Kicking off our Author/Illustrator Spotlight for 2019 is Vanessa Brantley-Newton, author & illustrator of recently released picture book
(Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, January 2019)! Check out the interview below where Vanessa talks about grandparent relationships, memories of her own grandmother, and her process in creating her latest work.
What inspired you to write
I just love Grandmas! They are everything, and that most children who are blessed to have grandparents who come to visit or live with them is something so very special. "That's my mommy's mommy or my dad's mom!" Just a child wrapping there little heads around that relationship is so interesting. Grandmas can be a mystery to a child, especially one with a handbag. Down south we call them purses or pocketbooks and there was so much awesomeness to find inside of one. My Grandma Bertha was one amazing woman. She loved to dress up and she always had a pocketbook with her. Usually one with tapestry on the front or maybe even a shiny black patent leather one, and just hearing it open and close made my heart skip a beat. I was always going through her purse, and she would let me from time to time when I asked. I felt like I was going on a magical treasure hunt! Would I find candy or pictures of family members? Maybe a tiny Bible or a bottle of perfume or maybe some lipstick I could put on just like she did? I knew I would find some kind of surprise every time I looked inside, and I just wanted to share that with children.
Grandparents are not just old people. They can be characters too.
Did you encounter any unexpected challenges or interesting moments while writing this book? Tell us about it.
Oh my goodness did I. I didn't write this book to be trendy or anything of the sort. I purely wrote this out of love for my memories of my relationship with Ms. Bertha. I cried a few times and still get full when I read certain parts of the book like "Yes I use my smell-good so you know I was here even after I go home." It speaks to life and being a fragrance and then being the smell that lingers after one passes from this life. When I lost my mom the first thing I ran to do was to smell her clothes. I didn't want to forget what her essence smelled like, and it was the same for my Grandma. I wanted to bury my nose into that handbag of her's just so that I could remember what she smelled like. Another moment was when Grandma Mimi and the little are looking at the pictures. Pictures in my family are something so very precious. The sepia tone images of the 1920's and 30's. The scalloped edges of old Polaroids in faded black and white still excites me and thrills me to my very soul. Seeing old relatives and seeing grandma when she was young or my mom when she was a little girl was magical. They instantly give me life!
What was your illustration process like for
I really had fun creating the images for this book! The illustrations came before the words. Sometimes it happens this way when I write. I had so many images in my head of me with her when I was a child and I wanted to share that with the readers. Fabric of the 60's and 70's helped me with my collage process. I work in Corel Painter and Adobe Photoshop, and I go back and forth between the two. I hand draw my character and then bring them into Photoshop to size and then they’re finished in Corel and then I collage them in Photoshop again. I am a retro girl of sorts. I love anything from the late 50's and 60's as far as style, color and pattern, and I like putting that into my illustrations. Playing with fashion is something I do in every book that I illustrate. I loved dressing Mimi. I wanted her and the little girl to be stylish and fresh! Even down to the furniture. I wanted to make that interesting as well. Something that everyone would enjoy looking at over and over again, always finding something new with each reading of the book.
What are some things you would like readers to take away from this story?
The joy and preciousness of the grandparent and grandchild relationship. Grandparents can be really interesting and fun!
That you don't need TV or iPads, bells or whistle to have a fun time. Sometimes fun can be quiet and sweet and simply found in ladies handbags.
And lastly, we have so many names for Grandma! Mimi, Ginny, G Ma, Gigi, Glam Ma and the list goes on and on and on. I want to hear children talk about what they call their own grandmas!