Juneteenth Banned Books and Literary Festival

events and news

Please join Shawn Pryor, Mariama Lockington, and Rachel Elliott at the Juneteenth Banned Books & Literacy Festival!

FRIDAY June 16th: Join from anywhere! A virtual panel of scholars will discuss literacy and inclusion in K-12 schools

SATURDAY, June 17th: Join us at the University of Kentucky’s Cornerstone Building at 401 S. Limestone in Lexington, KY! Saturday’s program will include youth poet Klitan Adedeji, an author panel, a book signing, and a series of banned book READ IN workshops. Books will be for sale onsite, and a pizza lunch will be provided.

The festival is free with registration, and you can register and read more details here.

It’s OK to Draw Houses on Fire


Last week, I did an internet search for photos of houses on fire, and drew them in colored pencil. One of my new drawing habits is to think of a word or phrase, like “giant skeleton” or “kangaroo resting” or “emotional bird”, do an online image search, and draw from the photos for about twenty minutes. Sometimes I put them on instagram. Sometimes it’s an enjoyable break, a way to fuel my curiosity and get new ideas. This time, I was feeling emotional about some anti-LGBTQ legislation in the Kentucky state legislature. I scribbled really hard with the pencils.

The Real Riley Mayes is a Sid Fleischman Humor Award Honor Book

events and news

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators held their virtual Golden Kite Gala on February 24, 2023. THE REAL RILEY MAYES was selected as an Honor Book for the Sid Fleischman Humor Award. SCBWI will be making donations to the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and Oklahomans for Equality. FREDDIE VS THE FAMILY CURSE by Tracy Badua was selected as the Sid Fleischman Humor Award Winner. You can see her fantastic speech, and all the other winners, here: https://www.scbwi.org/golden-kite-gala-2023/

It’s a gigantic joy to have RILEY recognized for her humor. In the book, Riley ‘s own jokes usually fall flat, but she loves a comedian with all her spirit. In reviews, folks mention bullying & difficult conversations around LGBTQ issues- these aren’t the focus of the book, they’re more like an inevitable bug in Riley’s life. When readers imagine books with those events in the pages, they may imagine serious books. I wanted to make this a funny book. Why? Because against the straightness of this world, the experience of discovering you’re queer (and embracing and conveying that queerness throughout your life) has its hilarious moments.

The Making of The Real Riley Mayes: Feedback and Revision

the making of "The Real Riley Mayes"

Hello! This is the third of four blog posts about the making of THE REAL RILEY MAYES, a graphic novel for kids. The first post focuses on inventing a character, the second post on research, and all three touch on revision- this post is all about it!

All writers revise their writing, whether it’s a novel, a comic, song lyrics, or a joke. If you think about the word: RE-VISION, it means “to look over again.” When you look at something you wrote from a new perspective, you might decide to make big changes. So how DO see your writing from a new perspective?

“The Real Riley Mayes” is a Stonewall Honor Book

events and news

I’m overwhelmed (in the BEST way) to learn “The Real Riley Mayes” is a Stonewall Honor Book in Children’s & Young Adult Literature! Huge thanks to the American Library Association, The ALA’s Rainbow Round Table, Donna Bray of Balzer + Bray, Susan Hawk of Upstart Crow Literary, my family, friends, and loving partner Carol for all the support– and thanks to YOU for supporting LGBTQ+ books for young readers!

Once I get time to make a graphic of all the honorees / winners book covers, I’ll put it here. 🙂 Meanwhile, check out all the winners, and resources from ALA’s Rainbow Round Table at https://www.ala.org/rt/rrt

Free LGBTQ+ Reading Discussion Guides for THE REAL RILEY MAYES

resources for teachers

Have you read THE REAL RILEY MAYES? Are you a big fan of secret codes, parallel cat universes, and dude-ish girls who act out humorous death scenes? Do you love graphic novels for kids with humor and heart? Do you want to discuss LGBTQ+ books with a group of kid-readers, but don’t know how to go about it best? The fine folks at HarperCollins made a free downlaodable reading guide that’s perfect for you!

School Visits and Workshops

events and news, resources for teachers, teaching with comics

Do you love connecting kids with creators? That’s fantastic, because I love helping creative kids put their ideas into words and pictures! I’ve taught classes in comic making and diary comics at Lexington’s Living Arts and Science Center, and I’ve taught workshops through Kentucky Arts and Humanities. During the pandemic, I also led a weekly drawing hangout for kids for a year and a half, and guest-taught at Homeschool Co-op 2020. Workshop activities include: playing games like “Animal + Emotion + Occupation” or “Ghostwriter”, making four-panel comics, or creating a class-wide zine. Check out the School Visit and Workshop flyer below! Then email re@rachelelliott.me or use the contact form in the ABOUT page.

The Making of THE REAL RILEY MAYES: Research

the making of "The Real Riley Mayes"

Hello! This is the second of four blog posts about the making of THE REAL RILEY MAYES, a graphic novel for kids. This post focuses on inventing a character. Read the first post here.

Do you remember the first time you were so intrigued by someone, you just had to find out more about them? At 10 years old, I remember getting interested in short biographies to find out more about well known people: What were they like when they were kids? How did they grow up? What were their likes and dislikes? How did they become so AMAZING?

In the book THE REAL RILEY MAYES, Riley is searching for new friends… but she’s also searching for information about her favorite TV comedian, Joy Powers. Aaron helps her surf the web, but they don’t find an email or mailing address for fan mail. Instead, they find an intimidating photo gallery of her thirteen trips to the White House. Riley’s research into Joy Powers’s life is sometimes thrilling, sometimes daunting.

can you tell which panel was inspired by this photo by Pete Souza?

Artists and illustrators also do research to make better stories. I’d like to share with you some items I found through research. Drag the bar on each photo to reveal the research that inspired various pages in THE REAL RILEY MAYES!

Teaching with Comics: Outlining a Presentation

teaching with comics

Today in my Writing Comics class at the University of Kentucky, we used comic making as a way to plan a short presentation. Each student has read a graphic novel of their choice, and they are planning a 3-minute talk about the book, the maker, and some specific comic-making decisions the maker made.

We do a lot of freewriting in this class, but it’s rarely text-only. Instead, I tell everyone to grab a sheet of blank paper or graph paper and draw 4 panels. So it made sense to outline our talks this way, too. We drew six panels, imagining each panel as 30 seconds of our talk, and went to work drawing and writing ideas.

The Making of THE REAL RILEY MAYES: Inventing a Character

the making of "The Real Riley Mayes"

Hello! This is the first of four blog posts about the making of THE REAL RILEY MAYES, a graphic novel for kids. This post focuses on inventing a character.

In the opening pages of THE REAL RILEY MAYES, Riley doodles her favorite comedian on her homework, suggests off-the-wall football plays at recess, and stabs herself with a marker in protest during class. To the reader, her character emerges quickly. But it actually took months and years to create Riley.