cover image Ashley Bryan’s Puppets: Making Something From Everything

Ashley Bryan’s Puppets: Making Something From Everything

Ashley Bryan, photos by Ken Hannon. S&S/Atheneum, $19.99 (80p) ISBN 978-1-4424-8728-4

Bryan (Can't Scare Me!) shows off another side of his artistry in this enchanting photographic tour of more than 30 puppets he has fashioned out of the flotsam and jetsam he finds on the beach around his Maine island studio. Sticks and bleached bones are fashioned into heads and bodies, scraps of old clothing become long robes, and frayed rope and mops become hair. Gaunt, angular, and haunting, there's nothing toylike about Bryan's creations. They could be sorcerers or shamans—or they might be found leaning against the bar of the cantina in Star Wars.

Hannon photographs each puppet on its own spread, each bearing its own (often African) name, epithet ("Lubangi, Born in Water"; "Chipu, Gift"), and poem. Several spreads show groups of puppets lined up, suggesting that Bryan thinks of them as a group, a clan, united by a shared vision. Babatu has a head of smooth carved wood and a jaunty mustache of wiry straw. "I'm peacemaker," he explains, "Trained, wise counselor./ Should any conflicts start,/ I listen to their stories/ Till we're one in mind and heart." The Spirit Guardian's head of white bone suggests a horse; he's draped in a ceremonial robe of white. "My family of puppets/ Freely seek me and call./ I'm their Spirit Guardian,/ I watch over them all."

The close-up photographs allow readers to see how the puppets are made and contain an implicit invitation for them to create puppets of their own. Bryan speaks of seeing possibilities in that which others consider trash: "When you close this book/ And look up,/ You'll see puppets everywhere." But the book is just as valuable as a portrait of an artist of color who is true to his own vision and who finds fulfillment doing the work he wants to do. "Artists are heroes," writes Nikki Giovanni in a short afterword. "They lay their emotions like so many plums in the sun to be dried by the light of truth and caring." Ages 4–up. (July)