Episode 4: How Do you Bring Your Illustrated Characters to Life?

Meet the Expert:  Vanessa Brantley-Newton

An award-winning author-illustrator, Vanessa celebrates self-love and acceptance of all cultures through her work, and hopes to inspire young readers to find their own voices.


Vanessa Brantley Newton was born during the Civil Rights movement, and attended school in Newark, NJ. She was part of a diverse, tight-knit community and learned the importance of acceptance and empowerment at early age.

Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats 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, Vanessa 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. ​

She first learned to express herself as a little girl through song. Growing up in a musical family, Vanessa’s parents taught her how to sing to help overcome her stuttering. Each night the family would gather to make music together, with her mom on piano, her dad on guitar, and Vanessa and her sister, Coy, singing the blues, gospel, spirituals, and jazz. Now whenever she illustrates, music fills the air and finds its way into her art. Learn more about Vanessa at her website: www.vanessabrantleynewton.com


Listen to Vanessa’s TED Talk “Diversity Designed by Adversity” HERE 

copyright Vanessa Brantley-Newton



SPECIAL VIDEO EDITION of the Podcast: Watch Vanessa DRAW! 



Make an Accordian drawing pad. Use it to draw your illustrations.

Practice making characters with different emotions: happy, sad, angry, smiling, etc.

Take a picture of your accorian drawing pad. With your parents permission, send it to us via email at podcast@solveitforkids.com OR tag us on our Twitter or  Instagram account @kidssolve  Vanessa would LOVE to see your illustrations.

If you send in your challenge OR just leave a comment below about the episode, you will be entered into a giveaway to win                                 a FREE copy of the book listed below.

(If you forget how to make an accordian drawing pad, see these instructions from Brightly.com)





Just Like Me  Written and Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton


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.





Book List:

Jada Jones: Rock Star  written by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist written by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by  Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Mary Had a Little Glam written by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Grandma’s Purse written and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton


Kids Activities

Video by Vanessa — How to Make a Collage  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdxdPVXhIIc

Live Illustration Example by Vanessa for the NY Times  https://www.nytimes.com/video/books/100000004950929/live-illustration-with-vanessa-brantley.html

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