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Our Team

Justin Chanda, Senior Vice President & Publisher

 

Justin Chanda joined the editorial staff at Simon & Schuster in 2005. A graduate of New York University, Justin was named publisher of the S&S Books for Young Readers imprint in 2007 and McElderry Books and Atheneum Books for Young Readers in 2009. He oversees the publication of nearly three hundred and fifty titles per year ranging from the youngest picture book to the edgiest YA. He is keenly interested in publishing books that are equal parts commercial and literary, books that make a contribution to the tradition while truly entertaining kids. Aside from having the honor of working with the best editorial staff in the industry, he also has the opportunity to edit some of its best talent, including the likes of: Neal Shusterman, Peter Brown, Seema Yasmin, The Fan Brothers, Aaron Reynolds, Michael Ian Black, Karma Wilson, Lucy Ruth Cummins, Debbie Ridpath Ohi, and Morgan Matson. Justin is also an adjunct instructor for the NYU Graduate Publishing Program.


 

Anne Zafian, Vice President & Deputy Publisher

 

Anne Zafian spent the first half of her publishing career at what was then the Time Warner Book Group—now known as Hachette—selling both adult and children’s books to every kind of domestic customer. She cut her teeth on children’s books with TW’s Little, Brown Books for Children, as well as TW’s distribution client, Hyperion Books for Children. Together these experiences fostered her love of children’s publishing, and in 2004, she joined S&S’s sales team, once again overseeing sales of both adult and children’s books, eventually managing our entire distributor sales and retail marketing team. In 2008, Anne made the move from sales to the Publisher’s office, where, as Deputy, she focuses largely on working with the Publisher and the sales, marketing, publicity, and supply chain teams to help usher our books into the world, from cradle to…NOT the grave. Working to get books into the hands of booksellers, children, parents, teachers, and librarians—and doing so with a dynamic list of books and authors—is her favorite job, ever.

 


 

Kendra Levin, Editorial Director
 
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. Visit her at KendraCoaching.com, follow her @KendraLevin, and see a complete roster of the books she’s edited here.

 

Krista Vitola, Senior Editor
 
Krista Vitola is a Senior Editor at Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. Before coming to S&S in November of 2016, Krista had been an editor at Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books for nine years. A few of the authors she is lucky to work with are Anne Bustard, Donna Gephart, Kelly Yang, Shanna Miles, Shirley Marr, Supriya Kelkar, and Stuart Gibbs.
 
If Krista could live solely in the middle grade bubble, she would, and you will find that most of her list focuses on this age range. Krista adores middle grade with a ton of heart, lyrical writing, and characters that reveal the inner kid in all of us. Some of her favorite authors are Ellen Raskin, Lauren Wolk, Soman Chainani, and Kate DiCamillo. Krista also acquires nonfiction middle grade that can be summed up as nutritious content in a candy-coated package. Her nonfiction acquisitions have ranged from cadaver dogs to gene-editing to a young readers’ adaptation of an LGBTQIA+ dictionary of lingo and colloquial phrases.
 

On weeknights, Krista is obsessed with beating her time on the New York Times mini crossword puzzle and dancing to country music while performing any necessary household chore. When Krista is not reading, she is running outdoors with her son, eating whatever delicious treats are available, and drinking red wine (most times in that order, sometimes all at once). She is a graduate of Villanova University. Follow her @Kav_Tepedino.


 

Nicole Ellul, Senior Editor
 
Nicole Ellul joined Simon & Schuster in February of 2012 after previous roles with Bloomsbury Children’s Books and the picture book publisher, Sleeping Bear Press. She has edited a variety of books including New York Times bestsellers Love & Gelato, Rachel Lynn Solomon's See You Yesterday, The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith and The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw, along with Indie Next List titles such as the space opera Sky Without Stars (Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell) and Winterwood (Shea Ernshaw), and has been overjoyed editing the critically acclaimed Jenn Bennett romances. During her editorial career, she also had the honor of working on books by the immensely talented Jodi Picoult, Philippa Gregory, and R.L. Stine. A former college volleyball player, Nicole graduated with a BA in history and English language and literature from Grand Valley University located in Grand Rapids—one of the vibrant artistic hubs in her home state of Michigan.
 

Nicole is looking for books from picture books to YA that have a storybook atmosphere and lyrical writing that feels ethereal. In middle grade and YA, she is leaning more towards light fantasy that feels commercial, and a romance in YA is a must! In picture books, it's all about the lush atmosphere and musical quality. Also, books that explore magic—especially those exploring witches/witchcraft—are welcome in all formats!


 

Celia Lee, Executive Editor
 

Celia joined Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers as Executive Editor in 2021, where she works with authors and illustrators such as Ashley Woodfolk, Whitney Gardner, Beth Ferry, and more. She previously worked at Scholastic, where she edited for their Cartwheel, Orchard, Scholastic Press, and Acorn/Branches imprints, many of which are New York Times and USA TODAY bestsellers including I Color Myself Different by Colin Kaepernick and illustrated by Eric Wilkerson, and the Press Start! series by Thomas Flintham. Books she’s worked on have also made multiple awards and best of lists, including for the Society of Illustrators, New York Public Library, Kirkus Reviews, and the American Library Association. In addition to editing, she helped start Scholastic’s employee diversity committee as well as acted as a consultant on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in the Trade and Book Clubs divisions. She also served on the CBC’s diversity committee and is a mentor for People of Color in Publishing.


