Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival highlighting Black children’s books, their creators

There are several events for the festival this weekend in Portland, Lewiston, and Rockland.

MAINE, USA — A children’s book festival starting Sept. 23 will highlight the work of Black creators in Maine.

The Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival will have live events in Portland, Lewiston, and Rockland, as well as book giveaways and activities. The festival is in its fourth year and is named after the book created by Ashley Bryan, a longtime Cranberry Island resident who died in 2022. The festival is in honor of Bryan’s 100th birthday.

One goal of the festival is to build the home libraries of Black children, filling those homes with books that represent their lives and experiences. In the past three years, the festival distributed a total of over 8,500 books. This year’s Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival will provide and facilitate the distribution of nearly 3,000 books.

“Each featured book and event will provide an opportunity for young readers of color to see themselves reflected in literature created with them in mind and to interact with the authors and illustrators as role models and storytellers,” according to Daniel Minter, co-founder of Indigo Arts Alliance, a Black artist collaborative located in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood.

The festival will feature several Black-created books, including “Indigo Dreaming” by Dinah Johnson. The IAA will host Johnson at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23 for a read-aloud of the story, and guests will receive a free copy of their own “Indigo Dreaming.” On Sunday, Johnson will read her book at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland at 1 p.m., followed by a collage art-making activity in the Gamble Education Center from 2-3 p.m., where free copies of “Indigo Dreaming” will be given away. Admission to the Farnsworth is free from 1-3 p.m.

The Children’s Museum & Theater of Maine will host a day full of activities on Saturday, Sept. 23. One of the exhibits at the museum is “Beautiful Blackbird!”, an interactive, multimedia installation as you dance with a bird on the screen that dances with you and moves as you move. Its centerpiece is a giant projection screen animated with birds from Bryan’s picture book. 

Program Timeline: Sept. 23 | Doors open at 9 a.m., Events begin at 9:30 a.m.

  • 9:30 a.m. – “A Feast for Joseph” Read-Aloud featuring author OD Bonny
  • 10 a.m. – “A Feast for Joseph” book signing with authors OD Bonny and Terry Farish
  • 10 a.m. – Create An Artistic Feast!: Celebrating “A Feast for Joseph”
  • 10:30 a.m. – Blackbird Beats: Music & Story
  • 11:30 a.m. – “When I Get Older” Read-Aloud
  • 12:30 p.m. – Blackbird Beats: Music & Story
  • 1 p.m. – Poem of Courage: “When I Get Older” Art & Poetry
  • 1:30 p.m. – “Indigo Dreaming” Read-Aloud
  • 2 p.m. – Incredible Indigo: Symmetry in Art/ The Greatest Superhero You’ve Never Ever Heard Of, based on the books “Indigo Dreaming” and “Stuntboy, in the Meantime”
  • 2:30 p.m. – Blackbird Beats: Music & Story

Black and African American children are less likely to encounter books that depict their own life experiences, said Jordia Benjamin, executive director of the Indigo Arts Alliance. This is a critical gap since children are better able to retain and recall plot and character information after reading books featuring characters that mirror themselves, she said. The Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival addresses this gap.

  • Indigo Arts Alliance: 1 p.m. – “Indigo Dreaming” with Dinah Johnson
  • CMTM: 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. – Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival + Dollar Day at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine
  • Mayo Street Arts Alliance: 1 p.m. – Acholi Music! Afrobeat!: OD Bonny Family Performance
  • The Farnsworth: 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. – Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival in Rockland, Maine

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