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Bryan Collier and the Genius of His Illustrations

I had the opportunity to hear Bryan Collier speak yesterday in D.C. I’ve heard Bryan talk before but it is always a pleasure to hear him again. He talked about the influences that brought him to art and to children’s book illustrating in particular. His grandmother was a big part of his life and because she lived next door, he saw her often. He remembers her canning watermelon rind preserves and sewing quilts. Many years later when he realized that art would be his life’s work, he remembered the quilts and how his grandmother painstakingly collaged the pieces together. What he hadn’t noticed so much as a child became an integral part of his artist vision: collage. With the artful blend of watercolor and collage, Bryan’s distinctive and powerful artwork quickly became noticed.

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Bryan has been prolific, to be sure, and the beauty of his art shines in every single book he does. His latest book, written by Daniel Beaty, is called Knock, Knock: My Father’s Dream For Me is a haunting story of an African-American boy and the absence of his father in his young life. How does a boy become a man and then a father himself when he has no one to lead the way for him? It’s a stunning book. Knock Knock received the Coretta Scott King Award (CSK) for Illustration this year and it’s easy to see why.

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Bryan Collier is no stranger to the CSK awards. He has won an amazing seven awards.  They are:

  • Uptown by Bryan Collier
  • Freedom River by Doreen Rappaport (Honor)
  • Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport (Honor)
  • Visiting Langston by Willie Perdomo (Honor)
  • Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
  • Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill
  • 2014, Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me, written by Daniel Beaty

In addition, he has won three Caldecott Honor awards. They are:

  • Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
  • Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
  • Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill

It occurred to me as I was listening to Bryan speak, he really is a non-fiction illustrator, isn’t he? We talk about non-fiction authors all the time but Bryan has illustrated so many non-fiction books that we could describe him as a non-fiction illustrator. The onus on the illustrator is to present the topic or the person in an honest way and in such a way that makes you see them in a different and new light.

If I had to choose my favorites of his they would be the three books that won both  the Caldecott Honors and CSK Awards. It’s difficult to choose but those three stand out to me as books that will be around forever. The stories are wonderful and the text is so complementary that these titles stand out as excellent.


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image for the book Dave the Potter

“Dave the Potter” He didn’t even have a last name.

I expect most of you are familiar with Martin’s Big Words and Rosa but if you haven’t read Dave the Potter you absolutely must. Dave was a slave who worked for years creating gorgeous ceramic pots. He never was freed and his pots became his song to the world. Check out this brilliant review from the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/books/review/Horwitz-t.html

With a little research online and a keen interest to see some of Dave’s pots (which now cost a fortune and are in museums all over the world) I found these two images. Aren’t they gorgeous?

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mu_4_17I am so happy that Laban Carrick Hill wrote Dave’s story down for children(and adults!) and that Bryan Collier chose to illustrate it. What a treasure!

Check out Bryan Collier’s web site to learn more about his work:

http://www.bryancollier.com

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