I know I am echoing the sentiments of the entire KidLit TV team when I say I truly love Vanessa Brantley-Newton. In our home, and for most of her fans out in the world, she is a famous rockstar. However, she is also as down to earth and wonderful as they come.
Vanessa Brantley-Newton Biography
Vanessa Brantley-Newton is a self-taught illustrator, doll maker, and crafter who studied fashion illustration at FIT and children’s book illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She currently makes her nest in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, daughter, and a very rambunctious cat named Stripes.
We had the honor and privilege of meeting Vanessa at the Lewis Museum Book Fair in Baltimore, MD recently. After watching a lot of videos, following her on social media, watching my daughter write and send sketches back and forth, to meet her in person was a dream.
My daughter ran to hug her and immediately started talking a mile a minute like they were already dear friends. Vanessa exudes sunshine and light for all to see. She doesn’t just write and illustrate children’s books because it’s a career. She truly LOVES children as well as all their smells, giggles, and noise.
If there is one author and illustrator you need to turn on notifications for, put alerts on your phone, and pre-order every single one of her books, it’s award-winning author/illustrator and always inspiring Vanessa Brantley-Newton.
— Havana (@TheTinyDiplomat) May 5, 2018
Favorite Authored Picture Books
Grandma’s Purse by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.
This new book should be at the top of your list when grandma is in town for a visit. As most children or adults can remember, there is just something magical about a grandmother’s handbag. Grandma’s purse delightfully explores that magic.
From candy to hairpins, the undeniable bond between grandchild and grandmother is heart-warming. Only grandma’s can produce that signature color of lipstick and coin purse full of stories from around the world. As each memory is discussed, Grandma Mimi cheerfully wraps you in a virtual hug as well.
Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.
Auntie Mabel and her multiracial family and friends have gathered for their big Sunday dinner and can’t wait to dig into a delicious, mouth-watering meal. Before they can begin, Auntie Mabel starts—and doesn’t stop!—blessing everyone and every single item she sees in front of her.
I love this delectable celebration of food and family. This book is a joyous appreciation of how traditions and rituals bring us, and keep us, together. This classic book has continued to be a favorite with each new child that is born in our family.
Let Freedom Sing by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the struggle for civil rights forever changed the landscape of America. This candid children’s books illuminates the inequality that has affected Americans, young and old for generations.
With an introduction by Ruby Bridges and text to the tune of “This Little Light of Mine,” Vanessa’s rich, mixed-media illustrations create a vivid message of hope.
The text walks you through many landmark incidents, underscoring the courage of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., the Little Rock Nine, the Greensboro Four, Ruby Bridges and more. The text leaps from past to present to remind us all that inequality is not a thing of the past.
As Barack Obama’s shares his dream/inauguration speech, it is every bit as poignant to use as a mentor text for children to learn about American history as Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in the 1960s.
Favorite Illustrated Picture Books
Sasha Savvy Loves to Code by Sasha Ariel Alson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.
Did you know that just 3% of all STEM jobs in the US are held by African-American females? This wonderful book aims to encourage young girls of color to pursue science, and specifically coding as a career. Sasha is a is 10-year-old who begins her dreams of a future in STEM when she attends a computer camp. Her experiences are both challenging and exciting and you will love this fun book.
Mary Had a Little Glam by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.
It is there right in the title; this twist on the classic Mother Goose Rhyme has STYLE! A new and improved fashion-forward Mary helps some of children’s most beloved characters go glam. Once more, a book that is breaking the stereotypes that fierce and clever girls can be stylish too.
Mary’s school friends (other classic Mother Goose characters) look fantastic in their finery thanks to one of our all-time favorite illustrators Vanessa Brantley-Newton. This book will add a delightful flair to your home or classroom library.
The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levison and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.
I saved my daughter’s favorite picture book of 2017 for last. Many of you may know the story of Ruby Bridges, however, Audrey Faye Hendricks was also a tiny and fierce freedom fighter. Do you know what Ruby and Audrey have in common? They were only in 1st Grade when they took their stand.
Therefore, Audrey and Ruby both changed the world while still learning how to read. Most noteworthy in this book, learn how The Children’s March was a turning point in Civil Rights History in the United States. I highly recommend reading how the “Civil Rights Queen” made her mark on the nation.
Bonus: Do not miss the recipe for hot buttered rolls at the end. This recipe will help children embrace different cultures through food traditions as well as teach reading through cooking.
For more recommendations for books featuring strong girl protagonists:
A Night Out with Mama by Quevenzhane Wallis illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
This brand new book from academy award-winning actress Quvenzhane Wallis (12 Years a Slave, Annie).
This dynamic duo team made a gorgeous book is full of ice cream sundaes, turkey bacon smiles, and red carpet magic.
This mother daughter party at the awards show is as glamorous as it is real. Queen Quvenzhane highlights the ups and downs of being a child star and most of all, the importance of family. I guarantee you will enjoy every second of this beautiful book.
Middle Grade Novel: Like Vanessa
Don’t miss Vanessa’s cover art of Like Vanessa, a middle grade novel from break out star in 2018 Tami Charles.
Like Vanessa tells the very relatable tale of a girl who desperately wants to be just like her role model. In this semi-autobiographical debut novel, main character Vanessa Martin’s reality is heartbreaking. She lives with her family in public housing in Newark, New Jersey.
Far away, but not too far to cast its magic spell, is the glamorous Miss America stage.
Meanwhile, as Vanessa struggles to remember her mother, she is the sole caretaker for her grandfather dealing with addiction and her own battle with self-confidence.
In the midst of her struggle, Vanessa meets a new teacher at school. This teacher takes Vanessa under her wing. Furthermore, she convinces her to enter the beauty pageant she coordinates for the student.
Her worldview would be forever changed. At first, Vanessa’s expectations are low, since she has been told her whole life she’s “dark black” and “beautifully plump.”
Read on for my full book review for Like Vanessa.
Other Books Written/Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
- My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay
- The Hula- Hoopin’ Queen
- Early Sunday Morning
- We Shall Overcome
- Drum City
- Think Big
- Every Little Thing
- Tony and Lauren Dungy Ready-to-Reads
Bonus: Rhymers Are Readers Book Club
Before you run off to purchase or request all of Vanessa Brantley- Newton’s books from the library, watch the highlight reel of the “Rhymers are Readers #37books” book club by Havana (aka The Tiny Diplomat) reading One Love by Cedella Marley and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton this month.
— Havana (@TheTinyDiplomat) May 14, 2018