Monday, April 1, 2013

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

Bryant, Jen. 2013. A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin. New York: Knopf.   Illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

(Review copy provided by the publisher)

If "a splash of red" was Horace Pippin's signature use of color,

"Make a picture for us, Horace!"

is the signature line in Jen Bryant's A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin. The phrase appears throughout this chronological account of Pippin's life and art, reminding the reader that although his first oil painting wasn't completed until  after he returned from duty in WWI and was more than forty years old, Horace Pippin's talent was recognized throughout his life by schoolmates, friends, family, co-workers and fellow soldiers, who frequently encouraged him to draw. As a child, he won a mail-in art contest and earned his first art set. A self-taught artist, and grandson of a former slave, Pippin's life was not easy,

Horace was in eighth grade when his father left for good.  The family needed money, so Horace quit school and went to work.

 For several years, Horace's big hands were always busy: stacking grain sacks at a feed store,
shoveling coat at a rail yard,
mending fences on a farm,
carrying luggage at t hotel,
making brakes in an iron factory ...
... packing oil paintings into large wooden crates.
Looking at these made Horace remember winning the art contest.  How proud he'd been!  How he'd loved those colored pencils, those brushes, and his first real box of paints!
In fact, after an injury to his drawing hand in the war, drawing and painting became even more difficult, but he persevered to become a renowned artist in his own lifetime. As told by Jen Bryant, his story is inspirational, his naive art style is accessible to children; and Melissa Sweet's interpretative illustrations, punctuated by the illustrator's renderings of Pippin's own words, bring them both to life. The collaborative work between writer and illustrator is apparent in A Splash of Red, as is their mutual regard for his life and work.

In addition to having its own website ( with related articles and resources for teachers and librarians, the book contains Historical, Author and Illustrator Notes, as well as numerous sources, and suggestions for further reading.

The recommended age range is 5-8, however, older readers capable of understanding the Notes and other sources will find plenty of information here as well.  As always, I encourage teachers to give picture book biographies a chance.  There is more to a great informational text than the number of its pages.

Other reviews at

Today is Nonfiction Monday, the weekly meme in which bloggers across the kidlitosphere write about nonfiction books for kids on Monday.  This week's host is Wendie Old of Wendie's Wanderings.


  1. This looks great! I love Melissa Sweet's work -and I want to learn more about Horace Pippin!

  2. I just finished this one and loved it. He was an amazing man.
    Apples with Many Seeds

  3. This is a terrific book! I'm glad you featured it today for Nonfiction Monday

  4. Could not agree more. Picture book biographies are a valuable resource and this looks like a good one!

    1. If only all teachers shared your enthusiasm for picture book nonfiction!

  5. This book is a treasure. He is so inspiring!

  6. Embarrassingly, I'd never heard of Horace Pippin before I read this book. We checked this book out and my 8 year old enjoyed it. He likes a lot of non-fiction, but doesn't naturally pick up biographies (unless they are about sports players!), but when I choose some for him, he always enjoys them.


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