Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, March 12, 2018

Between the Lines by Sandra Neil Wallace

Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery
Sandra Neil Wallace; Illustrations by Bryan Collier
Simon & Schuster. 2018
ISBN: 9781481443876
Grades 3 and up
To write this review, I used a copy sent by the publisher.

As a child, Ernest Barnes loved to paint. He would wait until the backyard turned to mud after a North Carolina rain. Painting mud.  With a stick, he drew lines: straight, curved, loops, and lines that crossed. Growing up in the segregated South of the 1940’s, Barnes introduction to the master painters was at the house of a white lawyer where his mother was a housekeeper. The first time Ernest saw a room full of leather books and mahogany frames “that Mama polished, he stared at the beautiful paintings in the frames.”

Though he never left the house without a sketchbook, it was his talent as a football player that allowed Ernest to attend college on a football scholarship. After college, Barnes would play for the American Football League until 1964. when he became the Official Artist for the American Football League and was paid a football players salary. 

In this compelling narrative, Wallace conveys Barnes determination to fulfill his dream of one day making his living as an artist. Born in 1938, Barnes was one of the most important artist of his time. Known for his style of elongation and movement, his work has influenced a generation of illustrators and painters. 

The book is beautifully illustrated by Bryan Collier, four-time Caldecott Honor recipient, six-time Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award recipient, and three-time Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award recipient. The book’s art is rendered in watercolor and collage. In his illustrator’s note, Collier states, “There are areas where I show you the actual art of Ernie Barnes with his signature exaggerated figures in expressive motion.” 

This informational picture book biography will be of interest to sports fans, and those who someday dream of being a professional artist. Back matter includes an author and illustrator’s note, source notes for quotes, and a bibliography to learn more about Ernie Barnes. Wallace also includes places where you can see Ernie Barnes’s paintings. 



  1. Sandra was my mentor at the Highlights workshop I attended last summer. She is a great encourager and a super writer! So glad to see this book in print.