Category Archives: Other

The Remarkable, Unique, and Beautiful Ashley Bryan: An Appreciation

Many of us in this small world of US children’s literature have been fortunate enough to have encountered Ashley Bryan (who, a few weeks ago, at age 93, received a long-over-due Newbery, an honor for Freedom Over Me).  And none of us who have will ever forget this intelligent, courtly, warm, and creative man. But as for the rest of the world?  Those outside are regularly surprised by this incredible man. Case in point: at the 2009 Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet where Neil Gaiman, a rock star in the world of comics and fantasy for adults, received the Newbery Medal for The Graveyard Book, Ashley received the Wilder Award. Knowing what was coming and figuring Neil did not, I watched him with amusement as Ashley roared out “MY PEOPLE BY LANGSTON HUGHES!” and then got us involved with his usual call and response to recite the poem, a smiling uber-cool Gaiman along with us. Bet he will never forget that experience!

MY PEOPLE BY LANGSTON HUGHS. I will never think of that poem without also thinking of Ashley and I will never think of Ashley without that poem. I’ve seen him present to adults and to children and that poem is his touchstone. I wasn’t at this particular conference, but this is exactly how he does the poem with any audience.

Ashley had been an art teacher at my school before I arrived and came back regularly to do artist-in-residency activities with our students. It was much later that I first saw him with adults at the memorable summer institutes run by CLNE. For some golden years I saw Ashley regularly, with children at my school, and then with adults elsewhere. Always, he was amazing. And this was as a teacher, performer, person, and icon. There is also his art, his writing, his books. You don’t need to have seen him, to know him, anything to love these. Folktale retellings, poetry, and more — they are original and wonderful. (I should say Ashley is an artist far beyond the children’s literature world. For example, he is currently being honored at the DeCordova New England Biannual.)

It is very hard for me to select just a few of Ashley’s books as I so appreciate them all, but here are a few to give you a taste.

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I am a huge fan of this lesser known work from 1976 as Ashley does such a beautiful job retelling these West African folktales and illustrates them in a form inspired by the colors of the area. Having been there I can assure you that he is spot on.

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This is another wonderful collection of African folktales. It is impossible for me not to read them without Ashley’s voice in my mind.

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Who doesn’t adore Louis Armstrong’s song? This is Ashley’s joyful take.

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Love, love, LOVE Beautiful Blackbird. At a book party we held for him at our school for his autobiography, Words to My Life Song, l played a recording of my students enthusiastically reciting this delightful book.

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Photo taken by Ashley’s editor Caitlyn M. Dlouhy last week.

And then there is his latest, the outstanding and rightly lauded Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life.  It is wonderful that this work, one that he cared so much about, has been so honored. Hopefully it will move out beyond our world so that more will know of this man and all his gifts to the world.

Thank you, Ashley Bryan, for your steadfast commitment to all that is best, the beauty you have brought to our world. You have made my life and countless others better, even in the darkest of times.

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Yesssss…Kinderguides hit a serious road block

When I first read of the Kinderguides I couldn’t believe they were real, but they were (just like  that 45th guy in DC is, sigh, real). In addition to finding the premise ludicrous I wondered how they could get away with what they were doing legally. Well, seems they can’t. Writes Alexandra Alter at the New York Times (who also wrote the earlier Kinderguides article in which I was quoted) in “Author Who Turns Classics Into Children’s Books is Sued:”

The estates of Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway, with the publishing houses Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, have filed a copyright lawsuit against Mr. Colting and his partner, Melissa Medina, for releasing illustrated children’s books based on those authors’ works.

Go get ’em!

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SLJs Battle of the Kids’ Books, 2017 Edition — Contenders Announced!

I am so pleased to be going into the ninth year with SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. If you don’t know, it is a fun tournament-style competition involving 16 of the best of 2017’s children and young adult literature battling it out for the winning spot. Each bout is judged by a distinguished  children’s and/or young adult creator. You can learn more about it here. And today (just now, in fact) we are revealing the contenders. You can find them here. Hope you are as excited as I am!

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In Honor of Yesterday’s Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Reposting this from last year and the  year before:

Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1922, my father Lewis J. Edinger, who passed away in 2008, fled with his mother to America at the age of fourteen; his father chose to stay, hoping to ride things out, but was deported and killed. Years later, as a newly minted PhD, my father took whatever jobs he could find; one of those was in Montgomery, Alabama at the time of the bus boycott where, among other things, he met Martin Luther King, Jr.  Here are some excerpts from his memoir about that time in his life.

