Author and illustrator Don Tate has given us a rare glimpse into the life of Bill Traylor, a former slave who has become “one of the most important self-taught American folk artists of the twentieth century.” Traylor lived long before movies were created, but Don Tate has managed to capture Bill’s life, voice, humor, and grief. It’s a life worth seeing. Tate uses rhythm and repetition to draw our attention to Traylor’s inner life, while recording events almost poetically-all in a southern accent. At first I was disappointed that Tate had not illustrated his own book, but R. Gregory Christie paints images with the style and humor of the original artist.
This book could be used effectively from elementary through high school (and beyond). It would be at home in courses from literature to art to history. Tate is a gifted writer whose style alone is worth analyzing. But Traylor’s life is the heart of the book. What was it like to live as a slave, then a poor sharecropper, and finally homeless in an unfamiliar city? What emotions drove the 85-year-old Traylor to draw about 1500 images on cardboard and discarded bags? It’s as though Traylor’s memories pushed their way through his long life, birthed on the sidewalks of Montgomery, Alabama.
Spend some time with this book. It’s rich in color, meaning, and insight. I thought I was ordering a children’s book, but I have been delightfully tricked. Get a copy for yourself and see!