Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas

HarperCollins. Feb. 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780063021891.
PreS-Gr 4–Harvey rectifies an enormous wrong with this spirited biography of Black painter Alma Thomas (1891-1978), who is not nearly as renowned as she ought to be. In clear language and straightforward presentation, the author (Maya Lin) focuses on Thomas’s family’s intellectual ambitions and support of her aspirations, her love of nature and education, and her determination and persistence in the face of societal obstacles. Thomas’s selflessness as a teacher clearly equaled her love of art: “Through color, I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.” Although midway through the book readers learn that she spent her adult life in Washington, DC, only by consulting the useful back matter do they find, for example, where Thomas was born (via a cleverly constructed time line). The handful of references include two books for older readers, complementing this one for the young. Wise celebrates Thomas’s work with saturated, page-filling, vibrant color; the rich, flat, atmospheric compositions fit Thomas’s tesselated style and high-key colors better than Obiora N. Anekwe’s Alma’s Dream. Though Thomas made most of her paintings after age 70, the concept of aging in these pages is not literal, but more stylized and impressionistic.
VERDICT An inspiring introduction for artists and appreciators, as individuals or shared in groups

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