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Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books


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Interview with author/illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton

Vanessa Brantley Newton was born during the Civil Rights movement, and attended school in Newark, NJ. Being part of a diverse, tight-knit community during such turbulent times, Vanessa learned the importance of acceptance and empowerment in shaping a young person’s life. When she read SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats, it was the first time she saw herself in a children’s book. It was a defining moment in her life, and has made her into the artist she is today. As an illustrator, she includes children of all ethnic backgrounds in her stories and artwork. She 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.

For what age audience do you write?

I create for ages 3-8 for picture books and then 8-12 for middle grade.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is happily called, GRANDMA’S PURSE, written and illustrated by me. It’s been a while. The book is with Random House Publishing and due out in Jan 2018. All about a little girl who finds goodies in her grandmothers purse.

Henry: Grandmas are also known for hiding tissues in their sleeves.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

Simply the love and relationship of grandchild and grandparent, and that we can find out a lot about a person from what they carry with them.

Henry: So true!

What aspect of illustrating and writing do you find most challenging?

It’s always been the sketching for me. Layout out a book is so very frustrating to me. Each time feels like the first, and I approach each book like it’s the first one. Yeah I know I’ve done it a couple of times, LOL!! I really don’t know why, but it’s a little difficult to wrap my head around it. I think that I over-think it too much, and the need to please OTHERS can really rattle me a bit.

As far as writing is concerned, I am dyslexic and it makes it really difficult to come to an empty page and fill it with words. I don’t spell very well and my vocab is very simple, if you will. Not a really deep one, LOL! I have my own way of expressing myself, and as a dyslexic person I have to do it in a way that makes sense to me first. I love to write poems and sing. Music helps me to tell my stories. I also learn through rhyme. Once I get something, it sticks and I am able to use it however I need. This is how most children with dyslexia learn. I really don’t consider myself a writer, but more of a storyteller.

Henry: And a hugger!

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

That we have to power to tell children stories that can uplift, scare, inspire, provoke empathy, cause them to see their beautiful selves, and to be creative — and that is a pretty power, but even more powerful, NEVER EVER LET ANYONE SPEAK FOR YOU!

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

Just recently, a book that was pulled by Scholastic called, A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON. Honestly, one of the most painful experiences of my career in children’s books. No one ever wants to be censored or have their book pulled, but this is what happened, and while it was painful, there was so much that I learned from the experience. I found my own voice and my own stories. We often like to give our characters adversity, but we will have none of it in our own very real lives. The fact is, we love adversity and hard times and frustrations put on to our characters. It’s the stuff that good books are made of. But in order to give your character that kind of magic that makes your readers care and feel about the character, you have to sometimes experience your own trials and tribulations as well. How did you come through the very hard stuff? The whole debacle made me turn in and go really deep. While very painful, much like baring a child. Nobody likes the labor pains, but holding the child makes it worth the while, and that is what this book did for me. I doubt that people would have even heard of Vanessa Brantley-Newton if this didn’t take place. Truly what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger for the journey ahead. It’s time to get busy telling children of color and children period, a different type of story. Stories that give them life.

Henry: You persisted!

What advice would you offer aspiring authors and illustrators?

Hone your talent. Really be willing to stretch yourself and put yourself in a real teachable environment. Learn all that you can from watching other illustrators and reading other authors works – people that have made it. What do you love about their creative flow? Compile that information in a notebook or sketch book. Try adding it to your work. I never had the chance to meet Erza Jack Keats, but I was student of his wonderful work. I put it in front of me and tried to copy as much as I could without copying LOL! I studied his line and how he laid out his books. Still studying him today along with Mary Blair and Fiep Westendorp and a host of others. DO YOU! You bring something special to the creative table that nobody else brings! Stop comparing your beautiful self to other people! They can’t do what you do, and you can’t do what they do. We are looking to see what you are going to share with the world.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Thoughts become things, so get busy thinking right thoughts and watch what happens.”

Henry: Nice. I like the related: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

I don’t know if this is a really strange ritual, but seriously music and comedy in my office and lots of dancing heightens the frequency and creative flow. Every single day. Live, Love, Laugh!

