Growing up in Newark, New Jersey during the Civil Rights Movement taught Vanessa Brantley Newton the power of art, words, and books at a very early age. During her presentation to the Paul Cuffee middle school students on October 18, Ms. Brantley Newton spoke candidly about her early childhood education and observations as a student of color. Her slide presentation and life story demonstrated how the absence or presence of diversity can shape a young person’s life.
In the masterclass following the all-school assembly, Vanessa shared her favorite illustration tools and techniques before leading a small group of students in an assignment of their own.
Recognizing how important and life-altering early childhood impressions can be, Vanessa attributes reading Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats as a defining moment in her life. This was the first time she saw a character like herself in a children’s book. She credits her parents’ influence, the diversity of her community, and the exposure to music, dance, performing and visual arts with the artist and vocalist she has become today. As an illustrator and author, Vanessa wants “all children to see their unique experiences reflected in the books they read, so they can feel the same sense of empowerment and recognition she experienced as a young reader.” Her success is evident in the popularity of her books and the numbers of awards and contracts her publications have earned.
We are grateful to Meagan Lenihan, co-coordinator of the RI Festival of Children’s Books and Authors, and to Ms. Brooke Rennie whose initiative and fundraising efforts brought Ms. Brantley Newton to Cuffee.