Review: A Splash of Red by Jen Bryant

splash of red

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Born in 1888, Horace Pippin loved to draw from the time he was a small child.  He would draw on scrap paper using charcoal, he would draw for his friends, and he would even draw on his spelling tests though his teacher did not appreciate that.  As he grew, he had to quit school in 8th grade.  He worked hard with his hands in different ways, but continued to draw and paint.  Then Horace went to war and was wounded in his right arm.  Now he could no longer draw, or so he thought.  He started trying again with a poker and using his other hand to steady himself.  As he grew stronger, he drew more and more.  Eventually, he gained the attention of people like N. C. Wyeth, who helped put together his first art show.  Pippin’s life that was filled with hardships and obstacles serves as inspiration for young artists.

Bryant and Sweet  collaborated before with Caldecott Honor results.  This picture book biography of an important but lesser known African-American artist shows the power of art in one’s life and how it is impossible to stop seeing and communicating the world through art once you begin.  Bryant writes with a solidity that is lovely.  Incorporating Pippin’s own words from letters, she captures the life of this artist and how he came to be recognized for his work.

Sweet too weaves Pippin’s words into her art.  Her use of collage truly builds Pippin’s world before readers’ eyes.  My favorite image in the book is Pippin as a young boy sitting and drawing on piles of papers.  It captures the intensity with which he created art even at such a young age.  This intensity continues through his story to after he is wounded and the determination that is apparent in just his hands. 

Another very successful collaboration of these two masters, this biographical picture book should serve as its own splash of red on every library’s shelves.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.