By Nora Haskell
Editor’s note: The Bangor Daily News has partnered with the Telling Room to showcase budding young journalists as they turn a critical eye toward the world in which we live. Read more about the project, and the rest of the students’ pieces, here.
Ashley Bryan is an African American author and illustrator who grew up in New York. He has made many children’s books that focus on equality and anti-racism. He has won 11 awards, the most notable being the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal (2009) and the Virginia Hamilton Award, (2012). He went to four different universities, Columbia University, University of Freiburg, University of Marseilles and Cooper Union Art School, where he was the only African American student at the time. He also served in World War ll, in a segregated unit. He is currently 97, retired, lives in Cranberry Isles, Maine, and enjoys collaging, paper mache, stained glass and puppet making.
His book “Beautiful Blackbird” is a children’s book that tells the story of a blackbird, who is known for his beautiful black color. All of the other colorful birds — birds of all shades and hues — want to be black just like him. But he tells them to embrace who they are and that he is his own person, and they are theirs. So, using a medicine, he paints beautiful black markings on the other birds, so they can feel the wonderfulness of being black, but still be themselves at the same time.
This is a wonderful book in my opinion because it is simple for younger readers, but it highlights the importance that if you are a child of color, you are beautiful, and you should be proud of who you are.
“[It’s] very important that black and brown, children of color, see themselves in all ways of life that they see other children represented in books. They want to be a part of that representation so they can feel proud of themselves” Bryan said in his video reading of “Beautiful Blackbird.” “It’s meant a lot to children because they are so used to blacks being put down in a story they don’t expect what happens in Beautiful Blackbird.”
Along with the beautiful message of equality in “Beautiful Blackbird,” the illustrations are also wonderful. They are simple shapes and silhouettes of birds, but the simplicity is complemented by the bold and beautiful palette of colors. The different layering and textures of certain birds make it seem as if the illustration is represented in the form of a collage. The simple and subtle background colors of the illustrations make the birds stand out beautifully. Along with simple shapes, some more detailed things are depicted as well. In certain photos grass, trees, flowers, and plants are depicted. The illustrations beautifully complement the simplicity and depth of the story.
“Beautiful Blackbird” is wonderful for both younger readers, who came for a good story, and older readers, who enjoy this important empowering message that even if you are of a different race, you are beautiful regardless of the color of your skin.