Interview for the Year 2022: Bryan Collier Discusses Music Is a Rainbow
You know, I usually start these interviews with some kind of note about why I’ve chosen such-and-such an author or illustrator for this particular kind of highlight. But c’mon, people. It’s friggin’ Bryan Collier. Are you going to tell me that I need to come up with a reason to explain why he’s here. IT’S BRYAN COLLIER! The name speaks for itself!!!
This is also now the point in the post where I’d tell you about his upcoming book, and usually I do that by copying and pasting the publisher copy. But since this is a Little, Brown & Company product, we are way ahead of the whole “marketing copy” stage of things. This book is bound for 2022 and so I’m going to have to summarize its plot for you myself! Ahem.
“Broken is beautiful.” Every day before the boy’s daddy goes to work, he hugs his son and whispers a prayer in his ear. The boy loves his momma too, but one day he’s told that she got sick and had to go away. So the boy made choices. Good ones and bad ones. Friends who liked to get him into trouble. A piano across the hallway that filled him with music. And that music, sweet music, turned out to be the saving of him in the end.
It’s a book that bears not a little resemblance to Collier’s previous title Knock Knock by Daniel Beaty. With that on the edge of my mind, I was able to ask him some questions.
Betsy Bird: Hi, Bryan! Thanks so much for stopping by. Can you tell us a little bit about how this book came to be?
Bryan Collier: Making a book has always felt like juggling 10 objects of various sizes and weights. knowing that it only counts when you can keep everything in the air.
So I started with trying to re-image the beloved poem by Robert Frost.” A road not taken” combined with bits of wisdom and life lessons from Maya Angelou and Quincy Jones.
The idea that life is about inches and choices kept popping up as a reoccurring theme.
BB: I’m always intrigued by particularly interesting book dedications and the dedication in MUSIC IS A RAINBOW certainly falls into that category. You write, “I dedicate this book to my daughters, Chloe and Ava Collier, who worked so hard as the star models for this project. Even though we all were in the midst of a pandemic, they displayed great energy and expression and reflected the wonderful message from the book, which is: Once you discover your rainbow, strive to be a rainbow for someone else.” This begs the question, how did creating this book help your family in the beginning of COVID-19’s onslaught?
BC: For the first time, we were all home together all day and I needed a male lead and his brother to star in this project, but the world was in lock down because of the Covid pandemic. Thankful my two youngest daughters agreed to pose for me knowing that I would paint them with haircuts like boys. As an artist, you have to do what you must to make it happen.
BB: The book feels simultaneously historical and completely contemporary. And I like reading a picture the same way I like watching a film. You can look at the set dressing on something like the wall clock in the kitchen or the wallpaper in an adjacent room and the sheer authenticity just shines through. Why did you set this story in the past?
BC: Apart from all of the social ills and racial divisions, I often romanticized what life was like in the 1940s, from the cars, clothes, and simpler times. But more importantly, Maya Angelou and Quincy Jones’s childhoods were played out in the 1940s, so I used that as a backdrop for the story.
BB: Speaking of which, in your Author’s Note you mention that this book was inspired by, as you say, Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, and Quincy Jones. Not a threesome I often see placed together. Can you explain a bit more about why these three in particular were important to this book?
BC: Here’s how I drew inspiration from these three iconic figures:
- In Robert Frost’s poem, “A road not taken” the reader comes to a fork in the road and needs to make a choice on which way to go.
- Maya Angelou sang, “even when they said the sun wouldn’t shine no more, God put a rainbow in the cloud” meaning that you will encounter some dark and painful points in life, make a choice to hold on and hold out for joy and light to arrive.
- Quincy Jones struggled with abandonment issues and poverty in his childhood and he made positive choices that changed the trajectory of his life,
BB: The overriding theme behind this book is choice. Or, as you write, “the choices one makes when faced with life’s storms or dark places.” Why write a book about our choices at this particular juncture in time?
BC: I wanted to make the kind of book to have a conversation with kids and encourage them to think deeply about the choices they make and the profound impact of those choices.
BB: Was there anything you wanted to work into the book that you simply weren’t able to include, for one reason or another?
BC: The original title was “When broken is beautiful” and I really liked it at first, but the rainbow motif emerged with such power, hope, and possibilities.
BB: Finally, what are you working on next?
BC: I am currently working on two projects featuring Maya Angelou and Diane Nash, two incredible women of color who have positively changed and impacted the world for the better.
Big thanks to Bryan for answering my questions and to Victoria Stapleton and the folks at Little, Brown for setting this interview up. You’ll find Music Is a Rainbow on your shelves in 2022. Something to look forward to then!
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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