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Oh this is one of my favorite questions ever!!!!! Okay I would like the power of Manifestation. The ability to make it so! To think about something and see it manifest before my eyes.

Henry: I’m gonna’ manifest myself some pizza and beer right now.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

Langston Hughes because he makes me feel. Maya Angelo because she allows me to see me. Ezra Jack Keats because he’d cause me to do both.

Henry: But, I come in a close fourth, right? 🙂

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Venus because she was love and beauty.

Henry: Congratulations. You are the first author to answer that question with a goddess.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Sing Jazz and cook and laugh, laugh, laugh!

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Here lies a woman who loved God and loved people and they all felt it.

Henry: Anyone who meets you feels it! 🙂

Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

Vanessabrantleynewton.com

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us. I had the pleasure of meeting Vanessa. She’s a hugger!

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Fun at the 2016 Orange County SCBWI Agents Day

I had a great time at the 2016 Orange County Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Agents Day. There were a number of terrific presentations by agents, authors, and an editor. Sorry for the poor photo quality…

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Introductory remarks from author Francesca Rusackas, illustrator Priscilla Burris, and author Q.L. Pearce.

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Rachel Orr (agent with The Prospect Agency) presenting Voices Carry – Developing your Picture Book Voice

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Jessica Sinsheimer (agent with Sara Jane Freymann Literary) presenting how to use Twitter to research, network and become a priority for literary agents

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Annie Berger (editor with Sourcebooks Fire / Jabberwocky) presenting Writing Believable Relationships in YA and Middle Grade

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I missed the presentation by author Marily Cram Donahue because I was pitching picture books to editor Annie Berger.

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Marlene Perez (author) presenting I’m Not Normal and Maybe You Aren’t Either

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Q. L. Pearce (author) presenting on scary (but not too scary) picture books

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Kelly Sonnack (agent Andrea Brown Literary) presenting Query Letters

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Stephanie Fretwell-Hill (agent with Red Fox Literary) presenting straight from the Heart: Knowing Your Emotional Core in the Craft and Business of Writing


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Photo diary from the 2016 Los Angeles National SCBWI Conference

I had a great time attending the annual Los Angeles convention of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (#LA16SCBWI). Met writing friends, made new friends, heard inspiring speakers, and learned a lot about writing (and that I need a better phone camera). Here’s a photo journal of some of the many KidLit folks in attendance.

01JohnParra

Pura Belpre honor and Golden Kite winning author/illustrator John Parra. Check out the fancy lobby of the Biltmore Hotel.

02MarthaBrockenbough

Martha Brockenbrough, author of THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH. Anyone who can write Young Adult and Picture Books is hogging all the talent!

03ChristaDesir

BLEED LIKE ME Young Adult author Christa Desir, one of the first authors I ever interviewed on my KidLit blog.

04JustinChanda

The kind and charming Simon & Schuster publisher, Justin Chanda.

05DonTate

Ezra Jack Keats Award-winning author/illustrator of HOPE’S GIFT, Don Tate. You will note that his hairline is the inverse of mine. You complete me, Don.

06BarneySaltzberg

The multitalented author/illustrator/musician and creator of the TOUCH AND FEEEL KISSES series, with over a million copies in print! He’s not this blurry in real life.

07LisaYee

The shy and retiring SUPER HERO GIRLS author, Lisa Yee. Flat Dan Santat wasn’t in attendance, but the real one showed up eventually.

08MaryAnnFraser

The anything but abominable NO YETI YET picture book author/illustrator, Mary Ann Fraser.

09NealShusterman

New York Times bestselling novelist Neal Shusterman and SCBWI co-founder Lin Oliver.

10PaulZelinsky

Last in the alphabet, but not in our hearts, the dapper Caldecott Medalist illustrator of RAPUNZEL, Paul Zelinsky.

11BruceCoville

The animated Bruce Coville, master author of DIARY OF A MAD BROWNIE, gave an immensely useful presentation on writing.

12TimMcCanna

The ebullient picture book author of BITTY BOT, Tim McCanna.

13AntoinettePortis

My literary agency sister, the kind and funny New York Times bestselling picture book author/illustrator, my frint, Antoinette Portis.

