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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books:

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Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist, sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.

Ashley Bryan

When I was in high school, I had a secret vice. When no one was looking, I would sneak into the children's room of the local branch of the public library and look for new collections of folk and fairy tales. In 1971 Ashley Bryan's collection of African folktales, The Ox of the Wonderful Horns, was a remarkable discovery. Not only was the art an unusually energetic and involving series of woodcut-style illustrations, but the voice was the voice of a storyteller speaking directly to the reader. The language was fresh, immediate, and intimate; it was a whole new way of retelling folktales. Years later, at a National Storytelling Association conference Ashley Bryan was one of the presenters. He stood before a small but enthusiastic group and announced that he "wasn't really a storyteller," and then he told stories and recited poetry until the rafters rang.

The Ox of the Wonderful Horns was followed by Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum, and Lion and the Ostrich Chicks, two folktale collections received with great enthusiasm by librarians and critics. The collections were followed by single tale titles, The Cat's Purr and The Dancing Granny , which are rhythmically perfect readalouds and storytime books. Bryan's illustrations for these and other, more recent titles such as What a Wonderful World, Christmas Gif', and The Story of Thunder and Lightning have both elegance and energy. The paintings most often resemble stylized woodcuts, sometimes colored for a luminous, almost stained-glass effect.

Looking back on Ashley Bryan's body of work is an eye-opening experience; his words paint pictures almost as glowing as his rainbow-palette paintings. His books are a tribute to what is best about children's literature in that they are both a celebration of and a bridge between cultures and communities, storytellers and listeners. It is our good fortune that Atheneum has re-released The Ox of the Wonderful Horns, Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum, and Lion and the Ostrich Chicks in a handsome single volume entitled Ashley Bryan's African Tales, Uh-Huh, complete with the original illustrations. Beat your own story drum, and introduce these old favorites to a new audience. Pum-pum !

--Janice Del Negro, Editor

Selected titles written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan unless otherwise noted.

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This page was last updated on February 4, 1999.