Author/Illustrator Spotlight: Vanessa Brantley-Newton

1. What inspired you to write Grandma’s Purse?

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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.

2. 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!

Another Kind of Home: Black Hair Care & Transracial Adoption

By Mariama J. Lockington

In 2009 I was asked sit on a panel of black adoptees and address an audience of current and prospective adoptive parents. The audience was primarily white, a mixture of straight and queer couples who crowded into a little room off Market Street in San Francisco to hear what we had to say. We’d been tasked to talk about our experiences growing up as black kids in white families and offer our perspective. I came armed with my story and a bulleted list of advice, but found quickly that what the majority of the room wanted from me was not my advice, but rather my validation. As the Q & A began my fellow panelists and I were thrown a series of declarative statements:

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“But things have changed since you were growing up in the 80s. I don’t think our daughter, who is in preschool, is facing any racism yet. She’s still too young.”

“My partner and I have pretty much mastered doing our daughter’s curly hair. We even have black people stop us to tell us how good it looks. I don’t think we need any help in this area.”

This was The Bay Area—a progressive bubble that prides itself on inclusion and acceptance. Why did these statements feel like erasures? Why did it feel like the room wanted my stamp of approval that their kids wouldn’t struggle as we had with racism and identity? The comment about hair was especially triggering.

Did they understand that black hair care is more than just “mastering” a specific technique, but about their daughter’s connection to community, resistance, and pride?

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I began writing what would become FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME shortly after sitting on this panel. I wanted to write an #ownvoices story about a transracially adopted black girl who is full of questions and who belongs everywhere and nowhere all at once. I wanted to offer a nuanced story about growing up black in primarily white spaces, and thus, my main character Makeda was born. In the novel, Makeda wrestles with various aspects of her identity, and often compares her curly hair to the straight, brown hair of her adoptive big sister, Eve. Including Makeda’s hair journey in the book was important because for many transracial adoptees hair is a source of deep confusion, trauma, and grief. It shapes the way we interact with the world, the way the world interacts with us. It’s how we learn early on that we are in fact different than our white peers and family members— even when our families assert a kind of colorblindness.

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I have had locs off and on for my whole life. I’ve also had cornrows, micro braids, a shaved head, an afro, but as an adult I finally settled on the batch of locs I now wear and take great pride in. But getting to this point was a struggle. My adoptive mother did her best to take care of my hair as a child, learning how to do styles herself or occasionally venturing into black hair salons to have it done for me. And while I am appreciative of the effort she made, I never knew how to communicate to her how vital the physical space of a black hair salon was to me, how important having a black woman consistently do my hair was. How in a black woman’s hands my hair wasn’t “difficult,” “impossibly tangled,” or “unruly” — but normal.

I wish I could say I’d engaged with the couple who made the comment about their daughter’s hair, but in the moment I chose not to. I knew that they had made up their minds: they knew everything about their black daughter’s hair and they weren’t looking for advice. And maybe they didn’t need my perspective, maybe she grew up and had an entirely different experience with her hair than I did. After all, the transracial adoptee experience is not monolithic. But for Makeda, and for myself, hair care remains an ongoing reckoning, a source of both pain, connection, and pride. It wasn’t about my mother’s ability to do my hair perfectly, so that it passed some stamp of approval from other black people. It was about being immersed in and belonging to a black community— about seeing myself, seeing my beauty reflected and validated in others around me. It was about reclaiming some small part of what I’d lost in the adoption process— a mirror, a reflection of another kind of home.

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Mariama J. Lockington is an adoptee, writer, and nonprofit educator. She has been telling stories and making her own books since the second grade, when she wore short-alls and flower leggings every day to school. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and journals, including Buzzfeed News Reader, and she is the author of the poetry chapbook The Lucky Daughter. Mariama holds a Masters in Education from Lesley University and Masters in Fine Arts in Poetry from San Francisco State University. She lives in Lexington, KY with her partner and dapple haired dachshund, Henry. For Black Girls Like Me is her debut novel.

MCCBD 2019 Feature: Multicultural Travel Adventure Books

The Children’s Book Council is excited to partner again with the team of Multicultural Children’s Book Day to celebrate diverse books all month long! Throughout January, 10 authors will be featured on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day blog where they have created lists of diverse books ranging from picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels under a variety of topics. Check our space for previews of these lists and links to the see the full lists and access the book giveaways on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day site.

