Review of Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas

Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas
by Jeanne Walker Harvey; illus. by Loveis Wise
Primary    Harper/HarperCollins    40 pp.    g
2/22    978-0-06-302189-1    $18.99

This superb picture-book biography profiles Alma Thomas (1891–1978), the first Black woman to have art displayed in the White House’s permanent collection. After a childhood filled with “soaking up the sparkling colors of nature” and enhanced by heady discussions (“Alma’s parents filled their home with books and created their own place of learning”), Thomas taught art to Black children in segregated schools. During her long teaching career, she “painted, studied, and shared ideas with artist friends” on the side until retiring and turning to creating art full time. Thomas was the first Black woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney in New York, in 1972, and made history again when First Lady Michelle Obama chose her modern masterpiece, Resurrection, for permanent display in the White House’s Old Family Dining Room. Harvey’s (Maya Lin, rev. 7/17) poetic text is imagistic and deftly paced; Wise’s (The People Remember, rev. 11/21) digital artwork is boldly, fittingly colorful. Long, loose-limbed figures in various shades of brown pop against backgrounds of blues, greens, and golds. The story is bookended with scenes of Alma in repose, lying on her back, hands behind her head, the very picture of satisfaction from a job well done and a life well lived. Author and illustrator notes, an illustrated timeline, a source list, notes, and references (with separate sections for articles, children’s books, and adult books) are appended.

From the March/April 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sam Bloom

Sam Bloom is a programming librarian at the Covington Branch of the Kenton County Public Library in northern Kentucky.

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