Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Jason Griffin. Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, Atheneum, 2022. 9781534439467
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
What did you like about the book? Long ago, Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin became best friends and collaborated on a book called My Name Is Jason. Mine Too. Then they went their separate professional ways even as they remained BFFs. Now they’ve teamed up on this visual poem addressing the Black Lives Matter marches of 2020, the upending of the world with the COVID quarantine, and what forces have helped sustain us during these traumas. Jason R.’s free verse poem has 3 sections. In Breath 1, the first-person narrator (a young black teen) thinks about taking to the streets and the risks of that activism. In Breath 2, he’s worried about his dad, who struggles in COVID isolation. Finally in Breath 3, he wonders about oxygen masks and about whether there’ll be one available, if he and the whole world needs one. Each page carried a few words from the poem on haphazardly cutout white paper, making it look as if Reynolds composed the stanzas using a Magnetic Poetry kit.
Meanwhile Griffin created the images on 300 Moleskine pocket-sized pages, shuffling them around until he was satisfied with the way they supported and amplified the text. Sometimes illustrations are quite literal (burning row houses surrounded by smoke and flames), other times they are more abstract (a watercolor patchwork quilt as the narrator talks about home). The medium varies, but there’s sketchy pencil lines, collage elements, acrylic paintings; basically, whatever was at hand seems to have found its way into the sketchbook. Each page is rimmed in a thick, black outline that reinforces the somber nature of the poem.
Although this is a serious and often sad work, I think teens will be interested in what the Jasons have to say and will appreciate their efforts at documentation and expression. In its exploration of love and loss, this raw and immediate poem is as much a coming of age story as any of Reynolds’ more conventional novels.
Anything you didn’t like about it? My one complaint is that it was hard for me to read and consider the poem when seeing only a few words per page. Teens may not be bothered by this and will probably enjoy figuring out the connection between the text and the illustrations, but I would have liked to have been able to read the entire poem printed out in the back matter.
To whom would you recommend this book? Aspiring poets, poetry fans, Reynolds’ fans. The casual look of the sophisticated art will appeal to kids who like to doodle or keep a sketchbook.
Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? Poetry or (in a stretch) fiction as it could also be read as a novel-in-verse
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: January 9, 2022
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