Hi everyone! I am so excited because today I am talking with Vanessa Brantley-Newton! She is the author and illustrator of numerous books including BECOMING VANESSA, (one of my favorites) GRANDMA’S PURSE, as well as the and the illustrator for THE KING OF KINDERGARTEN by Derrick Barnes and MARY HAD A LITTLE GLAM written by Tammi Sauer. I am looking forward to finding out a little bit more about her today!
Hi Vanessa! Thank you for joining us today. What was your first memory as a child where you connected to a book?
As an African American born in the 60’s and raised in the 70’s I didn’t get to see myself in any children’s books. It appeared that only whites got that joy of seeing themselves and stories about them. I thought I was invisible for many years. No real shows on TV that has people that looked like me. Every once in a while Diane Carroll or, Bill Cosby (at the time), Flip Wilson and the Jackson Five. That was about it. One day one of my teachers, Ms. Russell opened up a copy of the Snowy Day, written by Ezra Jack Keats and it changed my life. It would be the very first time that I would ever get to see a beautiful brown child that looked like me. I had pink snow suit, my mom looked like his mom, even the wallpaper in his house looked like the wallpaper in our house and I felt like, for the first time, someone saw me and that I existed. I thank Ezra Jack Keats for the gift of the Snowy Day. One of my favorite books ever.
Vanessa, hearing you say you thought you were invisible breaks my heart. No child should ever have to bear that weight, or how that makes them feel. Children should feel loved and appreciated for who they are. I am so grateful for your teacher and Snowy Day. You express your reaction to the book and I want to highlight your statement… “And I felt like, for the first time, someone saw me and that I existed”. This moment of being acknowledged, of seeing someone just like you in a book is so powerful!
My follow up question then is what ways do you hope your writing will impact the lives of children?
I hope that when children see a book written and illustrated by me that they are seen. Every single one of them. I want them to know that, “I see you. In your beautiful brown skin with your afro puffs, cornrows, or locs. I see you with your beautiful hazel eyes or missing teeth. I see YOU sing your song and doing your dance with leg braces or in your wheelchair. I just want them to know that they are seen and are valuable and precious.
YES! This makes my heart sing, Vanessa! I love that your hope for children is to be seen, and for all children to be seen as they are. It is a validation that they aren’t alone, that they matter, and they are important. Children see the world as it is presented to them, which is another reason why books are so important. They can have a wondrous impact on a child’s view of the world, how the world should be, and realizing the greatness already inside them. Vanessa, thank you so much for chatting with me today. I am so glad you were inspired to write and illustrate books for children because I am such a fan!
And thank you everyone for reading. Take care and have a wonderful day!