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The Children's Bookshelf: Ablaze With Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas - February 21, 2022


Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas written by Jeanne Walker Harvey and illustrated by Loveis Wise is an eye-popping picture book biography of this artist born in Georgia in 1891. Alma’s childhood was full of creative opportunities. She particularly liked to be in the beautiful outdoors with the sun and flowers where she could scoop up red clay from a nearby stream and fashion her own clay cups and bowls.

The family moved to Washington D.C. in 1907 to get away from Jim Crow laws including those that required Black children to go to separate schools. In her new home she thrived! She graduated from the Armstrong Manual Training School in 1911 and began to share her passion for the arts with students in Maryland, Delaware and D.C. In 1924, she completed a degree in art at Howard University. Her days as a high school art teacher were filled with her ability to turn students on to art.

When Alma retired from teaching in 1960, she started to transform her own approach to art based on her continued love of the outdoors. Circles and stripes and dashes and dots filled her canvases. Hot orange colors and brilliant shades of yellow flirted with the eyes of the beholder. Her paintings were in demand and were shown at the Whitney Museum in New York City and the Corcoran in Washington D.C. to name a few.

Alma died in 1978. She did not know her painting, Resurrection, would be seen by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in 2015. She did not know it would be the first artwork by a Black woman to be displayed at the White House and to become part of the permanent collection there.

Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas written by Jeanne Walker Harvey and illustrated by Loveis Wise is designed for readers 4-8 years of age and includes a terrific timeline of events that are impactful to this story (Harper/ an imprint of Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2022).

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and the Activity Questions can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org.

Activity Questions for Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas.

For older children: This book brings forth the information that Alma Thomas was the first Black women to have her artwork shown in the White House. Go online (parents can help) to see pictures of The Old Family Dining Room and all the changes it has undergone since the days of President John Quincy Adams. Write a paragraph about how this room has changed over time. Discuss the table itself, the lighting, the drapes, the colors and the art.

Revisit the pictures in this book-----especially those that illustrate Alma’s lively artwork. Take a large piece of paper on which to draw or paint a design full of circles and stripes and dots and dashes as Alma did. Remember to use bright colors!

Sue Ann Martin is professor emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts and the founding and past Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She first became interested in children’s literature when she wrote her PhD thesis on the oral characteristics of the Caldecott Award-winning children’s books. Her PhD is in Speech and Interpretation with a cognate in Early Childhood Education. She went on to review children’s books for the Detroit Free Press, write three popular resource books for teachers regarding children’s books and the creative process. She also reviewed newly-published books for Arts Almanac specials on WCMU Public Radio. Her 2002 children’s books special for WCMU won a Merit Award in Special Interest Programming from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.