 

Alexa Pastor, Senior Editor
 

Alexa Pastor enthusiastically began her career at Simon & Schuster in August of 2014. Since that time, she has edited rewarding stories across all age ranges, including bestsellers Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice, All This Time, She Gets the Girl, and #1 New York Times bestseller Five Feet Apart. She is fortunate to work with incredible authors and illustrators including Ben Clanton, Nikki Grimes, Jean Reidy, Amy Makechnie, Caroline Kusin Pritchard, Marisa Kanter, and Naomi Klein. Prior to landing her dream job, Alexa was a bookseller at Barnes and Noble, graduated summa cum laude from Villanova University (Go ‘Cats!), and completed her master’s degree in children’s and young adult publishing at Rosemont College. She is acquiring picture books, middle grade, and YA that have strong commercial hooks, led by a standout voice, and a unique approach to storytelling either in structure or trope. She is most drawn to stories with a surprising twist (thrillers welcome, but twisty picture books too!), nonfiction that elevates events and voices marginalized by history, and contemporary love stories in all their forms including swoony romance (both rom-coms and rom-drams welcome!), friendship makeups rather than breakups, and celebrating family love in every shape and form it takes. When not reading and editing, Alexa is voraciously consuming bad reality TV and Nancy Myers movies, listening to true crime podcasts, or exercising the eternal optimism that comes with being a Mets and Giants fan. You can follow her on Twitter @Alexa_Pastor926.


 

Deeba Zargarpur, Editor

 

Deeba Zargarpur joined Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and Salaam Reads in March of 2020 after previous roles with Disney Publishing Worldwide and a book packager. She has the privilege of working with talented authors and illustrators such as New York Times bestselling author A.F. Steadman, Linda Sarsour, Brittney Morris, Hanna Alkaf, Dana Mele, Kat Zhang, and Charlene Chua. Her aim is to acquire commercial books that empower young people from diverse backgrounds. As a self-taught polyglot, Deeba’s love of literature across various languages stemmed from the tales spun throughout her childhood. She is always on the hunt for stories that inspire a sense of magic and wonder, plot lines that challenge traditional assumptions about morality, and strong character arcs that redefine what it means to be the hero of your own story. Visit her at DeebaZargarpur.com, follow her on Twitter at @DeebaZargarpur, and see a complete roster of the books she’s edited here.


 

Alyza Liu, Associate Editor
 
Alyza Liu is an Associate Editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, where she is proud to have worked with authors like Neal Shusterman, Patricia MacLachlan, Cozbi A. Cabrera, Jessie Sima, Christian Robinson, The Fan Brothers, and Morgan Matson while building her own list. Prior to Simon & Schuster she studied at NYU, where she graduated magna cum laude. Her real dream is to become a Jin Yong heroine, but in the meantime she’s happy to daylight in publishing.
 
She is looking primarily for books written by marginalized authors across all age ranges and formats (excepting board books). Her taste can be best described as “your favorite guilty pleasure” and she likes to joke that she enjoys “murder or makeouts”—preferably both, ideally at the same time. As an avid fan of Asian TV, she lives for melodrama and enjoys sweeping, emotionally intense YA with complicated characters; voicey, adventurous middle grade that reminds her of Over the Garden Wall; picture books that are either funny or informative; and she is always looking for translated genre fiction from the Global South. She’s also a big fan of monsters, mean girls, and revolutionaries. Connect with her @AlyzaLiu on Twitter or find out more about Alyza’s tastes at AlyzaLiu.com/WishList.

 


 

Dainese Santos, Assistant Editor

 

An alumna of NYU’s publishing program, Dainese joined the team as an Editorial Assistant in 2019. She cares about stories that center historically underrepresented folks, particularly when those said stories are warm and joyful. Her sweet spot is contemporary romance; having been raised on rom-coms and Asian dramas, she’s a sucker for meet-cutes, crush energy, and things that are fun and frothy. Generally, she loves kids who march to the beat of their own drum, misfits who band together, and friendships that feel a lot like being in love. Like an onion or a parfait, she’s got layers—she’s a fan of both sweet, fluffy romance as well as spine-tingling horror. Superstitious by blood, she especially loves folklore rooted in the traditions of underrepresented cultures; but, as with everything else regarding her taste, there must be joy and warmth at its center.

If on the off chance you’d like to chat with her about something other than books, Dainese can talk your ear off about: being Californian (specifically, Southern Californian); K-pop; anime and manga; improv comedy podcasts; “the moviesh”; and her numerous rarepair, never-canon ships. Find her on Twitter @ChanceofDain.


 

Daniela Villegas Valle, Publishing Assistant

 

Daniela Villegas Valle joined Simon & Schuster in 2021 as a Publishing Assistant to Justin Chanda, Anne Zafian, and Denene Millner. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in both English and Spanish and a minor in creative writing from Virginia Commonwealth University, after which she completed the NYU Summer Publishing Institute.

 

Born in Mexico, raised (mostly) in Chile, and graduated in the US, she is drawn towards multicultural voices that speak about identity and adventure. Whimsical picture books, inspiring coming-of-age stories in middle grade, and empowering YA are some of her favorite things to read across genres.

 


 

Alma Gomez Martinez, Editorial Assistant
 

Alma Gomez Martinez has just recently joined Simon and Schuster in 2022, she supports Kendra Levin and Alexa Pastor. She graduated with her BA in English language and literature from Pace University and is currently a graduate student in the Publishing Program at Pace University. Alma previously worked as a page at the New York Public Library, and prior to that interned at Quarto Publishing Group. She’s a Colorado native, as well as Chicana, who hopes to provide a bigger platform for BIPOC authors and stories. Alma finds herself drawn to fun and fantasy filled stories, especially ones with diverse voices and cultures. A healthy dose of romance and magical realism also hooks her attention.