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It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw Hardcover – April 1, 2012
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* "Tate and Christie capture the spirit behind the work of Bill Traylor, 'one of the most important self-taught American folk artists of the twentieth century" (Kirkus Reviews (starred review) )
* "This picture-book introduction to the artist Bill Traylor is astonishing in both its biographical facts and how they are depicted in Christie's beautiful illustrations. . ." (Booklist (starred review) )
* "[A] refreshing reminder that artistic talent is not limited by age or formal training." (School Library Journal (starred review) )
Tate and Christie capture the spirit behind the work of Bill Traylor, one of the most important self-taught American folk artists of the twentieth century. Traylor went from slavery to sharecropping to raising his family in rural Alabama. In his early 80s, having outlived his family, he moved to Montgomery, sleeping on sidewalks and in doorways and alleys. In his loneliness, he dwelt upon the saved-up memories of earlier times, and, with the sidewalk as his studio, began drawing. He drew cats, cups, snakes, birds and what he saw around him in Montgomery: the blacksmith s shop, people walking dogs, men in tall hats and women in long dresses. Christie must feel himself a kindred spirit to Bill Traylor, his acrylic and gouache illustrations sharing Traylor s palette of rich color, whimsical humor and sense of play with the human form. In his debut as a picture-book author, Tate crafts prose that is clear and specific, the lively text sometimes surrounded by playful figures cavorting off the pages as Traylor draws them. Though an author s note is provided, an artist s note would have been welcome. An important picture-book biography that lovingly introduces this outsider artist to a new generation. --Kirkus Reviews
Using deep blues, bright reds, sunny yellows, and earth browns...paint straight from the jar and rarely mixed, Traylor captured animals and people from his past in an imaginative and humorous manner. With a warm palette of browns, reds, yellows, and darker tones, Christie echoes the sharp contrasts and simple line of the subject s work; readers are only given a glimpse of Traylor s images. However, the story of this man s life is an introduction to a noted American folk artist of the 20th century, and a refreshing reminder that artistic talent is not limited by age or formal training. --School Library Journal
This picture-book introduction to the artist Bill Traylor is astonishing in both its biographical facts and how they are depicted in Christie s beautiful illustrations. . . . Best known as an illustrator, Tate writes with an appealing rhythm and repetition, and with simple eloquence, he describes Traylor s work: the rectangles became bodies; circles became heads and eyes; lines became outstretched arms, hands, and legs. In images of the artist creating figures on the sidewalk or on scrap paper and discarded cardboard boxes, Christies s paintings in acrylic and gouache recreate the style of Traylor s pictures and show how they danced with rhythm. Young people will relate to the folk-art illustrations, while this will interest many adults, too. An afterword fills in more, including the role of the white artist who helped Traylor get recognition. --Booklist
From the Inside Flap
Growing up as an enslaved boy on an Alabama cotton farm, Bill Traylor worked all day in the hot fields. When slavery ended, Bill's family stayed on the farm as sharecroppers. There Bill grew to manhood, raised his own family, and cared for the land and his animals.
By the time he was eighty-one, Bill was all alone on his farm. He moved to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama. Lonely and poor, he wandered the busy downtown streets. But deep within himself Bill had a reservoir of memories of working and living on the land, and soon those memories blossomed into pictures. Bill began to draw people, places, and creatures from his earlier life, as well as scenes of the city around him. Today Bill Traylor is considered to be one of the most important self-taught American folk artists.
Winner of Lee & Low's New Voices Award Honor, It Jes' Happened is a lively tribute to a man who has enriched the world with more than twelve hundred warm, energetic, and often humorous pictures.
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Top Customer Reviews
Included in this sweet book are fun facts and mesmerizing facts. Written by Don Tate, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie and published by Lee & Low Books. A New Voices Award Honor book.
#PB #biography #mustread #artists #diversity
He was born a slave, Bill Traylor was. Around 1854 or so Bill was born on a cotton plantation in Alabama. After the Civil War his parents stayed on as sharecroppers. After he grew up Bill ran a farm of his own with his wife and kids, but when Bill turned eighty-one he was alone on the farm by himself. With cane in hand he headed for Montgomery. It was there that he started drawing, for no immediately apparent reason. He'd draw on cardboard or discarded paper. After a time, a young artist took an interest in Bill, ultimately showing off his work in a gallery show. Bill enjoyed it but for him the drawing was the most important thing. An Afterword discusses Bill's life and shows a photograph of him and a piece of his art.
