Friday, July 7, 2017

Keynote: Vanessa Brantley Newton

Vanessa Brantley-Newton is a picture book creator whose books include MARY HAD A LITTLE GLAM (by fellow conference speaker Tammi Sauer), THE YOUNGEST MARCHER, and LET FREEDOM SING. Lin introduces Vanessa by saying her work displays pleasure, joy, and is a party for your eyes, and it is true, you'll see some below! She gets not one, but TWO standing ovations at the end of her keynote and I'm not not teary as I type this up for you...

Vanessa starts by having the audience do the Hokey Pokey dance to get our collective jitters out.

Her talk today is titled Diversity Designed by Adversity

Vanessa says we can let diversity ruin us, make us sad, or we can make the choice to lean into it, wrap our arms around it, shake it off and pack it under.

Vanessa talks about growing up with dyslexia and stuttering, and how those elements of her young life shaped her into a writer, and by embracing the therapy of singing out the words she wants to say to us, she was able to train her brain to overcome stuttering. Her synesthesia, the ability to see, taste, hear color, makes her an emotional painter of great power and colors.

Though she went to school for illustration, Vanessa was a phlebotomist for 25 years! Vanessa says a hospital is the equalizer for everyone. If you're bleeding to death or about to pop a baby out, you don't care what color or class your medical helper is as long as they are qualified. Vanessa drew every child, man, or woman that she drew blood from. She illustrated them as healed and full of joy especially if their final days were neither.

Vanessa stops to give us a PSA from We Need Diverse Books:

When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.

She talks about growing up with no black Breck Girls, no brown Red Riding Hoods, not seeing anyone like her in her books until her teacher shared THE SNOWY DAY with her. Vanessa even had the same snow suit as Peter!

A second We Need Diverse Books PSA :

Children do search for themselves in books, in a survey of 2000 schools, 90% of educators believe children would be more enthusiastic readers if they saw themselves in their book. 

A final few words from Vanessa: She talks about how there's never a correct time for adversity, but that you are built for handling it. Going through your own personal adversity, Vanessa says you need to experience some hurt and some pain to embrace everybody in this room. You need to put in the hard work, get rid of the people that tell you no, cut those Debbie Downer ties quick, Vanessa says! Get hungry about you, get hungry about your diversity because it is important.

"I love me some me, I love me some you," says Vanessa, "I want to see your brand of happiness, DO YOU, BOO... Dream so big you scare yourself."

And then she sang us a song and we all cried... Or at least I did, thank you, Vanessa.

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