Ashley Bryan's Puppets by Ashely Bryan
I can't say how many times customers have told me how incredibly kind and approachable the artist and award-winning author/illustrator Ashley Bryan is. They say his studio door in rural Maine is always open and that his bright eyes and smile never seem to fade. I am familiar with Bryan's beautiful watercolor illustrations and cut paper collages that evoke a collision of rainbows. His puppets, however, are radically different--- made from found materials he has collected while beachcombing, these African folktale-inspired gems evoke a sense of mythological timelessness. Bryan introduces each one with a poem, making them come to life before our eyes, like Njonjo, the Holy Man-- "I'm clothed from head to foot, In robes of health and joy. I look up to the sky with outstretched arms, I embrace life..." It is fascinating to see how fur, netting, bone, utensils, gloves, marbles and even wine glasses are transformed into a trickster, a storyteller and royalty. Where others see debris, Bryan sees a treasure of stories.
Mr. Cornell's Dream Boxes by Jeanette Winter
Joseph Cornell, who grew up in New York City (like Bryan), began to assemble tiny worlds inside small boxes, called dream boxes, from the debris he found walking the streets. A reclusive man who never studied art, he spent his life caring for his brother and mother and barely scraping by. Author/illustrator Jeanette Winter finds a perfect marriage of ideas in this gentle picture book for younger readers, as childhood, memory and dreams are the inspiration for Cornell's boxes. He delighted in sharing them with children, and held an exhibition of his work especially for children at the Cooper Union School of Art & Architecture (Ashley Bryan's alma mater) in 1972. Both Bryan and Cornell have transformed everyday detritus into powerful works of art, and these books capture the sense of delight and creative wonder that is the driving force.
Sandy's Circus by Tanya Lee Stone & Boris Kulikov
A slightly older book (2008), but we can't let this list go by without mentioning Sandy's Circus by Vermont author Tanya Lee Stone. This picture book tells the story of Alexander Calder (of giant, delicately balanced mobile fame) and the wire sculptures he created for his "circus." Like Bryan and Cornell, Calder made art from the materials he found all around him, and this tells the story of those early creations. Tanya talked a little bit about creating this picture book when she joined us for an event last year - you can read what she had to say in our article about Compelling Nonfiction.