Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: It Jes' Happened

When Bill Traylor Started to Draw. By Don Tate, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Lee & Low Books, 2012. (e-book review copy from NetGalley) What I love best about this picture book is the way Tate brackets the telling of the events in artist Bill Traylor's life with a celebration of the deep well of his soul-memory. From the time Bill is born in slavery in 1860 to his days of living alone and lonely on the streets of Montgomery, Alabama 72 years later, Tate emphasises how he is storing up memories of all he loves. Those memories come bounding out in whimsical, rollicking images drawn by pencil on recycled scraps of paper. Traylor gave us the gift of his best memories. Tate and Christie have passed it on in this charming biography.

In a recent interview at Cynsations Tate tells us of the long process of research that went into his thoughtful reconstruction of Traylor's story. He spent years studying the events of his life, construction a time line and contemplating how to best tell the story. It's simply brilliant how through study he came to understand that the art itself reveals the heart of Traylor's life. From the farm, to the raising of children, to the gathering of a community joined in joy and sorrow, Traylor spins the world in line and color. Tate tells how Traylor sits on an orange crate on the street corner and draws. The farm animals, town characters, days of dancing and sweating the cotton all are recorded in vibrant colors. When he is "discovered" by a patron of the arts who starts to give him art supplies and encourage his  production, Traylor responds with an outpouring of his best work. He is now considered one of the most highly regarded American folk artists.

Perhaps it is Tate's own career as an artist and illustrator that gives him a particularly keen understanding of Traylor's life and work. This is his first book as an author, although it is clear there will be many more coming. The manuscript won him the Lee & Low New Voices Honor Award before it was even picked up by an editor for publication.

The illustrator chosen to work on this book with Don Tate is R. Greggory Christie, a supremely talented multiple Coretta Scot King honor award winner. Read more about him and view his art at this interview from 2009 at the SevenImpossibleThings blog.

This wonderful biography is highly recommended for ages 5 and up. It's such an inspiring story of a man who loved his life and discovered his passion at the age of 80, when some would think he was about done. I take great inspiration from that. How about you?


Teacher's Guide by Debbie Gonzales

Kirkus starred review

A fuse #8 review

Publisher's Weekly review

Tate interview at the Brown Bookshelf

1 comment:

Liz Steinglass said...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful book.