A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horrace Pippin

Summary: This illustrated biography by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet tells the story of the famous artist, Horace Pippin. From a young age, it was clear that painting was his passion. Everything he saw he wanted to paint. As he grew older, his responsibilities changed and then he went on to serve in World War I. It was here that he was wounded and thought that he could never paint again. But with practice, he was back at it. He was later discovered by another famous artist, N.C. Wyeth. From there, his popularity soared and his work became known all around the world.

Critical Markers: This book takes place during the late 1800s to early 1900s, and one can plainly see the references to the time period in both the illustrations and the text. For example, Horace’s grandma is mentioned to be a former slave until the Civil War, which took place about 30 years before the beginning of this book. We also see that Horace dropped out of school in 8th grade to help provide for his family. You would not see that today thanks to child labor laws. And then of course, one of the settings in the book was World War I, which took place form 1914-1918. Since Horace was African-American, there is some mention of his culture in the text. Like previously stated, his Grandma was a former slave, a huge part of African American history. And of course, there is mention of his disability that he overcame. He gets shot during his military service and this leaves his right arm very weak and almost unusable. This made it difficult for him to find a job. But due to his perseverance, he learns how to paint again and prevails in the world of art.

Personal Reflection: This book gets bonus points from me because our protagonist Horrace Pippin overcomes so much in his life. Not just the fact that he was shot and because of this, found it difficult to paint, but also because of the color of his skin. Being African American during this time period was not easy. Though not evident in this particular book, I am certain that he faced many prejudices because of his skin color. So this book is a must have for my library as I teach that you can overcome anything if you truly work hard and believe in yourself.


A Robert F. Sibert Honor Book

Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award

An ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book

Winner of the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children

Review Excerpts:

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, February 18, 2013:
“Quotations from Pippin about the psychological scars of war and his artistic process are hand-drawn into Sweet’s images, underscoring how art was not only a joyful outlet for Pippin, but also a vital means of interpreting the world.”

Starred Review, School Library Journal, January 1, 2013:
“Bryant’s meticulously researched, eloquent text makes this a winning read-aloud, while Sweet’s vibrant, folksy illustrations, rendered in watercolor, gouache, and mixed media, portray the joys and hardships of the man’s life, using his trademark palette…with just a splash of red.”

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2012:
“This outstanding portrait of African-American artist Horace Pippin (1888-1946) allows Pippin’s work to shine—and his heart too.”

Starred Review, Booklist, November 1, 2012:
“…a well-structured narrative with recurring themes and a highly accessible style…outstanding.”

Lesson Plans: I would use this book during a lesson of famous African Americans during Black History Month. Since it is a biography, this also works during a lesson on book genres.

This link has other lesson plans and similar books: http://cattailchronicles.com/2013/02/04/celebrating-black-history-month-with-horace-pippin-and-a-splash-of-red/
Bryant, J., & Sweet, M. (2013). A splash of red: The life and art of Horace Pippin. New York: Alfred A. Knope. ISBN: 0375867120


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