Publishers Weekly, February 18, 2013
The team behind the Caldecott Honor book A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams returns with a rewarding picture-book biography of self-taught African-American artist Horace Pippin. As a child, Pippin drew pictures at every opportunity, but his family's economic struggles eventually necessitated that he use his "big hands" in many other roles, including "stacking grain sacks at a feed store, shoveling coal at a rail yard," and later serving in WWI. Despite a war injury to his right arm, Pippin adapted in order to continue drawing and painting, eventually leading to recognition and fame in the art world. Sweet's naïf mixed-media collages blend thick, solid color blocks with motifs mined from Pippin's vibrant compositions, which range from war scenes to that of children at play. 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.
School Library Journal, January, 2013
Born in 1888, grandson of a slave, Pippin loved to draw from an early age. He painted “…every day scenes in natural colors; then he added a splash of red.” His classmates often begged, “Make a picture for us, Horace!” When he was in the eighth grade, he quit school and went to work. From rail yard to farm to hotel to factory, his workmates echoed the request, “Make a picture for us....” And when he enlisted in World War I, his fellow soldiers also entreated him to draw. “The war brought out all the art in me.” But a bullet to the shoulder rendered his right arm useless and he was unable to find work due to his injury. Still, his drive to draw remained. One day, “using his good arm to move the hurt one, he scorched lines into the wood” to create a picture. With practice, his weak arm improved enough to allow him to paint, and paint he did. N.C. Wyeth recognized his talent and arranged for him to have a one-man exhibit. Today his work hangs in museums all over the country. 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. Quotations from his notebooks, letters, and interviews are effectively woven into the pictures.—Barbara Auerbach, PS 217, Brooklyn, NY
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.
"The colors are simple, such as brown, amber, yellow, black, white and green,” says pencil-lettered text on the front endpapers. These are Pippin’s own humble words. His art and life aren’t really simple at all, but here, they’re eminently accessible. On that spread, brush and pencil lie on overlapping off-white papers—lined, gridded, plain—decorated in pencil hatchings and a painted progression of hues between each primary color and its complement. From Pippin’s young childhood (working for pay to help his family; sketching with charcoal and paper scraps until he wins his first real art supplies in a contest), to his Army service in World War I, to the well-deserved fame that arrived only late in his life, he “couldn’t stop drawing.” When a military injury threatens Pippin’s painting ability, he tries wood burning—“[u]sing his good arm to move the hurt one”—and works his way back to painting. Sweet’s sophisticated mixed media (watercolor, gouache and collage), compositional framing and both subdued and glowing colors pay homage to Pippin’s artistic style and sometimes re-create his pieces. Bryant’s text is understated, letting Pippin’s frequent quotations glimmer along with the art. Backmatter provides exceptional resources, including artwork locations.
A splash of vibrancy about a self-taught master. (historical note, author’s note, illustrator’s note, references)
Booklist, November 1, 2012
Born in Pennsylvania in 1888, Horace Pippin loved to draw and paint as a child. When he was in eighth grade, his father left the family. Horace quit school and worked to support them. Later wounded as a soldier in World War I, he never regained full use of his right arm. Back home, Pippin began painting again, using his left arm to guide his right. Painting subjects drawn mainly from observation, memory, family stories, and the Bible, this self-taught African American artist was eventually discovered by the art community. Major museums display his works, and their locations are indicated on the U.S. map on the back endpapers, along with small reproductions of six paintings. In a well-structured narrative with recurring themes and a highly accessible style, Bryant writes short sentences full of memorable details, from Pippin’s first box of colored pencils to the scavenged house paints he used to paint his wartime memories. Combining drawings and printed elements with watercolor and gouache paints, Sweet’s mixed media illustrations have a refreshing, down-home style and a brilliance all their own. The artwork incorporates large-print quotes, giving Pippin a voice here as well. Outstanding.