Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas by Jeanne Walker Harvey and Loveis Wise

Hello, Jeanne Walker Harvey! Hello, Loveis Wise! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read! Thank you for stopping by to celebrate Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas

Jeanne Walker Harvey: Thanks ever so much, Mr. Schu, for hosting on Watch, Connect, Read! the cover reveal for our new book, Ablaze with Color, and inviting Loveis Wise and me to share our thoughts. You’re such an incredible ambassador for children’s literature and talented children’s book author. I’m truly honored to be interviewed by you.

You're very kind! 

Loveis, please take us on a tour of Ablaze with Color’s STUNNING cover. 

Loveis Wise: Hi! This cover features a young Alma Thomas painting and creating some of her famous shapes, dashes, and dots all around her. I really wanted the reader to feel like they could even step into the whimsical world that Alma was creating and feel its vibrancy.

Jeanne, imagine you’re telling elementary school teachers about Ablaze with Color.

Jeanne Walker Harvey: First of all, I’d say, “Isn’t the cover amazing?” I believe students will be drawn right into the book and will be captivated by the illustrations by the talented Loveis Wise.

And I want to say a huge “Thank you!” to teachers. Not only for what they do every day for students, but especially during these past few incredibly challenging years. When I’ve done Zoom school author visits, I’ve been so impressed by the kindness, patience and talent of these elementary school teachers who navigated teaching students attending from home and/or with varied schedules.

Alma Thomas herself was a devoted art teacher, in the same classroom and in her home in segregated Washington DC, until she retired after teaching for over 35 years. Through her teaching and her own art (which she focused on full time after she retired), Alma sought to focus on beauty and joy, particularly inspired by nature and the marvels of space travel (new at the time), to help overcome life’s challenges. She and her family faced racial injustices in Georgia, which led them to move to Washington, DC, where Alma lived for the rest of her life.

Her life took an unexpected, exciting turn when she was almost seventy and suffering from painful arthritis in her hands. With her newly developed style of bold abstract vibrant art, Alma was the first Black woman to have a solo exhibit at the famous Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, and later in the same year at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in DC. In 2015, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama selected Alma’s painting, Resurrection, to be the first artwork by a Black woman to enter the permanent collection of the White House.

I hope our book inspires children to seek joy on their own creative paths and overcome their own challenges.

I’d guide teachers to the back matter of the book which includes more information and resources about Alma Thomas, including a timeline of her life in parallel with certain U.S. events.

Also, I would like teachers to share with their students that a book is a collaborative effort. Many people, in addition to an author and illustrator, contribute to the creation of a book. In my case, I have an amazing agent, Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency, who found a home for my manuscript with an incredible editor, Megan Ilnitzki at Harper Collins Children’s Books. I’m grateful for the team at Harper Collins who worked on Ablaze with Color: Chelsea C. Donaldson - art director, Caitlin Stamper - designer, Shona McCarthy - copy editor, Aubrey Churchward - publicist.

Working with Megan Ilnitzki was a dream. She edits with finesse, grace and talent. I explain to students that receiving editing notes from an editor is like getting feedback from a teacher on a paper or story. And the more comments the better. I tell children that the teacher’s suggestions are like keys that can unlock treasure chests because the comments provide ways to make the writing even better. And I always suggest that students thank their teachers for all the time and effort they spend giving feedback. Let’s hear it for editors and teachers!

Loveis, please finish the following sentence starters:

Alma Thomas is an icon whose artistic superpower is evoking joy & playfulness in any space through her work & use of color!

Art...to me, is about storytelling & sharing connections with one another through our creative senses.

Jeanne, please finish the following sentence starters:

Loveis Wise’s illustrations surpass anything I envisioned when I wrote this book. They are STUNNING! I’m using your word, Mr. Schu, as it’s absolutely true. I couldn’t be more thrilled. I feel that Loveis’ illustrations are artworks displaying creativity, vibrancy, power and poignancy. Their illustrations not only embody Alma Thomas’ joy and passion for beauty, but also create a sense of time, place and experience which is integral to sharing Alma’s story. I love the way Loveis’ illustrations burst forth with color and power when the seventy-year-old Alma is inspired to paint in her new style. I’ve set up my recently received F & G (folded and gathered unbound version) of Ablaze with Color on a stand on my desk. Every day I turn a page so I can savor another illustration. Loveis Wise’s illustrations give me such joy!

Story is a way of connecting to each other’s hearts. Stories are powerful sources of connection and compassion and inspiration. I write picture book biographies about creative people because I’m fascinated about who and what in their lives inspired them, what they overcame to pursue their creative endeavors, and why being creative was important to them. I hope the stories of creative people, such as Alma Thomas, will touch and inspire children.

Congratulations, Jeanne Walker Harvey and Loveis Wise! 

Jeanne Walker Harvey has been a longtime docent at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Just like Alma Thomas, Jeanne believes that art brings us joy. Her other picture books include Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines and My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey. Jeanne studied literature and psychology at Stanford University. She lives in Northern California. Visit her online at www.jeanneharvey.com.

Loveis Wise is a nonbinary illustrator and designer from Washington, DC, now based in Los Angeles. They have collaborated and imagined with clients such as the New Yorker, the New York Times, HarperCollins, Google, Disney Hyperion, and Adobe, to name a few. Their work often speaks to themes of joy, mindfulness, and liberation.

Look for Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas on February 8, 2022. 

HarperCollins' Description:

As a child in Georgia, Alma Thomas loved to spend time outside, soaking up the colors around her. And her parents filled their home with color and creativity despite the racial injustices they faced. After the family moved to Washington, DC, Alma shared her passion for art by teaching children. When she was almost seventy years old, she focused on her own artwork, inspired by nature and space travel.

In this stunning celebration of art and the power of imagination, Jeanne Walker Harvey and Loveis Wise tell the incredible true story of Alma Thomas, the first Black woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York City and to have her work chosen for the White House collection. With her bold and vibrant abstract paintings, Alma set the world ablaze with color.


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