I’d like to start this post by noting that the subject of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER, the late Audrey Faye Hendricks, was nine years old when she was imprisoned for her civil rights activism. She remained in prison—real prison—for a week. She was locked in a cell. Interrogated by adult strangers. She was in danger, both inside the prison and after her release. She is an American hero. As of this post, she does not have a Wikipedia page.
“I’d never heard of Audrey Faye Hendricks,” says Vanessa Brantley-Newton, author and illustrator of over 75 books. “When I read Cynthia Levinson’s manuscript, it broke me. It made me cry. I became fascinated by Audrey. I read the manuscript to myself and then had someone read it to me. Right away, I could see the pictures—that’s very important.”
Vanessa goes on to detail aspects of her research, “I read Cynthia’s previous book on the Children’s March, WE’VE GOT A JOB TO DO, and watched the PBS program on the event. I wanted my work to be emotional—to make it clear that Audrey was a child. As I worked, I listened to music from that time, songs like “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.” With one exception early in the process, Vanessa and the author did not actively collaborate on the project. “Cynthia wanted to see how I portrayed Martin Luther King Jr.—a friend of Audrey’s family—and once I showed her the sketch, we didn’t need to consult again.”
Like all of Vanessa’s work, THE YOUNGEST MARCHER glows with color and shimmers with texture. “I’m a retro girl, heart and soul,” Vanessa says. “I love the colors of the sixties and seventies, the reds and oranges together.” She scanned vintage fabrics and included photographs in her collage work. Her use of marbleized paper adds swirling atmosphere to the image of a small, beloved child curled up on a prison cot.
Despite her age, Audrey’s bright-eyed conviction is made plain in Vanessa’s illustrations. As she heeds Dr. King’s call to fill the prisons, as she boards the police van in her starched skirt, bobby socks, and pink hair ribbons, she is full of hope and might as easily be headed to school or church. Although younger than the other marchers, she remains stalwart until the prisons are full to bursting and all are released. Hope intact, Audrey Faye Hendricks emerges to her parents’ arms and a changed world, one she helped to create.
“I hope that people can be inspired by my work,” Vanessa says. “As a child, I never saw children of color in books. We have this wonderful ability as authors and illustrators to tell stories that encompass what children go through so that kids feel included, like someone has captured their real world.”
I’d like to thank Vanessa for her time and for all of her efforts to bring Audrey Faye Hendricks and her story to vibrant, visual life. I’d like to thank author Cynthia Levinson for writing the story of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER. I’m glad and grateful to know about this remarkable story of courage.
I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka.
I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.