Ashley Bryan's ABC of African American Poetry
is not an alphabet book. Award-winning children's book author and former teacher Ashley Bryan has simply hit upon a straightforward way to present the work of his favorite African American poets: he uses a letter of each poem to organize the 25 excerpts and one African American spiritual. His vibrant artwork, with bold strokes of paint reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh, successfully captures the essence of each piece. "As I read," Bryan writes, "images sprang from the lines of the poets... Finally, I chose the sketches that offered a balanced play of images and did finished paintings from them in tempera paints and gouache colors."
Poems ranging from the intense to the whimsical reflect the diverse voices of poets such as Rita Dove, Lucille Clifton, and Gwendolyn Brooks. A colorful elephant stands solidly next to Countee Cullen's poem: "Dear Noah: Please save me a spot / Exposed to the sun, where the Mice are not; / But if I must share my chamber, the Ant / Is the one I should welcome. Yours: L. E. Phant." From Langston Hughes we hear, "There are words like Freedom / Sweet and wonderful to say. / On my heart-strings freedom sings / All day everyday." And Eloise Greenfield chimes in with "Harriet Tubman didn't take no stuff / Wasn't scared of nothing neither / Didn't come in this world to be no slave / And wasn't going to stay one neither." This innovative, easy-to-absorb, boldly illustrated introduction to a rich variety of African American poets would be a valuable addition to any child's bookshelf. (All ages)
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From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 4. The alphabet takes a back seat to the poetry and is lightheartedly wrestled into compliance as an organizational device in this exultant celebration of African-American writers. Each full-page entry features a short poem or poem fragment, surrounded by Bryan's vivid tempera and gouache paintings. To make this work as an alphabet book, the artist often takes the featured letter from a word within the poem, sometimes even a letter within a word (for "X," "Without eXpectation/there is no end/to the shock of morning/or even a small summer" from Audre Lorde's "Summer Oracle"). The letter is set off at the top and the poet's name fills the bottom frame of the painting. The selections, many of which will be unfamiliar to children, display a loving acquaintance with poets from James Weldon Johnson to Rita Dove. While there is a full range of emotions, joy and pride predominate. Some pieces will elicit appreciative chuckles, even a guffaw or two. An acknowledgments page lists the source of each selection. This marvelous introduction should inspire many readers to seek out other works by these writers. While the format and the lively illustrations mark this as a children's book, the pleasure that both word and picture will give to involved adults will enhance the shared experience.?Sally Margolis, formerly at Deerfield Public Library, IL
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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