Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor started to Draw

It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor started to Draw

Don Tate
Illustrator:  R. Gregory Christie 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Lee and Low Books, 2012   ISBN: 978-1600602603

In the year 1854 one of George Hartwell Traylor’s slaves had a baby boy who was named Bill. When Bill was still very young he was put to work in his master’s cotton field. When the Civil War ended and the slaves were freed, Bill and his family stayed on the Traylor’s land, working as sharecroppers.

   Though Bill was now free, life was still hard, and when he was a grown man working the land as a farmer, Bill, his wife and his children all had to work long hours so that they could “grow the food they needed to fill their empty bellies.” Though he spent his days toiling on his farm, Bill still took the time to notice the world around him. He watched the animals “go about their business,” and laughed at their often funny ways and unique idiosyncrasies.

   On Saturdays Bill and the people in his community dance and sang, and then the men would go hunting and fishing. On Sunday they would gather on the river bank where they listened to the preacher and then sang.

   When Bill was eighty-one years old he left the farm. Now that his wife was dead and his children were gone, there was nothing to keep him there and he went to the city of Montgomery. Not having any skills other than farming, and being old, Bill had a hard time finding a job. Eventually he spent his days selling pencils on the streets and his nights sleeping in doorways and in the storage room of a funeral home. Bill was filled with loneliness, and he missed his former life. The only thing that offered him some comfort were his memories, and one day in 1939 he began to draw pictures of those memories. The drawings were simple, and yet they had an energy that was special. The folk art pictures came from Bill’s heart and one day an artist saw them and was intrigued by them. Though Bill had had no training and was never taught how to read or write, he was still an artist who had something to offer the world.

   This poignant and beautifully written biography tells the story of an extraordinary man who, when he lost everything that was dear to him, turned to art to recapture his memories. It also tells the story of a slave who lived through turbulent times and who saw many changes take place during his lifetime.

   At the back of the book the reader will find further information about Bill Traylor’s life and art.