Beautiful Blackbird
Beautiful Blackbird

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Annotation: In a story of the Ila people, the colorful birds of Africa ask Blackbird, whom they think is the most beautiful of birds, to decorate them with some of his "blackening brew."
Genre: Fairy tales
Catalog Number: #26275
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover (Large Print)
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Atheneum
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition Date: 2003
Pages: 40
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-689-84731-9 Perma-Bound: 0-605-60034-1
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-689-84731-8 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-60034-8
Dewey: 398.2
LCCN: 2002005290
Dimensions: 27 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
In this simple adaptation of a tale from the Ila-speaking people of Zambia, the message is clear: Black is beautiful. Once upon a time, Blackbird was the only bird of Africa who wasn't brightly colored. When Ringdove asks who is the most beautiful bird, the other birds name Blackbird. At Ringdove's request, Blackbird brings blackening from his medicine gourd to decorate Ringdove's colored neck; the other birds also want trimming, so Blackbird paints dots and brushes lines and arcs until his gourd is empty. Using a more vivid palette than usual, Bryan employs boldly colored, cut-paper artwork to dramatize the action. The overlapping collage images fill the pages with energy as the songlike responses of the birds tap out a rhythm punctuated with uh-huhs. In an author's note, Bryan explains that the scissors pictured on the endpapers, which Bryan used to create the collages, were once also used by his mother. Ready-made for participative storytelling.
Horn Book
Here's a life-enhancing folktale from Zambia--how birds got their black markings--and a simple, scissors-and-brush way of using collage. Silhouetted birds, in shades of violet, yellow, green, blue, are oddly drab without markings. Ringdove asks Blackbird, the most beautiful, to paint him a necklace of black; Blackbird complies, then promises the others touches of black, too. In sum, we can all partake of the beauty of black.
Kirkus Reviews
Blackbird shares his gifts with the birds of Africa in this colorful read-aloud. This adaptation of an Ila story tells of long ago, when all the birds have solid colored, unpatterned feathers, and only Blackbird has any black at all. The other birds agree that Blackbird is the most beautiful, as his black feathers "gleam all colors in the sun." Blackbird mixes up a little something in his medicine gourd, and presents each bird with some black patterns of its own. The birds are happy with their new designs, and chorus, "Black is beautiful, UH-HUH." This telling, by the master storyteller, just aches to be read aloud; the lively rhythms keep the simple folktale rollicking along. The cut-paper collage illustrations are full of color, but it's of blandly similar intensity until Blackbird arrives with his blackening brew. Then the newly patterned birds, gleaming in high-contrast images with their new designs, make for visual excitement as they praise Blackbird for their new look. A good start at challenging learned ways of reading color that reserve black for scary or dull images, the text implies a racial metaphor (unless the refrain "black is beautiful" is focused only on rethinking artistic codes), yet whatever message of tolerance or self-love the text might hold is obscure. Blackbird talks of the difference a little black can make, but he also emphasizes that external appearances do not reflect the inner self. Which of the two is more important is never clarified. Still, the rolling language and appealing illustrations make this a must. (Picture book/folktale. 4-7)
Publishers Weekly

Storyteller Bryan's (What a Wonderful World) singular voice provides rhythm and sound effects throughout this musical adaptation of a Zambian tale. When gray Ringdove calls the other monotone birds together and asks, "Who of all is the most beautiful?" they all reply, "Blackbird." They then encircle Blackbird, dancing and singing, "Beak to beak, peck, peck, peck,/ Spread your wings, stretch your neck./ Black is beautiful, uh-huh!/ Black is beautiful, uh-huh!" At the birds' request, Blackbird agrees to paint black markings on them (with the blackening brew in his medicine gourd), but he warns Ringdove that it's not the color black that will make them beautiful. "Color on the outside is not what's on the inside..... Whatever I do/ I'll be me and you'll be you." The message about inner beauty and identity becomes somewhat diluted by the closing song, in which the birds triumphantly sing, "Our colors sport a brand-new look,/ A touch of black was all it took./ Oh beautiful black, uh-huh, uh-huh/ Black is beautiful, UH-HUH!" But if the ending creates a bit of confusion, Bryan's collages make up for it with their exhibition of colorful splendor and composition. Scenes of the rainbow of wings are outdone only by a lakeside view of their colors intricately "mirrored in the waters." And Bryan's lilting and magical language is infectious. Ages 3-7. (Jan.)

School Library Journal
K-Gr 2-Because they haven't got a spot of black on their bodies, the colorful birds of Africa envy Blackbird. They extol his feathers that "gleam all colors in the sun" in their songs and dances. And although he assures them that "Color on the outside is not what's on the inside," he generously shares the blackening brew in his gourd. First he adds a necklace of midnight to Ringdove, then markings of black to every feathered creature large and small, causing them to finally sing, "Oh beautiful black, uh-huh, uh-huh/Black is beautiful, UH-HUH!" Adapted from an Ila tale from Zambia, this story delivers a somewhat contradictory message. Blackbird frequently affirms that it's what's inside that counts but his avian friends are certainly fixated on adding some black to their feathered finery. The story line is simple and the rhythmic chants of the flock frequently interspersed throughout the text add drama and a rapper's cadence. The cut-paper silhouettes are colorful but static, effectuating a stylized formality. The endpapers include an image of the scissors used to create the collages and reinforce the physical process behind the art. This unusual and little-known pourquoi tale may supplement larger collections and serves as a thoughtful and entertaining addition to units on self-esteem.-Carol Ann Wilson, Westfield Memorial Library, NJ Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Word Count: 832
Reading Level: 3.7
Interest Level: P-2
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 3.7 / points: 0.5 / quiz: 66794 / grade: Lower Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:2.8 / points:1.0 / quiz:Q34593
Lexile: 540L

Coretta Scott King Award winner Ashley Bryan's adaptation of a tale from the Ila-speaking people of Zambia resonates both with rhythm and the tale's universal meanings—appreciating one's heritage and discovering the beauty within. His cut-paper artwork will charm and delight readers of all ages.

Black is beautiful, uh-huh!

Long ago, Blackbird was voted the most beautiful bird in the forest. The other birds, who were colored red, yellow, blue, and green, were so envious that they begged Blackbird to paint their feathers with a touch of black so they could be beautiful too. Although Black-bird warns them that true beauty comes from within, the other birds persist and soon each is given a ring of black around their neck or a dot of black on their wings—markings that detail birds to this very day.

Coretta Scott King Award-winner Ashley Bryan's adaptation of a tale from the Ila-speaking people of Zambia reso-nates both with rhythm and the tale's universal meanings -- appreciating one's heritage and discovering the beauty within. His cut-paper artwork is a joy.

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