Living in New York City as I do, I’m regularly invited to seasonal publisher previews. While these are centered around editors presenting upcoming books, sometimes there is a fun extra — an author or illustrator makes a brief and interesting presentation. As enjoyable as these what happened yesterday at Simon & Schuster’s fall preview was pretty special for it began and ended with a celebration of Ashley Bryan whose 90th birthday was July 13th.
Ashley Bryan is absolutely one of the most remarkable, intelligent, creative, and kind people in the whole world (not just in our small children’s literature world). I’ve been fortunate to know and have seen him at work with children (at my school where he used to teach and returns for visits) and with adults (most notably at the glorious CLNE children’s literature institutes). If you haven’t yet discovered his books, please seek them out as they are as special as special can be. And if you have never seen Ashley present and an opportunity comes along — go, go go!
In 2009, as the winner of that year’s Wilder Medal given to “…an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children,” Ashley followed that year’s Newbery and Caldecott winners at the Banquet with his speech — beginning as he always, always, ALWAYS does by inviting us to do a call and response of Langston Hughes’ “My People.” Now many in that audience knew that was going to happen, but not everyone. Certainly not Neil Gaiman, that year’s Newbery Medalist. And so being part of that recitation of “My People” while watching Gaiman’s delighted face is something I will never forget. Nor will I forget yesterday’s celebration.
Ashley opened by having us (of course) recite “Our People” and then read his new book, Can’t Scare Me, with our involvement. My friend and colleague Roxanne Feldman filmed a couple of minutes of this:
At the end of the morning, after the preview, Ashley returned with some of his friends and we celebrated his birthday with a big card we all had signed, poetry, singing, and cake. What a special, special day. Kudos to Simon & Schuster for doing this.