14balconies

These look great. I’m thinking of adding some balconies to my living room.

15PatCummings

The sweet but mischievous “ghost gossiper” author/illustrator Pat Cummings.

16EditorPanel

Editor panel with (l to r): Stacey Barney (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), Kat Brzozowski (Feiwel & Friends), Alvina Ling (Little, Brown), Melissa Manlove (Chronicle), Neal Porter, Matt Ringler (Scholastic), Sara Sargent (HarperCollins), Reka Simonsen (Atheneum) and Kate Sullivan (Delacorte).

17JonKlassen

The good-natured Caldecott-winning author/illustrator of THIS IS NOT MY HAT, Jon Klassen.

18VerlaKay

Founder of SCBWI Blueboard, Verla Kay, and effervescent literary agency sister, GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKENPOX author, Erin Dealey.

19desserts

Jon Klassen recommended the place, so a friend and I had a nutritious lunch at Bottega Louis.

20MarieLu

Packing way too much writing talent and charisma in a small package was New York Times bestselling LEGEND series author, Marie Lu.

21VincentKirsch

After a few years of Facebook interaction, it was a thrill to finally meet the author/illustrator of FREDDIE & GINGERSNAP, Vincent Kirsch, even though his dog Ogbert was not present.

22AuthorPanel

Author panel with (l to r): Jessixa Bagley, John Parra, Susan Rich (editor), Barney Saltzberg & Don Tate, moderated by Laurent Linn (not shown).

23PeterBrown

Why, yes, that is CREEPY CARROTS Caldecott Honoree author/illustrator Peter Brown. Smooth pate? Check. Beard? Check. Write and draw like a boss? Still working on it.

24AgentPanel

Agent panel with (l to r): Victoria Wells Arms, Ginger Clark (Curtis Brown), Kirsten Hall (Catbird), Brooks Sherman (The Bent Agency), Erica Rand Silverman (Stimola Literary) and Tina Wexler (ICM Partners).

25SophieBlackall

Caldecott Medalist, New York Times bestseller, funny, and unjustifiably humble picture book author/illustrator, Sophie Blackall.

26AllynJohnston

Beach Lane Books publisher Allyn Johnston dishes about what she likes and dislikes in the picture book market. She’s NOT a big fan of art notes from authors.

27AshlynAnstee

My favorite photo of the conference because #TeamYeti. From l to r: Mary Ann Fraser, author/illustrator of NO YETI YET, me (hopefully future author of NEVER FEED A YETI SPAGHETTI), and adorably alliterative Ashlyn Anstee, author/illustrator of ARE WE THERE. YETI?

28MelissaManlove

Chronicle editor Melissa Manlove talks about effective narrative non-fiction.

29DeborahHalverson

Freelance editor Deborah Halverson briefs us on the state of the KidLit marketplace.

30RichardPeck

A photo of what Newbery-winning author Richard Peck looks like from outer space. This is a terrible photo of the least terrible author I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. He is a maestro!

31MarlaFrazee

And yes, that is MR. TIGER GOES WILD author/illustrator Peter Brown photobombing fellow Caldecott honoree and THE BOSS BABY author/illustrator Marla Frazee.

32ElizaWheeler

How star-studded was the attendee list? New York Times author/illustrator of MISS MAPLE SEEDS, Eliza Wheeler, was there.

34RedCarpet

San Diego SCBWI chapter attended in force. These glamorous gals won the costume contest wearing red carpet dresses. The chapter also won the Chronicle scavenger hunt, and our Susie Ghahremani was selected as one of the illustrator mentees. Not manatees. Not Mentos.

33signings

As Ferris Bueller said, “You’re still here? It’s over. Go home. Go.” It was also great seeing San Diego Chapter members and my other talented friends who I failed to photograph: Drew Daywalt, David Diaz, Bruce Hale, Jenni Holm, Dan Santat, Kelly Sonnack, and Harold Underdown.


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Orange County SCBWI Editor’s Day

I had a great time at the Orange County SCBWI Editor’s Day. Got feedback on a picture book manuscript, networked, and got to listen to some KidLit luminaries, including illustrators Jennifer Gray Olson and Rodolfo Montalvo, and several editors. One of my fellow San Diego SCBWI members won Best Picture Book. Here are some photos:

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Abrams editor, Erica Finkel, conversing about character arc

TaylorNorman

Chronicle editor, Taylor Norman, discusses delicious dialog.

