There’s a certain sublime beauty one sometimes encounters in the course of reading or doing research. Scholars know the feeling of immersion into a pool of sources so deep that one cannot dive deep enough to find all of that is in the pool, yet the diving itself takes on a certain special joy.
This happened to me this week, as a circle completed itself. I was taking the opportunity to read Kwame Alexander’s novel in verse, The Crossover, which won the Newbery Award for the best in children’s literature this past year. Mr. Alexander is visiting UNCG and Bookmarks in September, a visit I am pleased to recommend and coordinate. Our Libraries’ annual children’s book author and storyteller series is near and dear to my heart, and I always enjoy putting it together.
When I finished The Crossover, which is a superb book for readers of any age to dive into, I read a blurb at the end from Ashley Bryan, two-time winner of the Coretta Scott King award for children’s literature. I hope you haven’t missed the work of Ashley Bryan, now past 90 years of age, but he was one of the first, if not the first, African American author/illustrator of children’s books. Having brought the great author/illustrator Jerry Pinkney to be the very first speaker in our Children’s Book Author and Storyteller Series back in 2007, I was interested in knowing more about about Bryan, a man who no doubt has influenced and perhaps mentored not only Kwame Alexander, but probably Jerry Pinkney as well.
I was startled to learn that Ashley Bryan lives on one of the Cranberry Isles in Maine, accessible only by boat. I say startled, because I am departing for a trip to Maine with my wife and adult daughter in early July, and will be staying only a short distance from the Cranberry Isles when we stay in Southwest Harbor. I’m hoping to take a day trip out to the Cranberry Isles to see an exhibit about the work of Ashley Bryan in the Isleford Historical Museum, if it's still on exhibit as it was last year.
Who knows? Perhaps I’ll meet Mr. Bryan himself. If I do, I’ll tell him how much I admire his contributions to children’s literature, and how way down here in North Carolina, we too are doing what we can to connect each person, young or old, with the right book that might send them for a dive into the joyous pool awaiting them when they read or conduct research.
As Ashley Bryan writes at the end of his autobiography, Words to My Life's Song, quoting the Ashanti storytellers in African folktales: “This is my story. Whether it be bitter or whether it be sweet, take some of it elsewhere and let the rest come back to me.”
See you when I return.
When and Where to See Kwame Alexander (Both events free and open to the public):
In Greensboro at UNCG, 7 p.m. September 14 in the Elliott University Center Auditorium
In Winston-Salem at the Bookmarks Festival, Saturday, September 12 (time to be announced)