Illustrator Spotlight: Melissa Mwai


© Melissa Mwai

April 1, 2023

We are excited to feature illustrator Melissa Mwai, her banner design for April, and her early reader, Stacey Abrams (National Geographic Kids 2022). Enter to win a copy!

Tell us about yourself and how you came to write and illustrate for children.

I'm an author-illustrator from Maryland. I've always wanted to write for children and spent many years working in education technology. A few years ago, I joined Storyteller Academy and learned from many experienced creatives. At first, I didn't think I could illustrate but with the encouragement of many instructors, learning from my illustrator critique group, and a lot of practice, I refined my portfolio and submission package. I was also fortunate enough to do the PBChat author-illustrator mentorship with Megan and Jorge Lacera. I'm now represented by Jacqui Lipton at The Tobias Literary Agency.

© Melissa Mwai

Congratulations on your website banner design for Kidlit411. Tell us about how you approached this project.

I'm grateful to be featured this month. When I was asked to submit a banner for Kidlit411, I  knew I wanted to revise a banner I had designed a few years back for a previous Kidlit411 contest. I decided to keep the concept of birds on a tree-shaped bookshelf but enhanced the color scheme, added more texture, and included fun collage elements. I love working in mixed media when I can because its a blend of experimentation, problem-solving, and finding that hint of what brings me joy.

Congrats on your early reader book Stacey Abrams! Tell us about the book and what inspired you. 


I can't believe it's been a little over a year since the Stacey Abrams book birthday. The book covers her early life and career up until shortly after her first gubernatorial election run. As a working parent at the time, I knew that accepting the contract would be a commitment for my family, too. Writing in the evenings with kids around me would be a challenge. It meant clearing weekends and saying no to activities. Writing a story takes time, and this one was absolutely worth it.

© Melissa Mwai


Writing an early reader is challenging. The book’s specs and word count meant I had a lot of ground to cover in a 900-word biography. It’s akin to writing a haiku—with the right angle and word choice—these stories are accessible to beginner readers and yet profound.


On a personal note, Abrams’ activism inspired me even when it was difficult. Before I signed the contract, my father was hospitalized with Covid I knew he wouldn’t want me to say no to my dream, so I agreed to write the book despite his passing.

Now with copies of her early reader biography on the shelves, doing the hard work during that time of grief was worth it. Even though my father may have never gotten to read my book, hopefully, the kids find something worth inspiring them in her story.

What projects are you working on now?

© Melissa Mwai

I'm currently working on some illustrators for the Writers' Loft poetry anthology for children. This year's collection focuses on mythological creatures around the world. I can't wait to see it out this fall. For next year I'm working on an early reader series with DK covering various topics. 

What is your preferred illustration medium and process?

I mostly work digitally using Procreate on my tablet, but I add in a lot of traditional elements. I use photos I've taken from nature walks or scanned papers I've made. I also recruit my kids as helpers to pose for reference photos. When using traditional mediums, I like crayons, watercolor pencils, and acrylics. 

What are your artistic influences?

© Melissa Mwai

Nature is a big influence. I pull bits of it when I can into my pieces. I also listen to a lot of soundscapes when creating art. As for artists, I adore work by Vanessa Brantley Newton, Holly Hatam, Flavia Z Drago, and as I mentioned before Jorge Lacera. I usually have their books open near my art desk.

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

As a child, I won contest as an author-illustrator for a picture book and received an award from the governor in Albany.

Where can people find you online?

My website is I'm on IG, Twiter, and Post at @me_mwai.

Melissa H. Mwai (she/her) is a children’s author and illustrator. Her publishing debut, STACEY ABRAMS, is an early reader (National Geographic Kids, Jan ‘22) is out now. She will be a contributing author-illustrator in the Writers' Loft poetry anthology for children (Oct '23). She will also be writing three early readers coming out in March and Spring '24. She uses the initial “H” in her name to honor her family name, Hernández, representing her Afro-Puerto Rican culture.Melissa is a former middle school English teacher and also worked in Education Assessment. She is represented by Jacqui Lipton at The Tobias Literary Agency. A New York native, she now lives in Maryland with her spouse, two kids, and bunny. 


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  1. Thanks for sharing your process, during COVID and especially working during the death of your dad. I'm sorry for that loss.

  2. Great stuff ! I love it! Congratulations!🎉


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