Reviews for Words to My Life's Song


Booklist Reviews 2008 December #2
"*Starred Review* In rich collages of words and pictures, this highly visual autobiography introduces artist Ashley Bryan s life and his vision of the world around him. Clearly written, the text begins with Bryan growing up in the Bronx during the Depression, taking free WPA art classes and helping create clothing and kites from scrap materials. It follows him through public school, Sunday school, Cooper Union art education, army service during World War II, and the lifelong development of his talents as an artist. Though he eventually found his way to children s book illustration, he has continued to work in media such as stained-glass design, found-object puppet making, and traditional painting. Photos of Bryan s world and reproductions of his often bright-hued and inherently vibrant artworks appear on every page, sometimes overlapping each other, sometimes overlaid with text. They infuse the entire presentation with energy, color, and joy. Throughout the book, Bryan combines autobiography and art from many periods of his life with a verbal and visual tour of his studio and the Maine island where he lives. Beautifully designed, the book creates an original, stimulating, and inspiring portrait of the artist from child to man as well as a celebration of his vision." Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2009 #1
Call it, with a smile, an Ashley Bryan infomercial. In a combination of vintage and documentary photographs, original artwork and illustrations from his books, biographical narrative and lyrical evocations of life on a Maine island, Bryan lays out his course as a creative force -- in the studio or the classroom, with paint or stained glass or objects found in the street. Readers will learn of his setbacks and disappointments en route to his "discovery" by Atheneum editor Jean Karl; his tenaciousness; his commitment not only to artistic prowess but also to philosophic understanding. The book's format does not do justice, regrettably, to Bryan's resulting books. Double-page spreads of illustrations from one book or another are interspersed among the biographical matter with no identification save the formal credits on the last page, and sometimes no relation to the surrounding text; there's a double-page collage of book covers, but no book list. And with this want of editorial rigor goes an excess of distracting graphic design. But the expansiveness and exuberance of Bryan and his work carry the day, regardless. Copyright 2009 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2008 December #1
A joyous photo of the author with outstretched arms on the cover invites readers to join him on a walk through his life, present and past. Alternating between a guided tour of Maine's Little Cranberry Island, where he lives, and his reminiscences, Bryan takes readers from the family's crowded apartment in the Depression-era Bronx to his acceptance into Cooper Union's art school, where he was the only African-American in his class, to his philosophy degree from Columbia University and Fulbright scholarship to Germany. Reproductions from his books appear against photos from his family history and of his island home, demonstrating how his memories and his life have formed and informed his art. In elementary school he was introduced to poetry as performance art: "It is at the heart of all my work." The cozily familiar approach will be appreciated by those who have heard the master storyteller and those familiar with his books. When he concludes, "I've enjoyed walking the island with you," readers will believe him. (notes on images) (Autobiography. 9 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 January #2

Well-loved illustrator Bryan's pictures and recollections tell of his lifelong devotion to making and sharing art. His Antiguan-born parents sang, kept birds and sheltered orphans; they showed him how to resist convention and survive defeat. Drawing every day, as a soldier during WWII he kept his art supplies in his gas mask ("There would have been a tumble of materials if I were ever in need of that mask!" he says). Bryan honed his skills, overcame racism and discouragement, and thrived throughout 20th-century tumult. While the text forms a single narrative thread, the busy pages are laid out scrapbook-style on bright, overlapping rectangles of color, old family photos next to artwork next to call-outs of Bryan's words in large type. Bryan brought elements of African art to award-winning collages and woodcuts; on his own time, he made (and continues to make) other treasures. McGuinness's photos show the artist in many settings on the Maine island he now calls home. A book for parents and children to enjoy together, Bryan's triumphant story will inspire artists of every age. All ages. (Jan.)

[Page 49]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2009 February

Gr 4 Up--The inimitable Bryan offers a clear portrait of his own evolution as artist and writer in this brief, highly illustrated volume. He leads readers on a photographic tour around his home--Little Cranberry Island off the coast of Maine--describing beaches laden with smooth stones; the daily habits of lobster boatmen; the little nondenominational church; and his studio filled with toys and puppets created from found objects, panels made of sea glass, and canvases of painted flowers. Intertwined is the story of his parents, who emigrated to New York from Antigua, bringing with them their fondness for the colors and sounds of nature, which they passed on to their son, his five siblings, and three cousins. His academic and professional achievements are touched upon in relation to his work and teaching. The color that plays a prominent role in his life spreads throughout this slim volume in page highlights; in clear photos of the island; in spreads taken from his books; in the oversize type that stands out on some pages. The man's humility, his deep appreciation of natural beauty, his fascination with other cultures, his love of folk literature, his openness to all forms of artistic expression, and his delight in learning and in passing on his craft to others form the essence of this inviting presentation. His autobiography is a small treasure to share with those who love children's literature and an inspiring read-aloud that speaks to young people about human qualities that lead to success and happiness.--Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH

[Page 115]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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