The little urban public library branch in which I’m currently working isn’t exactly beautiful. The building is old and a bit tired, and until recently a lack of eye-catching signage meant that people often walked right by us without even realizing that we were here. Like Mira’s city in F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell’s Maybe Something Beautiful, our library’s exterior was drab and dreary, and in desperate need of something beautiful.
The addition of splashes of colour in the form of a vibrant outdoor mural, together with seasonal window paintings (from the wonderful local artist and library staffer Dawn Lo), has changed the face of our little space. These happy pops of colour, which were created by library staff, local residents, local artists, and community organizations, brought a much-needed breath of fresh air to our space, and rejuvenated our tired exterior.
Maybe Something Beautiful tells the story of Mira, a little girl who lives in a city that’s grey and dreary. She is an artist, with a heart that’s filled with colour, and she spreads art and joy throughout her community. Still, she wishes there was more she could do to help revitalize her community. When a mysterious muralist appears, he unleashes a creative whirlwind and inspires the community’s residents to come together and turn their homes into something beautiful.
What the story doesn’t touch on, but which might be worth mentioning when using this book with children, is that painting on random buildings in your community might create something beautiful, but might also be against the law. Public art is wonderful, but vandalizing public or private property isn’t very nice, and probably won’t win you many friends. While the creation of community artwork appears in the story as a spontaneous act, the authors’ note does mention that the event on which the story is based involved a lot of organizing, planning, teamwork and community engagement.
As you might expect from a picture book about creating art, the illustrations in Maybe Something Beautiful are fantastic. The changing colour schemes mirror the shifts experienced by the community, as a neutral palette of greys and browns explodes into a lively palette of colour and vibrancy. The illustrator is, in fact, the real-life artist upon whom the character of the muralist is based, and who helped inspire a public art revival in San Diego, California!
While not all children might get the opportunity to paint on buildings in their neighborhood, Maybe Something Beautiful is still an inspiring celebration of the power of artistic expression and community engagement in all its forms that everyone can relate to. Even the smallest acts of connecting and creating can inspire positivity and change, and we all have the power to make the world a more beautiful, joyful place.