It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw by Don Tate may be a book about a man born in the 1850’s, but it’s still making a human connection today.
It Jes’ Happened is the story of a young slave named Bill Traylor, who pulls weeds, fetches water and gathers wood on an Alabama plantation. But his life is anything but mundance. He experiences everything from swimming in the Alabama river when his chores are done to witnessing the Yankee burning of southern plantations, to becoming a sharecropper and raising a big family of hungry children.
Like most true lovers of life, Bill is able to look past his often bleak circumstances and glean beautiful memories that last him a lifetime. These memories come back to him when he is old and gray, his wife and his “white folks” have died, and his adult children are off leading lives of their own.
That’s when Bill hits the road and ends up on a Montgomery, Alabama street corner. Alone in the big city, his loneliness overwhelms him and he begins drawing pictures of his memories from long ago. Among his many drawings (between 1,200 and 1,500) he sketches a man plowing, a fat horse and a skinny mule, fighting cats, and hunters on horseback.
Without even trying, Bill builds a huge fan base, and many of his admirers sit beside him on the street corner and watch him draw. One admirer even teaches him to write his name so that he can start signing all of his drawings.
This quiet and lovely book chronicles the extraordinary life of an ordinary man whose existence would most surely have slipped into anonymity if it had not been for his keen desire to re-live his memories on paper. Author Don Tate’s prose is as stark as Bill’s simple life, and yet it moves the reader in almost inexplicable ways.
Artist R. Gregory Christie’s illustrations are basic and un-complex, like Bill’s original paintings, but still manage to vibrate with love and inspiration.
For a book that adults will enjoy as much – or more – as the children they read to, be sure to pick up a copy of It Jes’ Happened, by Don Tate.
Best wishes and happy reading,