What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,
Plus What I Did Last Week,
Featuring R. Gregory Christie and D.B. Johnson

h1 January 12th, 2012 by jules

“…Who was this man, and what caused him to start drawing in his old age?
His name was Bill Traylor, and if people had asked him,
he might have said, ‘It jes’ come to me.'”

(Click to enlarge spread)

My Kirkus column for this week goes up tomorrow, as usual — not today. (Yup, I’m posting a bit early, but I wanted to go ahead and share some art today.) Tomorrow’s column, which will be here in the morning, will be about the new picture book biography of Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low, written by Shana Corey with artwork from debut illustrator Hadley Hooper. Low was the founder of the Girl Scouts, and I like this book — thank goodness for Shana Corey’s devotion to picture book biographies about remarkable women. So, more on that tomorrow.

In last week’s column, I took a look at some illustrated books I’m eager to see in 2012. One of those books mentioned was D.B. Johnson’s Magritte’s Marvelous Hat. (An illustration from that opens this post.) Even though it’s scheduled to be released in April by Houghton Mifflin (yikes, sorry I’m posting this so early — I just get excited), I was able to see an F & G of the book. And then I contacted Don about sharing some art and early sketches from it.

In last week’s column, I also mentioned a 2012 YA title (Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller), illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, which I’m eager to see. But this week I’ve got some artwork from another of Christie’s upcoming illustrated titles, Don Tate’s It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw (also scheduled for an April release, this one from Lee & Low Books). This is especially fitting, since very recently Don joined me for a breakfast interview and talked about this book. (A spread from that book is also pictured above.)

I haven’t read It Jes’ Happened yet, but as I said, I did read Don’s book, so here’s a bit more about it, followed by lots of art from both books. (Clear as mud?) Thanks to both Don and Greg for sharing art today.

First up, Don’s book …

This playful picture book reminds me of one of the many reasons I love Don’s work: He is not afraid to tackle subject matter in picture books that most people would stay away from. (Case in point: See his response at my ’09 interview with him to the “What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?” Pivot question.) Truly, he always gets me excited about the picture book form, given his vibrant (and often kaleidoscopic) artwork and his refusal to condescend to child readers — by giving them smart, captivating books.

In this mixed-media title, Don gets very 3D on us, and the results are straight up exciting.

The book, a tribute to surrealist artist René Magritte, includes a world that, as Don notes in the closing Author’s Note, is inspired by Magritte’s paintings. (I’m glad to have some art here today to show you a bit of what it’s like, since explaining it is not impossible, but challenging.) Several moments in the book include partly-illustrated plastic overlay pages that, when turned, reveal a whole, new surrealist twist on the tale. Don sent an animated image that demonstrates this. (If you are looking at this image and it’s not moving, refresh this page and you’ll see it do its thing).

“Magritte forgot all the fun he had walking with his hat. He even forgot he had a hat until the moment it bounced along the ceiling, wanting to play. ‘Hat,’ said Magritte. ‘I can’t paint when you’re bouncing. Just be a hat and sit on my head.’ That was when the hat flew out the window. And all at once the colors splashed onto Magritte’s face. And his brush unpainted the picture.”

Yes, it actually does splash on his face and disappear from the painting, given that overlay page — an instance of a squeal-inducing page turn, for sure, for child readers. (Or, okay, readers like me, who are nearly forty years old.)

As you can see, this is a canine Magritte and he finds much inspiration in this hat, but I don’t want to give too much away, especially since I’m posting about this months before its release date.

Here are some more images, followed by the illustrations from R. Gregory Christie from It Jes’ Happened. Thanks again to both illustrators for sharing.

Early sketch


Rough color

Color in progress

Final art: “For the very first time, painting was easy. His brush danced and
the colors sang. Magritte painted his best picture ever.”



Rough color

Final art: “For fun, the hat kept pretending to blow away and Magritte had to chase after it. He had to climb trees and jump over walls.”

* * *

Click to enlarge and read text

Click to enlarge and read text

Click to enlarge and read text

Click to enlarge and read text

* * * * * * *

MAGRITTE’S MARVELOUS HAT. Copyright © 2012 D.B. Johnson. Published by Houghton Mifflin, New York. Images reproduced by permission of D.B. Johnson.

IT JES’ HAPPENED: WHEN BILL TRAYLOR STARTED TO DRAW. Copyright © 2012 Don Tate. Illustration © 2012 R. Gregory Christie. Published by Lee & Low, New York. Images reproduced by permission of R. Gregory Christie.

7 comments to “What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,
Plus What I Did Last Week,
Featuring R. Gregory Christie and D.B. Johnson”

  1. Nice to see this preview of more of Don’s wonderful, joyful, imaginative art. Thanks, Don, for all your work.
    I keep a copy of Black All Around! displayed in my
    living room!

  2. These books look wonderful! Looking forward to seeing them on shelves.

  3. Thanks for the heads up on two wonderful books. It’s going to be a great spring!

  4. Lovely as always. And I am most excited for the Girl Scout book! I scrambled all day to pull something togehter for Caroline’s Brownie meeting- this book will definitely be a hit a future meeting 🙂

  5. What an amazing-looking book!


  6. Oh my goodness, I’m not surprised you got excited about the Magritte book – it looks wonderful – I love the idea of those overlay pages, and thank you for showing the progress of those illustrations. I always love to see how an artist gets to their final version.

    Also the story of Bill Taylor is fascinating too – again, thank you.

  7. Two of all-time my favorite people: DB Johnson and Bill Traylor… in a single 7Imps post. I can’t wait to experience the real books. Thank you!

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