Picture Book Review: Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace: An Autobiography by Ashley Bryan.
Posted on May 5, 2020 at 10:31 am by Gene Ambaum
Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace: An Autobiography by Ashley Bryan. Caitlyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. 9781534404908. 108pp including an index and list of sources.
Highly honored children’s book illustrator Bryan tells his story in a book filled with his art, photographs, and letters home. The emphasis is on his WWII experiences and racial segregation. His letters home tell of his experiences from the mundane to the harrowing to the totally puzzling (he was made a winch operator after basic training for no logical reason). Luckily for us, Bryan kept drawing throughout, and saved quite a number of drawings from that time, which he shares here.
I loved the illustrations of people throughout the book, in particular the energy of the quick sketches of Bryan’s fellow soldiers. In Boston, before being shipped overseas, he was billeted in an old schoolhouse in South Boston. Against regulations, he made friends with the neighborhood kids and even created art with them. (There are some drawings of the kids, too.) In Glasgow, the black GIs were warmly welcomed by the Scottish people, and it sounds like this irritated the white officers from the US who continued to try to enforce US Army segregation policies. Eventually the black soldiers were restricted to base after work, while whites weren’t. (Through sheer tenacity, Bryan still managed to find a way to study drawing while in Scotland.) This mistreatment continued throughout the war and even past its end, when black GIs were among the last to leave Europe because the ships took the white companies home first. “Only if there was an empty space might one or two Black soldiers be allowed on those first departing boats, and only if those ships had a segregated section for the Blacks to quarter in.”
I thought this would be a simple picture book, but it’s so much more. Though the book’s main text is simply written, I think middle and high school students would find as much value in it as younger kids, and could use it as source material for papers as well as inspiration to follow their passions.