Ashley Bryan, the author and illustrator who spent decades highlighting black experiences in his award-winning children’s books, died Friday in Texas. He was 98.

Born in Harlem, Bryan was a Cooper Union student when he was drafted to fight in World War II at age 19. After his military service, he graduated from Columbia University and began a long career as an art teacher.

He would go on to write and illustrate dozens of children’s books, including: The Ox of the Beautiful HornsSing for the sunThe night has earsand beautiful blackbird† His book from 2016 freedom over me was a Kirkus Prize finalist and won several Coretta Scott King awards and accolades for his work. In 2009, he won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (now the Children’s Literature Legacy Award), one of the most prestigious awards for children’s book creators.

His most recent book, infinite hopewas published in 2019. In a starred review, one critic of Kirkus wrote, “Watching Bryan transform the bittersweet generous into beauty is to look at the meaning of art.”

Bryan’s admirers paid tribute to him on social media. Author Mo Willems tweeted“Ashley Bryan drew, painted, constructed, deconstructed, wrote, collected in a myriad of styles, each one entirely his own. Thank you, Ashley, for your 98 years of exemplary human being.”

And US Representative Chellie Pingree wrote“Ashley Bryan, an artist, author, poet and fellow Maine islander, lived an extraordinary life, producing breathtaking creative works that inspired countless Mainers. We are all richer from his contributions.”

Vicky Smith, a former editor of young readers at Kirkus and now director of access services at the Portland Public Library in Maine, offered her own memory of Bryan on the Kirkus website.

Michael Schaub is a Texas-based journalist and a regular contributor to NPR.