Family with copies of Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival featured title, “Joseph’s Big Ride” at Portland Gear Hub.

Indigo Arts Alliance, an organization committed to cultivating the artistic development of artists of African descent, presents the second Virtual Edition of the Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival throughout the months of August and September. The festival is named after the classic picture book “Beautiful Blackbird” and its legendary author and artist, Ashley Bryan.

The festival’s home base is a robust website,, where parents, educators, librarians and children will find custom created read-alouds, creator interviews, dance instruction, art projects, writing projects and educator toolkits that build on the themes of the festival books. Young readers of color will have an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literature created with them in mind and interact with the authors and illustrators as role models and storytellers.

On the ground, the Beautiful Blackbird Festival will provide and facilitate the distribution of nearly 3,000 books to children of all backgrounds served by Portland Housing Authority, Portland Parks & Recreation and Lewiston’s After School program.

“We believe that Black children should have the opportunity to build their home libraries and fill them with books that represent their lives and experiences,” says Marcia Minter, executive director of IAA. “We want these children to have these books in their homes so that they can return to them again and again to be inspired and to feel proud of who they are.”

This year’s Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival builds on the success of the inaugural festival, which, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, successfully transitioned from a live festival to a virtual event throughout the summer of 2020. Last year’s event reached more than 100,000 audience members spanning 44 countries. This year’s festival will include several in-person events with local partners. The festival runs through Sept. 17.

To learn more about Indigo Arts Alliance, go to


Ashley Bryan’s “ABC of African American Poetry” to not only highlight Bryan’s art, but the Black poets he introduces on the colorful pages.

Daniel Minter, IAA artist director, will be featured with his acclaimed biographical picture book “So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom,” a book steeped in the resilience of Black people. 

The artistry of Black barbers will be celebrated with the award-winning picture book “Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut” by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James.

Author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow’s “Your Name is a Song” is a picture book balm to children whose names do not roll off the tongues of their white teachers.

“Joseph’s Big Ride,” illustrated by Ken Daley, set in Portland’s Sudanese community, explores a joyful immigrant identity. 

Also representing the Sudanese community will be the award-winning poetry novel “The Red Pencil,” by Andrea Davis Pinkney. 

For older children, the festival will feature the Coretta Scott King-honored novel “Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky,” by Kwame Mbalia, a book that pulls the reader in to the roots and lore of the American South and West Africa.


Free Writing Workshop, Creative Characters. Ages 10-16

Wednesday, Sept. 1

This summer the Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival is partnering with The Telling Room to offer in-person writing workshops at The Children’s Museum and Theater of Maine. Join us from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. for the “Creative Characters” workshop, which will use Kwame Mbalia’s story “Tristan Strong Punches a Hole In The Sky” as inspiration for some character creation. Mbalia’s book is full of memorable characters, from West African gods and African American folk heroes to the central character himself, Tristan, who discovers that he has fantastic powers too. Together we will create our own mythical characters.

Free Writing Workshop, The Poetry of Things. Ages 10-16

Wednesday, Sept. 8

In “The Poetry of Things” workshop, from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. we will use Andrea Davis Pinkney’s novel in verse, “The Red Pencil,” as inspiration for our own object poems. Like the central character Amira, we will explore the interplay between text and drawing and create our own celebratory poems.