Please welcome Lisa Travis today to #ReadYourWorld Book Jam 2019! The Multicultural Children’s Book Day blog is giving away a book bundle of five Pack-n-Go Girls books co-authored by Lisa. Please click the link below for the full list to access the Rafflecopter giveaway.


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Mystery of the Troubled Toucan by Lisa Travis; Illustrated by Adam TurnerPack-n-Go Girls early chapter book adventures are packed with spooky mysteries, international friendships, and lots of fun and easy multicultural learning. In this first book of the Brazil series, nine-year-old Sofia Diaz from Miami explores the steamy Amazon rainforest with her new Brazilian friend, Júlia Santos. Crocodiles swim in the dark waters. Spiders scurry up the twisted tree trunks. And a crazy toucan screeches a warning. The girls race against time to solve the mystery and save one of the Amazon’s rare and beloved animals. Meet other Pack-n-Go Girls in Austria, Mexico, Thailand, and Australia. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]


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My Heart is a Compass by Deborah Marcero

A beautifully illustrated book for children 4-7 is about a young girl who wants to be a trailblazer. She heads on an imaginary adventure to find something for show and tell and learns that the journey is what is most special. [picture book, ages 4 and up]



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Crime Travelers series by Paul Aertker
These action-packed books for middle grades build global awareness amidst suspense, action, and mystery. Author Paul Aertker writes, “This middle school series is set in international locales because travel has made me feel alive and given me an insatiable curiosity to learn.” Nothing like travel (or traveling through a book) to break down cultural barriers … [middle grade, ages 9 and up]


Click here for the full list and giveaway.

MCCBD 2019 Feature: LGBTQIA+ Books Bridging the Gap of the “Other”

The Children’s Book Council is excited to partner again with the team of Multicultural Children’s Book Day to celebrate diverse books all month long! Throughout January, 10 authors will be featured on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day blog where they have created lists of diverse books ranging from picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels under a variety of topics. Check our space for previews of these lists and links to the see the full lists and access the book giveaways on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day site.

Please welcome e.E. Charlton-Trujillo today to #ReadYourWorld Book Jam 2019! The Multicultural Children’s Book Day blog is giving away 3 galleys of e.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s new book, Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution. Please click the link below for the full list to access the Rafflecopter giveaway.




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Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

More trouble at school and home, a girlfriend who’s moved away, and the discovery of a letter from her late soldier sister, sends Angie on an RV road trip with the last people she would have expected. What ensues is a revolution to reclaim who Angie is! [young adult, ages 14 and up]



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Anger Is Not A Gift by Mark Oshiro

Six years earlier, Moss Jeffries lost his father to police violence. While struggling with self-doubt and panic attacks, his family, friends and boyfriend, Javier, anchor him. But as a new year begins at West Oakland High, he and his friends are targeted by a homophobic resource officer. As tensions rise, Moss has to decide if anger truly is a gift – one that could help him rise against injustice. [young adult, ages 14 and up]



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Darius The Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Visiting Iran for the first time with his family, bi-racial Darius Kellner faces the same insecurities of not fitting in that plagued him in America. These feelings may be even stronger in Iran, but meeting Sohrab allows Darius to begin to see himself beyond the haze of depression and start to love who he is. [young adult, ages 12 and up]



Click here for the full list and giveaway.

MCCBD 2019 Feature: Magical LGBTQ Books

The Children’s Book Council is excited to partner again with the team of Multicultural Children’s Book Day to celebrate diverse books all month long! Throughout January, 10 authors will be featured on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day blog where they have created lists of diverse books ranging from picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels under a variety of topics. Check our space for previews of these lists and links to the see the full lists and access the book giveaways on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day site.

Please welcome Amy Rose Capetta today to #ReadYourWorld Book Jam 2019! The Multicultural Children’s Book Day blog is giving away 3 galleys of Amy Rose Capetta’s new book, The Lost Coast. Please click the link below for the full list to access the Rafflecopter giveaway.



