It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw

By Don Tate
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Hardcover: $17.95

Growing up as an enslaved boy on an Alabama cotton farm, Bill Traylor worked all day in the hot fields. When slavery ended, Bill’s family stayed on the farm as sharecroppers. There Bill grew to manhood, raised his own family, and cared for the land and his animals.

By 1935 Bill was eighty-one and all alone on his farm. So he packed his bag and moved to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama. Lonely and poor, he wandered the busy downtown streets. But deep within himself Bill had a reservoir of memories of working and living on the land, and soon those memories blossomed into pictures. Bill began to draw people, places, and animals from his earlier life, as well as scenes of the city around him.

Today Bill Traylor is considered to be one of the most important self-taught American folk artists. Winner of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award Honor, It Jes’ Happened is a lively tribute to this man who has enriched the world with more than twelve hundred warm, energetic, and often humorous pictures.

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Check out the educator activities for It Jes' Happened, a title featured in RIF’s Multicultural Book Collections. To find other free activities that inspire young readers as well as learn more about Reading Is Fundamental, visit us at

Explore a CCSS annotated activity guide for It Jes' Happened created by educator and author Debbie Gonzales, provided by author Don Tate.

Engage students with a three-lesson art curriculum unit for It Jes' Happened created by art educator Kelly McConnell.

About the Creators

Thumb_thumb Don Tate - Author

makes his debut as an author with the publication of It Jes’ Happened. He has also illustrated more than forty trade and educational books for children, including the highly-praised Summer Sun Risin’ and Black All Around!, published by Lee & Low Books; She Loved Baseball; and Ron’s Big Mission. Tate and his family live in Austin, Texas. He can be found online at

Thumb_thumb R. Gregory Christie

is a three-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Honor. His work for Lee & Low includes two books that won this award: The Palm of My Heart and Brothers in Hope. Christie has also been twice recognized on The New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books list. He currently paints in the evenings while traveling around the country doing school visits. His website is

About This Title


Hardcover: 9781600602603


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Kirkus Reviews

New Voices Award Honor

Ezra Jack Book Award Honor
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Starred Review
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Guided Reading:




Interest Level:

Grades 1 - 6

Reading Level:

Grades 3 - 4


Nonfiction, United States History, Slavery, Overcoming Obstacles, Imagination, History, Dreams & Aspirations, Childhood Experiences and Memories, African/African American Interest, Biography/Memoir, Art, Empathy/Compassion, Gratitude, Integrity/Honesty , Persistence/Grit, Self Control/Self Regulation

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