Islesford author and illustrator Ashley Bryan on Monday was awarded a 2017 Newbery Honor for his children’s book “Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life.”
His book also was named as both a 2017 Coretta Scott King Author Honor and a 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, given to outstanding African-American authors and illustrators.
“Freedom Over Me” is a picture book that uses original slave auction and plantation estate documents to create, as publisher Simon & Schuster states, “a moving and powerful story, contrasting the monetary value of a slave with the priceless value of life experiences and dreams that a slave owner could never take away.”
The book also was named a 2016 finalist for the Kirkus Prize and was named to the Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best, the NCTE Notable Poetry List and the New York Public Library Best Books for Kids.
Bryan, 93, a longtime resident of Little Cranberry Island, is an important cultural figure in eastern Maine, having lived and worked there for nearly 50 years. Bryan was born in Harlem, New York, in 1923 and first began spending summers on the small island off the coast of Mount Desert Island in the late 1960s. He became a full-time resident after retiring from his professorship at Dartmouth College in the early 1980s.
Though this is his first time being awarded a Newbery honor, it is not his first time being honored with an American Library Association award. He has already been awarded two Coretta Scott King Awards, as well as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and the Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award. Bryan also was a nominee in 2006 for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, a prestigious international honor for children’s authors and illustrators, and was named in 2008 a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library.
The winner of the 2017 John Newbery Medal is “The Girl Who Drank the Moon,” written by Kelly Barnhill.
Bryan has illustrated more than 40 published books, many of them African folktales re-told in his own voice, but also stories and poems written by others. He has won Coretta Scott King book awards for several, including “Beat the Story Drum;” “Pum-Pum,” a series of Nigerian folktales illustrated with woodcut prints; and more recently for “Beautiful Blackbird,” a Zambian folktale illustrated in paper collage.
He is an accomplished painter and multimedia artist, creating brightly colored oil paintings featuring small animal bones, glass, wood, fabric and other items he has found around the island’s pebble beaches, as well as sea glass and papier mache windows depicting biblical scenes, and countless handmade hand puppets created from found objects.