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The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta

Danny is drawn to the redwoods of Northern California when a group of queer teen witches cast a spell—because, as it turns out, she’s witchy too, and they believe she can find their lost friend, Imogen. But first, Danny finds a boy with a redwood branch through his heart. Something is very wrong amidst the trees and fog of the Lost Coast, and whatever it is, it can kill. This book is a magical murder mystery, a multi-layered queer love story, and an ode to finding your fellow weirdos. [young adult, ages 12 and up]



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Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

I couldn’t possibly make a list like this without a book by McLemore, the queen of YA magical realism! All of her books are gorgeously wrought, and this one might be my favorite. The Nomeolvides girls—all five cousins are queer—tend a magical garden and the wild longings of their own hearts. Layers of history, family, and deeply rooted magic make this a standout novel; it also includes a wonderful genderqueer secondary character. [young adult, ages 12 and up]



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Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Alex has magic—but she doesn’t always want to. An attempt to get rid of her power sends her spinning into the world of Los Lagos, where she needs to save her family. Moving from Brooklyn to a magical landscape gives the story appeal to both contemporary and fantasy readers. And the MC is a powerful bi bruja—need I say more? [young adult, ages 14 and up]


Click here for the full list and book giveaway

MCCBD 2019 Feature: The “Kids Get It” list of big topic books done with unusual grace

The Children’s Book Council is excited to partner again with the team of Multicultural Children’s Book Day to celebrate diverse books all month long! Throughout January, 10 authors will be featured on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day blog where they have created lists of diverse books ranging from picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels under a variety of topics. Check our space for previews of these lists and links to the see the full lists and access the book giveaways on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day site.

Please welcome Katie Yamasaki today to #ReadYourWorld Book Jam 2019! The Multicultural Children’s Book Day blog is giving away 5 copies of Katie Yamasaki’s picture book, Fish for Jimmy. Please click the link below for the full list to access the Rafflecopter giveaway.


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Wings by Christoper Myers

Wings by Christoper Myers is one of my top books of all time. The expressive, bold collages tell a story of vulnerability, difference and learning to be brave. In 14 years of reading this book to my art classes, the quiet, poetic nature of the prose stops kids in their tracks as they find themselves relating to every kid in the book. [picture book, ages 4 and up]



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The Secret River by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon

The art in this book is as surreal as it is breathtaking and gives the young reader credit that they can navigate this unique and poignant space where imagination, adventure, fear, and faith all overlap. [picture book, ages 4 and up]



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Bird by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Shadra Strickland

This stunningly beautiful book shows how one young child copes with grief and the stress of his brother’s addiction through his art. The main character’s voice is immediately relatable and again, gives the reader credit that no matter their own home circumstances, they will be able to relate to the narrator through the bigger theme of resiliency. [picture book, ages 9 and up]


Click here for the full list and book giveaway.

MCCBD 2019 Feature: Books that Build Empathy About Immigration

The Children’s Book Council is excited to partner again with the team of Multicultural Children’s Book Day to celebrate diverse books all month long! Throughout January, 10 authors will be featured on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day blog where they have created lists of diverse books ranging from picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels under a variety of topics. Check our space for previews of these lists and links to the see the full lists and access the book giveaways on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day site.

Please welcome Mariana Llanos today to #ReadYourWorld Book Jam 2019! The Multicultural Children’s Book Day blog is giving away 10 copies of Mariana Llanos’ latest picture book, illustrated by Anna López Real, Luca’s Bridge/ El puente de Luca. Please click the link below for the full list to access the Rafflecopter giveaway.

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Luca’s Bridge/El puente de Luca by Mariana Llanos, illustrated by Anna López Real

When I was writing this story, I realized there is no such thing as a green card fairy. I wanted to offer readers a new perspective because sometimes our tales don’t end the way we want them to end. That doesn’t mean that we lose hope or joy for life. It just means that we keep on walking and building our future in a different way. Luca’s parents are deported. Their children, Luca and Paco, are American citizens. In order to keep the family together, they all go live in grandma’s tiny house in a town in Mexico. But to Luca, everything is foreign—this isn’t his home! How can he cope when his heart is torn in two, one-half still (and forever) living on the other side of the border? [picture book, ages 4 and up]

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Hannah is My Name by Belle Yang

Hannah is My Name conveys the hope, fear, and love of an immigrant Taiwanese family waiting for their green cards while working without authorization. I love Hannah’s child-like voice, her innocence and awareness of her family’s urgency for that little piece of paper that holds their present–and future–hostage. [picture book, ages 5 and up]



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América is Her Name by Luis J. Rodriguez, illustrated by Carlos Vázquez

América Soliz, a nine-year-old immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico, can’t find her voice in the loud and often hostile streets of her new home Chicago. But after a poet visits her ESL class, she’s offered a friendly reminder that her voice lives still inside her. América’s voice comes out roaring in the form of poetry! Even when her dad thinks that writing won’t pay the bills, América knows it’ll give her some things as important: hope; strength; freedom. [picture book, ages 6 and up]


Click here for the full list and book giveaway. 

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Honeysmoke by Monique Fields; illustrated by Yesenia Moises (Imprint, January 8, 2019). All rights reserved. @macmillanchildrensbooks

MCCBD 2019 Feature: Diverse Trailblazers on the Quest for Self Discovery

The Children’s Book Council is excited to partner again with the team of Multicultural Children’s Book Day to celebrate diverse books all month long! Throughout January, 10 authors will be featured on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day blog where they have created lists of diverse books ranging from picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels under a variety of topics. Check our space for previews of these lists and links to the see the full lists and access the book giveaways on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day site.

Please welcome Vita Murrow today to #ReadYourWorld Book Jam 2019! The Multicultural Children’s Book Day blog is giving away 10 copies of Vita Murrow’s latest advanced picture book, illustrated by Julia Bereciartu, Power to the Princess. Please click the link below for the full list to access the Rafflecopter giveaway.


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Power to the Princess by Vita Murrow, Illustrated by Julia Bereciartu

What if princesses didn’t just grow up to marry princes? What more can we imagine for them? In this treasury of princess fairy tales, that’s just what emerges. Time old characters, magic, and discovery turn over a new leaf with contemporary values. The plot and ambitions of these princesses drive them to be strong leaders, role models, and friends. [advanced picture book in chapters, ages 5 and up]



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Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, Illustrated by Erin McGuire

This was one of the first times I saw characteristics of my own life reflected on the pages of a book. The story reinvents the Snow Queen with a modern point of access. It is a journey of heartbreak and bravery, friendship and discovery, and an exploration into how to claim one’s own narrative. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]




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Chasing Vermeer
by Blue Balliett, Illustrated by Brett Helquist

This is one of my favorite books to recommend to school age readers. I fell in love with it the moment I first read it. An adventure and mystery set against a dramatic, picturesque and moody backdrop. Readers who enjoy From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Westing Game will be drawn in by the realistic and diverse characters, cunning plot and a kind story of friendship. [middle grade, ages 9 and up]


Click here for the full list and book giveaway. 

MCCBD 2019 Feature: Multicultural Picture Books Celebrating Grandparental Love

The Children’s Book Council is excited to partner again with the team of Multicultural Children’s Book Day to celebrate diverse books all month long! Throughout January, 10 authors will be featured on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day blog where they have created lists of diverse books ranging from picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels under a variety of topics. Check our space for previews of these lists and links to the see the full lists and access the book giveaways on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day site.

Please welcome Meera Sriram today to #ReadYourWorld Book Jam 2019! The Multicultural Children’s Book Day blog is giving away 10 copies of Meera Sriram’s latest picture book, The Yellow Suitcase. Please click the link below for the full list to access the Rafflecopter giveaway.


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Drawn Together by Minh Lê & illustrated by Dan Santat

The silence between a Thai-speaking grandfather and an English-speaking grandson is as stark as the contrast in their lives. However, the language wall that divides and frustrates them one evening melts away as they find common ground over their shared love for art. Told in sparse text, but with mesmerizing art in generous portions, this book shows that love brings down all types of barriers including age, culture, and language. [picture book, ages 4 and up]


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Thunder Cake by by Patricia Polacco

Patricia Polacco is a master storyteller and talented illustrator. Her stories, often rooted in her East European heritage, capture the charm of childhood and warmth of family. This autobiographical story tells how Babushka comes up with the perfect “recipe” to help her granddaughter fight her fear of thunder. Well, don’t grandmothers offer the best solution for everything? [picture book, ages 4 and up]


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Abuela’s Weave by Omar S. Castañeda & illustrated by Enrique O. Sánchez

Young Esperanza learns to weave from her grandmother. Together, they weave from dawn to dusk, preparing to sell their handwoven magic at the local market in Guatemala. But there are several challenges, and what if no one wants to buy their beautiful huipiles and gorgeous Mayan tapestry? Esperanza has to find out on her own. This story is a beautiful celebration of grandparents as preservers of family heritage and traditions. [picture book, ages 5 and up]


Click here for the full list and book giveaway.

The CBC Diversity initiative was founded in 2012, as part of the Children’s Book Council’s commitment to promoting diverse voices in literature for young people.