Writer, artist Ashley Bryan in his Islesford studio. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Bryan book wins Newbery Honor

CRANBERRY ISLES — A children’s book about the lives of slaves in America, written and illustrated by Islesford resident Ashley Bryan, has been named an Honor Book by the Newbery Medal selection committee.

The book was one of three runners-up for the nation’s highest award for children’s literature.

The Newbery Medal and Honor Book awards are presented by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. The winners were announced Monday.

The Newbery Medal winner was “The Girl Who Drank the Moon,” by Kelly Barnhill.

Bryan received a Newbery Honor Book award for “Freedom over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life.”

“I’m glad it’s getting warm attention,” Bryan told the Islander. “I had hoped it would get recognition because [slavery] is a subject that needs more open discussion. I’m glad it has opened up a lot of interest because it means it will have a wider readership.”

“Freedom over Me” was published last year by Atheneum, a division of Simon & Schuster, which described it as a “visually epic … stunning picture book.”

“Using original slave auction and plantation estate documents, Ashley Bryan offers a moving and powerful picture book that contrasts the monetary value of a slave with the priceless value of life experiences and dreams that a slave owner could never take away,” the publisher said.

“Through fierce paintings and expansive poetry, he imagines and interprets each person’s life on the plantation … .”

In a glowing review of “Freedom over Me” for the “School Library Journal,” Elizabeth Bird had as much praise for the author as for his book.

“If there were ever a Church of Ashley Bryan, every last person who has ever met him or heard him speak would be a member,” she wrote. “There are only a few people on this great green Earth that radiate actual uncut goodness right through their very pores. Mr. Bryan is one of those.”

Bryan, 93, has written and illustrated more than 50 children’s books, many of which are based on African-American poetry and spirituals. He also is known for his paintings, for the stunning stained-glass windows he makes with sea glass and for the wildly imaginative puppets he creates from found objects.

He has won many awards for children’s literature, including the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal and Coretta Scott King Award.

Born to Jamaican immigrants in New York City, Bryan studied art at Cooper Union and Columbia University. He taught for many years at Dartmouth College.

He first visited the Cranberry Isles after completing his service in the U.S. Army during World War II, and he returned often over the next 40 years. Islesford has been his home since the late 1980s.

In 2013, a group of Bryan’s friends and family members established the nonprofit Ashley Bryan Center “to preserve and to share his extensive collections and his legacy.”

Updated on Wednesday, Jan. 25, at 1:08 p.m.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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