Happy Birthday Nell!

What do you give a girl on her first birthday? Books, of course! What do you do when her mamas are well read? You choose wisely.

My little friend Nell turned one this month. Her moms are my friends Andrea and Hope.

I met Andrea first when we taught girls’ writing classes together at Women Writing for (a) Change. Andrea is an excellent teacher – her day job – and a loyal friend. She shows up with food in times of celebration and struggle, drops off flowers, sends a card when you need cheer and brings coffee and muffins when your kid is in the hospital. She’s also a great hostess. Nell’s first birthday was quite the impressive Eric Carle extravaganza. (You could try every food from  The Very Hungry Caterpillar!)

Nell party

Nell’s birthday was straight out of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Hope is also a cool and talented mama. Performer, writer, yogi, teacher, she is wickedly funny and rocks a Boden dress. She helped me during my last job search by editing my resume and letter. She made me laugh too.


The birthday girl.

I’ll enjoy watching this family bloom. It will be lovely to see Nell grow.

Here are the Max and Calvin tested books we bought Nell.

The Library by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small. Elizabeth Brown is an obsessive reader who one day donates her book-filled home to her town to create a library.

The Library

I can relate to Elizabeth Brown in The Library. She loves books, cats and her stuffed bear.

Brave Girl. This gem by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, who also illustrated one of our favorite books about Horace Pippin. Clara is an immigrant girl who works as a seamstress in horrid conditions in a factory. She bravely organizes a “revolt of girls” who strike for better treatment. My kids were captivated by the story, based on true events.


These girls mean business.

Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl. Brother Ben bought this one and it’s fascinating for adults and kids. From A is for Angela Davis to Z is for Zora Neale Hurston is introduces “rebels, trailblazers and visionaries who shaped our history and our future!”

Rad women

So many rad women to learn about!

Happy Birthday Nell!

He used red; the art of Horace Pippin

Sometimes I’m wrong.

Last fall, I had the good fortune to visit the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Standing in front of a Horace Pippin painting, I said to a new acquaintance, “He’s from Cincinnati!”

But he’s not.

The artist, born in 1888 in West Chester, Pennsylvania, is known for his depictions of the African-American experience.

Maybe I got mixed up because I had seen his work in the Cincinnati Art Museum. Who knows, but what set me straight was Jen Bryant’s book “A Splash of Red, The Life and Art of Horace Pippin.”

Pippin's painting, Christmas Morning Breakfast. You can see this 1945 work at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Don't worry, I checked!

Horace Pippin’s painting, Christmas Morning Breakfast. You can see this 1945 work at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Don’t worry, I checked!

The title caught my eye on the discount table of a local bookstore. Worth every penny and more, Melissa’s Sweet’s illustrations heighten the great story. Her work is delightful.

Max and Calvin took to the story right away.

Meanwhile, I said to myself, “Huh. I thought he was from Cincinnati!”

Pictures just came to Pippin's mind.

Pictures just came to Horace’s mind.

The book chronicles Horace’s life up until his artistic success. As a child living in poverty, he draws constantly. A lack of money means no supplies but he uses scraps of paper and charcoal. But the enterprising Horace enters an art contest and wins his first box of colored pencils, brushes, and paints.

“That’s my favorite part,” said Max. “When he wins the paint.”

Adulthood comes with responsibility and World War I. Horace is hurt and his right arm  damaged. He stops creating art but misses it. One day thinking of “his grandmother’s slave days, and the Bible stories she’d told made pictures in his mind, he longed to draw them. But how?”

He picks up a poker and uses it and his left hand to guide his right. As he grew stronger, he painted, often using muted colors with “a splash of red.”

“Let’s read the book about the guy who holds his hand to draw, “ Max will say.


Horace overcame his injury and continued to paint.

Horace found success and created many works that hang today in museums around the country. It’s an inspiring story of how he overcame many obstacles – racism, injury, poverty –  to become a respected artist.

My husband (who had the same misconception about Horace’s origins) and I visited the Cincinnati Art Museum recently with our boys. I’ve looked forward to showing them one of his paintings and having some type of deep moment. We ran out of time and didn’t find it.

But we will go back and I’ll be sure to point out the splash of red.

More info
The author and illustrator researched this book together; unusual in the book process. In the back of the book, they share their journey, including a visit to Pippin’s grave. Where they saw a red cardinal in the gray winter landscape.

Here’s a great reading and craft guide to use with the book.