Ashley Bryan's ABC of African American Poetry
published in 2001


Appropriate age:
Young Kid (age 5-7)
Reading level:
Genres: Fiction, Nonfiction
Cultures: Americas, England, Europe, United States, African American
Subjects: Alphabet, Espionage


Ashley Bryan's ABC of African American Poetry is not an alphabet book. Award-winning children's book author and former teacher Ashley Bryan has simply hit upon a straightforward way to present the work of his favorite African American poets: he uses a letter of each poem to organize the 25 excerpts and one African American spiritual. His vibrant artwork, with bold strokes of paint reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh, successfully captures the essence of each piece. "As I read, " Bryan writes, "images sprang from the lines of the poets... Finally, I chose the sketches that offered a balanced play of images and did finished paintings from them in tempera paints and gouache colors." Poems ranging from the intense to the whimsical reflect the diverse voices of poets such as Rita Dove, Lucille Clifton, and Gwendolyn Brooks. A colorful elephant stands solidly next to Countee Cullen's poem: "Dear Noah: Please save me a spot / Exposed to the sun, where the Mice are not ; / But if I must share my chamber, the Ant / Is the one I should welcome. Yours: L. E. Phant." From Langston Hughes we hear, "There are words like Freedom / Sweet and wonderful to say. / On my heart-strings freedom sings / All day everyday." And Eloise Greenfield chimes in with "Harriet Tubman didn't take no stuff / Wasn't scared of nothing neither / Didn't come in this world to be no slave / And wasn't going to stay one neither." This innovative, easy-to-absorb, boldly illustrated introduction to a rich variety of African American poets would be a valuable addition to any child's bookshelf. (All ages)