Books: Biographies

True to Life: Great figures in black history; plus an amazing story about Abe Lincoln.

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Jen Bryant, author of
A Splash of Red

What drew you to Horace Pippin’s story?

I first saw his painting Saying Prayers at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. In 2006, I published a novel that’s set partly at the museum, and as I wrote it, I came back to the Pippin painting. His creative drive and physical and emotional resilience inspired me.

The illustrations really sync with Pippin’s style.

Melissa’s style and medium [collage, mixed media] match Pippin’s narrative perfectly. Melissa and I vowed to let the factors that shaped Pippin’s life and artistic career—poverty, disability, slavery—speak for themselves.

What do you hope kids will learn from A Splash of Red?

Pippin used what was available to him and turned that into great art. War memories, kitchen scenes, and family stories all became inspiration. He observed closely and worked consistently, and instead of allowing his hardships to become a burden, he used them as raw material. If kids can do the same in their own lives . . . who knows what they will do?

1. Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird
By Stephanie Spinner, illustrated by Meilo So. $17.99.
The story of the smartest bird around, and the scientist who proved he was doing way more than “parroting,” is a delight. Grades 1–3.

2. You Never Heard of Willie Mays?!
By Jonah Winter, illustrated by Terry Widener. $17.99.
Baseball trivia, radio broadcast quotes, and lessons in segregation mark the saga of the Say Hey Kid’s road to the pros. Grades 2–4.

3. Lincoln and Grace: Why Abraham Lincoln Grew a Beard
By Steve Metzger, illustrated by Ann Kronheimer. $6.99.
A determined girl convinces candidate Lincoln to “let your whiskers grow” to get more votes. It worked! Grades 1–3.

4. A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin
By Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. $17.99.
Illustrated in a rich folk-art style, this endearing story of a man who stuck to his passion will inspire young artists. Grades K–3.

5. Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington
By Jabari Asim, illustrated by Bryan Collier. $16.99.
Inspire students with the story of Booker T’s relentless quest to become an educated man. Grades 1–3.

6. Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers
By Tanya Lee Stone. $24.99.
This slice of hidden history examines courage, discrimination, and the intensity of war. Grades 6–8. 

7. Louisa May’s Battle: How the Civil War Led to Little Women
By Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Carlyn Beccia. $16.99.
Alcott’s early struggles with getting her stories published are told through the lens of the Civil War. Grades 1–3.

8. Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball
By John Coy, ­illustrated by Joe Morse. $16.95.
Hoops fans will be delighted to hear how the game was invented in 1891. Grades 1–3.

9. Annie and Helen
By Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Raul Colón. $17.99.
Archival photos and excerpts of Annie’s and Helen’s letters are a good reason to add this much-covered story to your school library. Grades K–2.

10. Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills
By Renée Watson, illustrated by Christian Robinson. $17.99.
Rhythmic prose and paper-cut-like illustrations bring the story of Harlem’s Little Blackbird to life. Grades K–2.


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