by Kirsten Cappy
“Black is beautiful” is both the repeated phrase in Ashley Bryan’s children’s book Beautiful Blackbird and the message Black and brown children need to hear (repeatedly). Indigo Arts Alliance has once again committed to lifting the beauty of Blackness in the second annual Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival.
The festival was created to honor Maine’s legendary children’s book creator and visionary artist Ashley Bryan. The festival’s mission is to celebrate children’s book authors and illustrators from across the African diaspora. In doing so, the festival and the books it features offer children of color an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literature and to interact with the creators as role models and storytellers.
Though the 2020 event was designed as a street festival, Indigo Arts Alliance and their partners I’m Your Neighbor Books and Diverse BookFinder had to take it off the streets and into quarantine spaces, so they brought the stage to our devices. Instead of authors handing free books to kids in person, the organizers facilitated masked, door-to-door book delivery. In the end, over 100,000 people engaged with the videos and 1,700 books were given away to families. Every communication declared, “Black is beautiful.”
When the festival returns this August, the roots, identity, and resilience of Black and brown people will again be on our screens and in the pages of delivered books. Each book will be shared through a read aloud, a creator interview, an art activity, and more. The festival will kick off with the artistry of Ashley Bryan as community members voice the stanzas of his ABC’s of African American Poetry. Look for an online teaser this month at BeautifulBlackbird.com.
“I love poetry. It’s at the heart of everything I do,” Bryan says. “Poetry transforms what we call language, and uses language as the stuff to become something else. I get spun around by what happens in words. When that occurs, it inspires images that seem so original to me as an artist, even though I’m following what the poem has offered.”
Here’s to a summer of being “spun around by what happens in words” and images with the Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival.
Kirsten Cappy is the executive director of I’m Your Neighbor Books, a nonprofit that celebrates the lives of New Americans using the anti-racist power of children’s literature. She will be writing a regular book column for Amjambo Africa.