by Vanessa Brantley Newton (from 2014)

When I was going to school, I attended a community school that had been created by the parents and local writers, artist, musicians, and poets. It was a special school because we could not go to white schools. We had some of the best teachers ever! One day, I met this wonderful teacher named Miss Russell. Miss Russell had the biggest, orangest afro I had ever seen in my whole entire life. It looked like a cloud. She wore the shortest dresses and the coolest shoes. I loved Miss Russell. Once she set me on her lap and shared a beautiful book that has stayed with me all these years. It was about a young boy who wore a red snow suit and lived in the hood as far as I was concerned, LOL! The thing that stood out about this boy was that he was brown just like me!

He was beautiful!! His mom and dad looked just like my parents. Even the wallpaper looked like the wallpaper in my own house. I was excited and thrilled. Surely the person was who created this book must have been watching me from his studio window.  The book left me feeling some kind of way. It conveyed all my feelings and thoughts through its beautiful, colorful pictures and collage. I couldn’t remember all the words to the story, for you see I am dyslexic. There was nobody who really understood what that was. The words didn’t make sense to me but the pictures told me the story.

Everybody is now talking about diversity in children’s books. In 1963 there weren’t many books that had a black child as a main character, and when they were drawn in children’s books of old, black people were drawn very cruelly and just plain ugly. The book moved me so because it would be the first time I would see a black child that looked like me, dressed like me…might have even been me, LOL.

I loved Peter—he was my little brother in my head. Peter was beautifully illustrated and I related to his story because I had experienced the same thing. Countless other children experienced the same thing. Many years would pass and I would end up in a Barnes and Noble looking for picture books to inspire me as I began to illustrate children’s books myself. I came across “The Snowy Day”.


Now as I told you, I am dyslexic. Reading for me sometimes can be a struggle. The words seem to dance on the page. Numbers seem to move and float around. I push myself constantly to read out loud, and while I make it look effortless and fun, it is a struggle for me still. I took “The Snowy Day” and sat on the floor of B&N and I read it through tears. Every wonderful and magnificent word.

Nessa Cutout

Finally, words and pictures came together. Comforting memories from the first time that the book was read to me spilled over like warm beach waves. I looked for books written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. I began to do my own study on his work. I copied the man. I wanted to somehow do for other children what this awesome man had done for me. Ezra Jack Keats made me feel so special because he thought that I should have been in a children’s book all along. I wasn’t an afterthought!

The Singing 2

It is important that not only Black, White, Chinese or Indian children be seen in picture books, but that all children see themselves in picture books. That all children get to experience another culture so that their minds broaden. Diversity is needed if we are going to grow as writers and illustrators. I like to call myself “The Multicultural Illustrator”. It is reflected in my work. I come from a very blended background—African American, Asian, European, and Jewish decent—it’s all in there. So if you are thinking that diversity is not important, take it from a little brown girl who was effected by someone’s beautiful pictures.


School girl talk


Once Upon A Time, a little girl wished to be an artist. So, she took her fantastic box of Crayola crayons and drew on the sides of her mother’s clean white stove and white walls. When her mother prepared dinner that night, the crayons melted in a beautiful puddle of waxy deliciousness. She was thrilled! Her parents? Not so much. They made that almost-famous artist get some soap and water and remove and clean up her fantastic masterpiece. Her mom and dad got her a pad of paper and she has been drawing ever since. Vanessa is agented by She lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, daughter and a friendly cat named Stripes. Visit her at

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