Illustrated: Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s Story

Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Vanessa Brantley-Newton

A fashionista at heart, Vanessa Brantley-Newton didn’’t foresee herself as a children’s book author and illustrator, especially considering her struggle with dyslexia. But nowadays, with close to fifty books under her belt, including one for actress Tori Spelling, it’s safe to say she is a success with children and adults alike.

Still sporting a touch of Jersey sass, the amiable Charlotte transplant recalls the unlikely path to her current vocation. “I was sketching fashion all through high school, but it was a really difficult profession to break into at the time, so my teachers pushed me into children’s book illustrating.” She hasn’t looked back, and took publishers’ new requirements in stride, which say that illustrators must also be able to write their own books. While dyslexia remains a difficulty, Brantley-Newton says the most difficult part about writing is “coming up with a story and letting it tell itself. Then you’ve got to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks.”

The self-professed “child at heart” with a rolling, infectious laugh explains that writing for children is actually more complex than writing for adults. “They [children] don’t need it dumbed down. You want to take them on a journey, on an adventure, with stories that are applicable to their lives and stretch their imagination.”

Brantley-Newton garners her stories from people in her life. The idea for her most recent book, “Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table,” came from her experiences with a friend who would say seemingly never-ending prayers before dinner. Almost every child can relate to enduring a devastatingly long wait time before devouring what’s on the table, especially around this time of year. When she’s feeling low on inspiration, Brantley-Newton gets a pick-me-up from a popular website. “I’m a big fan of Pinterest,” she says. “I say, ‘I’m going to find things that inspire me.’ I’ll pin in the bathroom, I’ll pin anywhere.”

While Brantley-Newton recognizes the sheer volume of available children’s books, she doesn’t view her fellow authors and illustrators as rivals, and wants to spread the same message to her readers. “I do what Vanessa does. Nobody can do what I do. That’s what I want to get out to kids: Stop measuring yourself by everybody around you.”

Brantley-Newton’s books are available online and at Barnes & Noble. For information visit www.painted-words.com/newton.html.