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Me, picture book author, speaking about the do’s and don’ts of picture book writing.

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The audience was diverse…

JeffreySalane

Jeffrey Salane, editorial director at Little Simon Books, spoke about the picture book acquisition process.

KristineBrogno

Kristine Brogno, Chronicle Books design director, spoke about the interplay of words and images in picture books.


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Networking in Los Angeles with Fellow Authors

With my long-time friend and Pura Belpre Award-winning author/illustrator Joe Cepeda and new friend author/illustrator Jordan Novak
01CepedaNovak

With the hilarious and talented picture book author of CRANKENSTEIN and SNOOZEFEST, Samantha Berger
02Berger

Samantha Berger drinking coffee with both hands! ‪#‎caffeine‬
03BergerCaffeine

With Angie Karcher, non-fiction picture book author, and founder of RhyPiBoMo.
04Karcher

Normally, seeing Molly Schaar Idle would be the highlight of my day. But then, her son John said he loved MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES. *smiling*
05IdleJohn

With Caldecott Honor winning author/illustrator Molly Schaar Idle AND the author/illustrator of LOUISE LOVES ART, Kelly J. Light. I’m in the middle of a talent sandwich. Notice the Louise doll I’m holding.
06IdleLight

With the YA author of TWINKIE PIE, Kat Yeh and YA author Lee Wind. Notice how nicely color-coordinated they are!
07YehWind

With rising star picture book author Marcie Colleen. I am jealous of both her talent and her hair! 🙂
08Colleen

With debut picture book FARAWAY FRIENDS author/illustrator Russ Cox
09Cox

With the fully-bearded and award-winning BOY+BOT author/illustrator Dan Yaccarino

10Yaccarino


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Photos from the 2014 Los Angeles SCBWI Conference

I had an amazing time yesterday in Los Angeles shmoozing at the Los Angeles SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) conference. I got to see friends from the San Diego and Los Angeles SCBWI chapters, and rub elbows with some rockstar authors and literary agents. Here are some photos:

DanSantat

Dan Santat – hilariously funny picture book illustrator of Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz. With goatees and enhanced foreheads, we are almost the same, except that Dan is more talented and more Asian.

AaronBecker

Aaron Becker – author/illustrator of the Caldecott Honor-winning picture book Journey. At this point, I appear to only be posing with authors who’s hairline matches my own. Sadly, I didn’t have my Journey on hand for him to sign. FYI, his new PB, Voyage, is about to release. My previous interview with Aaron.

MaggieStiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater – I was just a big squeeing fangirl when I spotted the lovely and talented YA author of The Raven Boys walking by as I was chatting with Shannon Messenger and Salina Yoon.

SalinaYoon

Salina Yoon – author/illustrator of Penguin & Pincone and many other picture books. Also, inventor of the “puffin beak cozy”. My previous interview with Salina.

CindyPon

Cindy Pon – author of the YA Silver Phoenix. My previous interview with Cindy.

BruceHale

Bruce Hale – multi-published PB/MG author of Snoring Beauty, wearing his trademark hat. He’d lost his voice the night before, but it was still nice to whisper with him. My previous interview with Bruce.

MeganMcDonald

Megan McDonald – What!? Won the KidLit lottery when illustrator Pat Cummings was kind enough to introduce me to the author of the wildly successful Judy Moody series

Although I don’t have photographic evidence, I also got to say hi to Caldecott Award winner David Diaz, illustrators Lori Mitchell & Tricia Benson, YA authors Christa Desir, Jenn Bosworth, Steph Funk, Jenn Reese & Sara Wilson Etienne, MG/YA author Shannon Messenger, MG authors Kristen Kittscher & Matt Ward, PB authors Denise Vega, Cindy Jenson Elliot, Edith Hope Fine, Jennifer Gray Olson, & Jamie Swenson, and literary agents Danielle Smith, Jill Corcoran, Lara Perkins, Jen Rofe, and Laura Rennert.