Bookworm Author Vanessa Brantley-Newton on Girlhood, Read-Alouds, and JUST LIKE ME
It's no secret that we love a good picture book. We dedicate half of our store to kid lit, and the staff almost always has a new favorite making the rounds from bookseller to bookseller. Lately, we haven't been able to stop talking about Just Like Me, written and illustrated by the wonderful Vanessa Brantley-Newton. It's a gorgeous book, with a unique concept: Instead of a traditional narrative, the book consists of a series of poems describing girls of all kinds, each matched to a vibrant illustration. It's uplifting and inclusive, and it will have readers eagerly turning the pages to find themselves—and their friends—within.
We're so excited that Vanessa is coming to Houston for our annual Bookworm Festival on February 1st, where she'll be joined by eleven other terrific authors and illustrators... and hundreds upon hundreds of eager young readers. It's going to be a great morning full of author panels and signing lines. You can pre-register for the festival now—early registration isn't required, but it helps us figure out seating and other logistics. Then, to pass the time leading up to the big day, dive into our exclusive Q&A with Vanessa below!
We love Just Like Me, and especially the fact that every girl can find herself in it. Tell us a bit about the project and your inspiration.
We are living in a time where children see so much of the wrong stuff, and while we think that it's not affecting them, it is. They see girls fight and get bullied, and women treating each other badly for entertainment. To me, this is unacceptable. I thought about the simple joys of girls being girls. Making friends and experiencing life without a camera on or a need to take selfies. Girls just living in the real moment. TV and social media have a place, but they are not everything. I simply sat down and talked with my nieces and girls at my school visits and I asked what they liked talking about and how it made them feel. We talked about what makes us different and how it really makes us the same. We talked about family, school, church, dreams, and fears. They found that they all go though some of the same things, even if they live in a different city, town, or country. One girl said, "We had some of the same experiences just like me." Hence the title of the book. I wanted every little girl to know that I see you and hear you. The struggle is real, but you are not in it alone. There are other girls just like you, and just like me.
Each girl in the book is matched to a poem—did the text or the illustrations come first? And how is illustrating a book of poems different than illustrating a prose narrative?
This was so different for me. Usually, I sketch out everything and the words are already written. This time was different. I took my time writing the poems first—really putting my heart and soul into each one. And then the girls showed up. Like each one read a poem and said, "This one is me!" It was a wonderful process. I would love to do one for boys as well. I love poetry and it was joy creating this book.
We're huge fans of your collage-y style. Can you walk us through your artistic process?
Collage is much like mediation for me. I enjoy it so much. I create my patterns or textures with plain manilla paper and cheap acrylic paints and I layer with an old credit card and a brayer. On any given Saturday when I am not working, I'm creating these papers to use in my collage pieces. I usually start with a rough sketch and I really don't commit to anything. It's like I put on my music and the sound moves my heart, mind, and soul and I begin to place textures and colors next to each other or on top of another piece of paper. It's kinda hard to explain. I don't really think about where I plan to place a piece of paper—I just lay it down wherever and if I don't like it then I paint right over it again and do something else. I find if you think too much you will over-work your piece, so I try to keep it moving and simple and fun.
As someone who has both written and illustrated many wonderful books, what do you think makes a great read-aloud?
That is an AWESOME QUESTION! It's got to be fun and it has to have a really great flow. Soothing words and prose. And, of course, awesome pictures!
Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on next?
I am working on two projects of my own with Random House and Penguin Books! I am so looking forward to sharing it soon. I can't say to much about it now, but it's gonna be awesome!
All illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton from JUST LIKE ME (Knopf Books for Young Readers).
An ode to the girl with scrapes on her knees and flowers in her hair, and every girl in between, this exquisite treasury will appeal to readers of Dear Girl and I Am Enough and have kids poring over it to find a poem that's just for them.
I am a canvas
Being painted on
By the words of my family