When you're writing a picture book biography of any artist the first problem you need to address is how to portray that person's art in the book. If you're the illustrator do you try to replicate the original artist's work? Do you draw or paint in your own style and include small images of the artist's original work? Or do you show absolutely none of the original art, trusting your readership to do that homework on their own? There is a fourth option, but I don't know that I was aware of it before I read this book. You can hire an illustrator whose style is similar enough to the original artist that when the time comes to reference the original art they make their own version and then show the artist's work at the end.
Now I'll go out on a limb here and admit that I've never really been a huge fan of R. Gregory Christie's style before. It's one of those things I can appreciate on an aesthetic level but never really personally enjoy. Yet in this book I felt that Christie was really the only person who could do Traylor's tale justice. I had initially wondered why he had been chosen (before reading the book, I might add) since author Don Tate is an artist in his own right. If he wrote this story why didn't he just go ahead and illustrate it too? The answer is that while Don's style works for bios like She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story or Say Hey!: A Song of Willie Mays, Traylor's tale demanded an illustrator that could replicate his near two-dimensional style. Christie delivers. In this book the characters in Traylor's memories walk and dance and pray in ways similar to those found in his art. Christie simultaneously creates something lively and fun while paying a kind of homage to the book's subject.
Not to say the text is anything to scoff at either. Though I was initially put off by the design of the book with it's blocks of text just dropped into the images without so much as a by-your-leave, the wordplay here more than made up for it. Tate had a challenge of his own when writing this book. Little is known about Traylor's youth aside from some broad facts gleaned when he was in his eighties. So how do you write a book when you don't have many specifics to work with? In Tate's case the answer was to use Traylor's art as a starting point. He begins the book by showing Traylor sitting down to make his art. Then we flash back to the past and see some of the moments of the man's youth. Many of the sections there end with the sentence, "Bill saved up memories of these times deep inside himself." It becomes a kind of mantra, culminating in a scene later where we see Traylor drawing in earnest, his creations flitting about his head like there are so many they can't all fit in his brain or even on the page. Tate's focus is on the memories, whether they are glimpses of the past or drawings on a page. I dare say Traylor would have appreciated that kind of a focus.
This is not the first children's biography of Traylor made, of course. In 1995 Mary E. Lyons wrote Deep Blues: Bill Traylor, Self-Taught Artist to great acclaim. That book had the advantage of showing Traylor's art itself in several black and white and full-color reproductions. While I liked seeing a little image of his art, I craved more. Fortunately it's that kind of feeling that will lead kids to discover more about the artist himself.
The book serves as a kind of natural companion to the Caldecott Award winning book of nonfiction Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill. Both books examine men who experienced slavery firsthand but rather than be forgotten they live on through their art. Dave never escaped his situation and, in a sense, neither did Bill. But they both pursued what they loved and their picture books give kids a sense of how a person can have power while being effectively invisible to the greater world. Kids themselves are often invisible to others. Maybe Bill will help some of them see that art lets you be heard, albeit silently sometimes. A great book, a great subject, and a great use of two notable author/illustrator talents.
For ages 5-9
I love this beautifully written story of a simple man who suddenly became an artist at an age that most people are starting to wind down, a man who almost compulsively drew and drew, a person who created simple beautiful art.
The words are delicious. Read them out loud. Lulling, soothing, slow. Great storytelling. The story is one of patient remembering and looking forward.
Bill Traylor finally, at age 85, put pencil to cardboard and started to draw those memories, sometimes playful, sometimes sad. The art in this book is NOT Bill Traylor's art, but in a way, it captures the spirit of his art. (There is one panel of Bill Traylor's own art at the very end of the book, on the Afterword page.)
A similar book is "I am Marc Chagall", where Bimba Landmann does not reproduce Chagall's work but captures the feeling of it. I Am Marc Chagall (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)
Great biographical book about an unusual American talent. All the source information is at the front of the book, including quote sources. Enjoy!