhD
Director, Indigenous Outreach

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Dr. Lee Francis is the Founder of Native Realities, Red Planet Books and Comics, and the Indigenous Comic Con and the current Executive Director of Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. He is an award-winning performance artist and has been featured in numerous publications throughout his career. His most recent comic book, Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga, has received numerous accolades and has been previews throughout the country. His family is from the Pueblo of Laguna and he resides in Albuquerque with his wife and son.

Shveta Miller
Director, Curriculum

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Shveta Miller taught high school English Language Arts in NYC public schools and at a few colleges throughout Asia, where she honed the process of teaching students how to critically read and craft texts of all kinds, from tv sitcom scripts to graphic narratives and parodies of classic novels. Now a teacher leader and literacy specialist, she presents nationally on research-based instructional practices and coaches teachers in their classrooms and online. She was a valued professional development facilitator and partner for dozens of school districts across the country for four years, and she designed professional learning courses and resources for some of the nation’s largest K-12 companies. She currently serves a school district in Oregon as a secondary instructional coach, primarily supporting teachers with differentiating instruction for students’ assessed rates and levels. Her articles about teaching and learning have appeared on popular education sites, such as Edutopia, Cult of Pedagogy, Education Week, and Shaped: The HMH Blog. She is a contributing writer for Book Riot and the author of 5 Steps to a 5: 500 AP English Literature Questions (McGraw Hill, 3rd ed, 2021). Her new project, Hacking Graphic Novels, describes ten “hacks” for teaching with comics and graphic novels and is forthcoming from Times 10 Publications in 2021. Learn more about her at, and find her on Twitter as @ShvetaMiller

Christopher A. Preece
Director, STEM Education

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Christopher A. Preece is a Ph.D. candidate in STEM education at the University of Kentucky and a high school chemistry teacher at Berea Community High School, researching the impact of learning chemistry through comic books. Chris holds an M.A. in teaching and a B.S. in chemistry from Morehead State University. He says “Creating science comics has become a passion to engage my students and help them learn”. He is also the author of CheMystery (2017), and Fire – Salt – Slime!, which was successfully funded through Kickstarter and will be self-published in April 2020.

Susannah Richards, PhD
Director, Testing

Susannah Richards, Ph.D., is an associate professor of education at Eastern Connecticut State University where she teaches courses in English Language Arts and Children’s and Young Adult Literature. She earned a PhD in Educational Psychology/Gifted Education from the University of Connecticut where she worked with Joseph Renzulli and Sally Reis on SEM-R and other curriculum delivery models for gifted and talented learners. She was a member of the 2013 John Newbery Award Committee, 2017 Geisel Committee, and other book award committees. She writes a column about books for the National Association of Gifted Children and regularly presents on books and book-ish topics at international, national and state conferences including ILA, NCTE, AASL, NCSS and NSTA .

Carol Tilley, PhD
Director, Research

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A former school librarian, Carol Tilley (she/her) is an associate professor in the School of Information Sciences at University of Illinois. Tilley’s comics scholarship focuses on young people’s comics readership, especially in the US during the mid-20th century. Her research on Fredric Wertham was featured in the New York Times and other media outlets. She is a founding member and past-president of the Comics Studies Society, as well as a former judge for the Eisner and Ringo Awards. Find Tilley on Twitter (@anuncivilphd) and at her website,

Jana Tropper, MS CCC-SLP
Director, Literacy

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Jana Tropper, M.S. CCC-SLP, graduated from North Central College in 2007 with a bachelor of arts degree in English writing and theatre performance and from Rush University in 2010 with her master of science degree in speech-language pathology. She has been a speech-language pathologist in the Chicagoland area for ten years. She currently works with preschool through elementary age students in a public school self-contained special education program focused on social communication. She also runs a fifth grade comic book club to facilitate the knowledge and nurture the love of storytelling through sequential art. In addition to working with her students, she is the author of soon-to-be-announced projects for Epic!