By MARTHA DALY
On May 3 approximately 200 people gathered to celebrate International Children's Book Day. They were drawn into the colorful world of Ashley Bryan, writer, artist, storyteller - and this year's honoree of the Children's Literature Center at the Library.
Ashley Bryan told of his early book making days in kindergarten, where he created what he described as his "limited editions" of alphabet and counting books. "That feeling for the handmade book is at the heart of my book making today, even though my original is now printed in the thousands."
Mr. Bryan grew up in New York City. His parents, immigrants from Antigua, gave their children all that Depression-era New York City had to offer in the way of classes "as long as they were free." His family moved often within the neighborhood as his mother found better and better apartments, which she always filled with flowers. This memory influenced poems such as "Mama's Bouquets" and "Good Flower Blues."
As the evening progressed, Mr. Bryan skillfully melded the roles of teacher and storyteller.
Poems by Langston Hughes and Eloise Greenfield came alive as he read them. The audience participated in his readings by repeating words and phrases. His moving interpretation of "What a Wonderful World" featured a recording by Louis Armstrong.
He then told the audience about his story collecting, retelling and illustrating African stories and African American spirituals, alluding to "the tender bridge [that] connects them."
Winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, writer, artist and professor emeritus at Dartmouth College, Mr. Bryan served in the Army during World War II, attended Cooper Union art school and graduated from Columbia University with a degree in philosophy. He now lives on a small island off the Maine coast, where he continues to interpret and reflect his African American and Caribbean heritage.
The program was made possible by a grant from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, which was represented by Deborah Pope, executive director of the foundation, and Lillie Pope. The foundation, established to honor the late artist and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats and to encourage creativity in the arts, has supported the Library's International Children's Book Day celebration since its inception in 1987. It sponsors national programs that include an annual Student Book Making Contest for the New York City schools. As in previous years, a selection of books by the contest winners was on display. The evening ended with a reception and book signing.
Martha Daly is a free-lance writer.