Lone Star Book Reviews
of Texas books appear weekly
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Cathey Graham Nickell of Bellaire, Texas, a former public relations professional and mother of four, does not drive an art car herself, but she loves snapping photographs whenever she spots one.

Although Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car is Nickell’s first children’s book, she has also has written a nonfiction volume, the sixty-year history of the Institute for Spirituality and Health, a nonprofit organization in the Texas Medical Center. Uniting Faith, Medicine and Healthcare (2012), serves as a marketing/fundraising piece for the Institute; it was revised for a second printing in 2015.

Nickell is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Houston Writers Guild, and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. She graduated from Baylor University in 1985 and received a master of arts degree from Louisiana State University–Sheveport in 2013.


Bill Megenhardt is a graphic illustrator living in Houston, Texas, with more than twenty illustrated books to date to his credit.



Cathey Graham Nickell

with illustrations by Bill Megenhardt

Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car

Twenty-Eight Creative, February 2016

978-0996115001, hardcover, 40 pages, with color illustrations, $19.99

Houston, Texas, as Cathey Graham Nickell’s informative afterword to Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car tells us, nearly three decades ago started the nation’s first official parade for art cars. Or artcars, if you’re among the enthusiasts who’d like to see this art-fusion compound fused for all time in your Merriam-Webster’s.

But you don’t have to know anything about Houston’s Orange Show, or have ever attended an art car parade, or have ever seen, ridden in, or driven an art car to appreciate Nickell’s delightful fable about the transforming power of creativity.

Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car is also delightfully, and skillfully, illuminated with Houston illustrator Bill Megenhardt’s graphite drawings. In an age when so many illustrated books are produced by machine, with digital techniques, rather than by hand, it’s refreshing to let the eye linger on richly crosshatched shadings and texturings and to discover minute features of the caricatures such as Mr. Zarr’s nautical-motif tie. Back to that in a minute.

Nickell’s book embodies a simple message that all ages can appreciate: that even the tiniest gesture of originality begets others, and that an acorn-adorned grille of a plain, boxy automobile can sprout first into whimsy, then friendship, then attention, cooperation, community, and ultimately happiness. But its message bears deeper consideration. What art, and why does it satisfy on multiple levels? Are the venues of creative expression limited to gallery walls and textbooks? Must art always be serious and high—or can it also be playful and accessible? What differentiates craft from art?

The book’s protagonist, the gray-haired, trim-mustached, and lonely Mr. Zarr, is himself a competent craftsman with a neatly arranged workbench (twenty-first-century children can be taught to identify brace drill and wood chisel and bench vise) and tidy yard (well, there was that stray dandelion springing up). But it is the impulse toward art—the aha moment of appreciating a thing of unexpected beauty and incorporating it in his everyday life—that sets him on the road to redemption. In his series of decisions to accept kindness and juxtapose serendipity with a quietly regimented life, Mr. Zarr grows from his grisaille existence into a citizen of a diverse, polychromed neighborhood.

And if you appreciated panalphabetic sentence, you’ll appreciate even more the abecedary with which Mr. Zarr enhances his car. Nickell’s book is a treat for sight, sound, and sense, for readers and artcarfans (no, you won’t find the word in your dictionary just yet, anyway) of all levels.

Visit www.catheynickell.com to learn more.

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Retail outlets in the Houston area carrying Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car include The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, the Beer Can House gift shop, Brazos Bookstore, the Jung Center, Bering’s, and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

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