I got my haircuts at Maxwell Air Force Base from a black barber with unsteady hands named Raymond Parks  — a negro for polite white Montgomery society, a “n-” for most of the whites, and a darky for those who might say one and think the other. Raymond’s wife Rosa was a seamstress I had never head of until she was arrested. She had refused to comply with a city segregation ordinance that required her, like any black, to give her seat in the front of a city bus to a white man and find one in the back. Legend had it that Rosa Parks was defiant because she was simply too tired to surrender her seat. Actually it was a deliberate protest against the all-pervasive racial discrimination by a prominent activist of  Montgomery’s black community. Her arrest started the now famous, well-organized boycott of all the city’s public transport by half of its population. Fifty years after that unforgettable experience I remain proud to have had some part in it.

Early on I had an opportunity to challenge Martin Luther King Jr. on adopting Gandhian non-violent principles for the boycott. I owed our meeting to my wife Hanni and, more directly, to a mutual friend, Virginia Durr, a white woman from a prominent family who played a role in the boycott. She and Hanni had become friends through the small local chapter of the League of Women Voters that often met at our place and then through our membership in the Montgomery branch of the anti-segregationist, interracial Southern Conference for Human Welfare. At that—for me memorable—meeting with King I told him that while Gandhian tactics wore down law-respecting Englishmen in India they could not overcome white segregationists in Montgomery. Virginia Durr set the outside agitator –me — straight with an anecdote.

A debutant and prominent member of the Junior League in Mobile, the young Virginia was sent out of the Deep South where she was raised to get a degree from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. When she came to the dining room for her first breakfast she found the only available seat was next to a black girl and promptly returned to her room, true to her segregationist upbringing. Her grandpappy had fought and died to preserve Southern ways, as she put it to me, and her family expected her to remain loyal to a tradition that put negroes in their place below and most certainly not next to whites. That’s what she told the dean to whom she rushed to explain her position, whereupon that lady told her that if she could not abide by the rules at Wellesley she was free to leave. As she found that impossible Virginia stayed on and learned to live by new rules. And that, the knowledgeable Southern insider predicted, was how it would go with the segregationist rules of Montgomery once they had been declared unconstitutional. And indeed, respect for the law carried the day after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the city ordinance that triggered the precedent-setting, non-violent protest movement led by King.

Some incidents in our direct involvement with the boycott remain unforgettable. One was the impressive evening when a few of us white supporters were just for once allowed to stand in the back of a packed church to witness one of the  mass rallies that  sustained the commitment of the blacks. It took the form of a Baptist religious service with one after another of the local clergy evoking ever more fervent supportive responses from the congregation, capped by shouts of “who is the king – he is the king” when the boycott leader appeared for the climax.

Another time Hanni was driving our young cleaning woman  home when she was flagged down by a Montgomery policeman. He gave her a ticket for an alleged traffic offense, a mild form of harassment in light of what others in our support group experienced. A librarian living alone was driven by ever more threatening anonymous phone calls to commit suicide.

When the boycott did not end quickly the board of Montgomery’s city commissioners joined the radically-segregationist White Citizen Council and that led our little group to draw up a petition in which “we white citizens of Montgomery” asked them to reconsider such an action directed against the black half of their constituents. We decided to submit this petition if we got enough signatures to make an impression and then a work colleague and I approached those we thought would sign. Some did, others would not. It was an unpleasant surprise when supposed liberals from the North lacked the courage to stand by their expressions of anti-segregationist convictions. Phony excuses were induced by fear of McCarthy-style retribution.

Our principled position was put to the test when we asked a visiting black historian Hanni knew from New York for dinner. It seemed a great idea until it struck us that the parents of children Monica played with in our complex would then no longer let them do that. Reluctantly we decided that we could not let our three-year old suffer for principles that were beyond her understanding and moved the dinner to friends who lived in a house and not an apartment.  We thought it the right decision but were never entirely reconciled to it. It left us with a better comprehension of family conformism in Nazi Germany.

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A Bit of Sun During a Dark Time: Daveed Diggs’ Rubber Duckie

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Boycotting Jason Reynolds’ S & S books is not the answer

My top Newbery hope for this year is Jason Reynolds’ Ghost, published by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, part of the huge publishing conglomerate that is Simon & Schuster.  The Wikipedia page on that massive corporation indicates that they publish an enormous range of writers, have imprints that feature a variety of opinions, and are huge, huge, huge. I have been repulsed in the past by some of their publications, am currently repulsed by their latest decision, and expect to be repulsed again. That said, I do not think refusing to buy Reynolds’ Ghost and other worthy, important, and remarkable books coming out from S & S is the way to respond to their latest disgusting choice. We are trying so hard to amplify diverse voices in children’s books, in getting them into children’s hands everywhere, and centering them in our small teeny-tiny world of children’s literature. Boycotting those very books because they are in the same universe as a horrid book is not the answer anymore than leaving our country is the answer to how to deal with the forthcoming president. Do speak up strongly against vileness, but not at the expense of goodness.

ETA Alexandra Schwartz in this New Yorker piece offers a comprehensive overview on the deal along with a similar view to mine regarding a boycott.

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Ending a Crummy Year With Something Fun

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