Review: It Jes’ Happened by Don Tate

it jes happened

It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw by Don Tate, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

This picture book is a beautiful tribute to a legendary folk artist.  Bill Traylor grew up a slave in Alabama.  Born in 1854, he worked in the fields as a child.  When the slaves were freed at the end of the Civil War, his family stayed on working as sharecroppers on the same land they worked as slaves.  As things happened to him throughout his life, from hunger to parties, Bill Traylor remembered it all.  When he finally left the farm and headed to the big city of Montgomery, it was those memories that he drew and painted.  At age 85, he started drawing and kept on.  He got attention for it too, eventually getting a gallery show in 1940.  Bill Traylor showed his life and his heart through his simple yet powerful art.

Tate does not shy away from truly embracing Traylor in this picture book.  The book has more words than many picture books, but they are necessary to truly recreate both the memories of Bill Traylor and the amazing transformation to artist that happened so late in his life.  The writing is solid and smooth, building a full life before your eyes.

Christie’s art hearkens back to that of Traylor’s in its rough simplicity.  It speaks to the deep colors and the power of plain paint and strong lines.  There is also a wonderful dynamic quality to the art that offers motion and storytelling.

A lovely look at the life of a folk artist, this book is a great example of a picture book biography.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.