By Ashley Bryan
Atheneum (Simon & Schuster imprint)
On shelves now
You could take the amount that I know about African-American spirituals and fit it into the hollow of the ear of a flea with room to spare, I think. Put bluntly, I don’t know much. As far as I can figure it my spiritual knowledge begins with the song “This Little Light”, continues through “When the Saints” and ends somewhere around “In His Hands”. Awfully considerate of Mr. Ashley Bryan to select those three songs in particular for his picture book collection of three classic spiritual songs then, eh? Earlier in the year I sent out a query asking for people to tell me about the books that could win the Caldecott and the title that got the most mentions was Let it Shine. A book that I had not A) Heard of or B) Seen. I’m correcting this great wrong right now and though I’m not the kind of person who normally goes gaga over cut paper, Mr. Bryan has done some pretty slick stuff with just some colored pulp, a pair of scissors, and some of the finest folk songs in the world.
From the very first page Ashley Bryan’s vibrant images just leap at you. Three spirituals vie for your attention. In “This Little Light of Mine” children are seen carrying lights in all kinds of containers and sources as the words to the song appear below. With each verse, Mr. Bryan finds an eclectic way to bring these lyrics to life. The same can be said for the other songs as well. Within an ever shifting series of hues, tones, shades, and colors, people are seen praying and singing. They laugh and dance. “Oh When the Saints Go Marching In” shifts from light to dark and the book ends with a blow-out production of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”.
I was first introduced to Mr. Bryan’s work years ago when he wrote the Coretta Scott King Award winning title, Beautiful Blackbird. For some reason, at that time I never really realized what kind of paper the man worked with. Not fancy self-pressed sheets of tissue or lacey linens. No, Mr. Bryan is a master of a material that even the youngest child will instantly recognize: construction paper. I mean, it’s pretty cool when you sit down and think about it. Art teachers and Sunday school teachers could probably have a field day with this book. They could charge their own kids to come up with their own stories or images with the songs that they like. There are possibilities galore.
I was grateful for the back matter in this book too. If you’re going to make a title that consists wholly and entirely of three songs then it would be a crime not to include a little sheet music in there. Sheet music there is, and ah-plenty. A short note from the author too, explaining the roots of Spirituals and their importance. And of course the endpapers of this book are practically worth the price of admission alone. In both the front and the back of the book are two hands, undulating and reflecting a host of different colors. It all looks so straightforward until you notice that Bryan has been able to create the illusion of light playing over paper by constantly changing the shades of each finger on the hand. I was amused to also see the Xeroxed photographs of the scissors that Mr. Bryan must have used to cut out all these thousands and thousands of paper pieces.
Sometimes it’s difficult to find quality Christian children’s books. There are some umpteen bazillion Christian publishers out there, many of them churning out books for kids every year. Still, once in a while you need to look outside this closed little world to find the real gold. Let it Shine will make so many people happy. People looking for a great selection of music. People looking for something Christian. People looking for a title that’ll involve African-American history and a great contemporary artist. It’s all here and it’s all bound to make a whole host of folks very very pleased. As I may have said before, cut paper doesn’t usually make my little heart go ah-pitter pat, but for Ashley Bryan I will make an exception. Stamp a big old “NECESSARY PURCHASE” all over this puppy.
Other Blog Reviews: Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast