Sunday, April 20, 2014

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

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Recently awarded the Schneider Family Book Award, an honor given to books that embody the "artistic experience of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences," A Splash of Red is a beautifully crafted book in ways that I never thought about a book being beautiful before.

First, and most obvious, are the illustrations by Melissa Sweet.  Since Horace Pippin was an artist, it only makes sense that the drawings in a biography of his life as an artist be beautiful and colorful, splashed with red.  Created with watercolor, gouache, and mixed media, each page contains sweet surprises hidden within the drawings.  The illustrations of Horace's home as a child invite me inside and make me want to stay with bright colors on the wall and vibrant patterned curtains decorating each window.  Many of the pictures made me want to reach out and try to touch them, to feel the texture.  Upon doing this, I realized that all of the illustrations are two-dimensional, but oh!  How they appear otherwise.

For example, there is a page revealing a "funny face in a magazine" that Horace recreated to win his first prize as an artist.  It looks as if his actual drawing had been attached to the page, as if I could feel the creases of the blue-lined stationary he used that sat atop a glossy scrapbook background.  The following page shows some of Horace's art supplies - paintbrushes and a box of paints, for example - and I feel as if I could pull each colored pencil off the page, one by one.  There is another page detailing Horace's entry into the army in which a boat is sailing on the Atlantic Ocean.  The word "Atlantic Ocean" is written in what appears to be cut-out letters.  They look as if they have an uneven, rough paper, but upon feeling them, they are merely two-dimensional, just as every other image in this magical book.  

The breadth of media used to create the aesthetically indulgent book makes it a tactile experience for young readers, who will want to touch each page to fully experience it.  It will inspire your artists to be creative in their own illustrations.

I also enjoyed the beautiful writing that was found on each page, as well.  Usually, I find biographies that are written for the purpose of educating children about a person's life but are not really written for children.  In A Splash of Red, author Jen Bryant tells about Horace's life in a meaningful way.  This biography unfolds like a story.  

Even though Grandma's hards are big, like Horace's, they "were just fine for giving Horace hugs."  The story of Horace's life begins by telling readers what Horace does with his "big hands."  First, he uses them to help his family around the house.  Then, he uses them to draw at school (sometimes on his spelling tests).  Later, he uses them to go to work when his father leaves home.  No matter how busy he gets, when someone says, "Make a picture for us, Horace," he does.  

When Horace is away at war in Germany, he is shot in the shoulder and can no longer make pictures.  When he returns to the United States, he meets Jennie, "a hard worker.  She loved to cook.  Horace was a hard worker, too.  And he loved to eat!  It was a good match."  (I delighted in this short scene of the book!)  Every time Horace walks down the street, he sees things he wants to draw: flowers, curtains, cats!  He slowly attempts to start drawing again by using his left hand to help his right.  Eventually, he regains strength in his hand and begins to paint famous pieces of art.  

This biography serves many uses in a classroom.  There are many events that lightly skimmed but not dived into.  Why did Horace's father leave?  Students might wonder.  Did Horace have any kids?  (For some reason, my third graders always want to know this question!)  Is he still alive?  (That's another they're always curious about.)  This book will open the door to many questions that students have, allowing them to explore more books and credible websites on their own.  

This biography is also authentic, as it provides more biographical information about Horace in the book, as well as an author's note and illustrator's note in the back detailing the entire process of creating A Splash of Red.  It also includes a list of other books for further reading.  Personal quotes attributed to Horace also grace the pages of A Splash of Red, helping readers to understand more about this talented man. 

After viewing the map in the map of the book, indicating where audiences can see Horace Pippin's work, I was disappointed to note that Virginia does not have any art galleries with his work at the moment!  However, his work can be viewed in Fort Wayne, Indiana, about an hour from my other home, so perhaps I will have the opportunity to visit this summer.  If you would like to see some of Horace Pippin's art for yourself, visit Museum Syndicate Online. For more information about his biography, A Splash of Red, visit the book's official website. 

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