Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed A Neighborhood (F. Isabel Campoy & Theresa Howell)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed A Neighborhood, written by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell,and illustrated by Rafael López.

A little girl named Mira sits in her bedroom in the city, and draws (it’s her favorite thing to do). Mira likes to look at a blank sheet of paper and think, “What if?”; in creating her colorful masterpieces, she’s filled her room with a rainbow of hues. However, the city outside remains a bit dull – perhaps Mira could change that too. She gathers some of her drawings and spreads them around the neighborhood, giving a red apple to the shop owner, a flower to Ms. Lopez, and taping a bright yellow sun to the wall. It’s the last one that captures the attention of a passerby painter, who closely examines Mira’s picture, prompting the girl to ask what the man sees. “Maybe… something beautiful,” he replies, explaining that he is a muralist and inviting Mira to help him with his work. As the two fill the gray neighborhood with color, more neighbors join them, adding their own color, music, and joy to the artworks. At last, the neighborhood has been transformed into a place of inspiration and happiness; something beautiful, indeed.

Wonderful. Based loosely on the real life San Diego Art Trail, the story is told with the focus more in the art – and the magic of making it – than dates or names. Indeed, the muralist of the story is unnamed, though he is clearly identified as being López in the backmatter. Rather than the López being the focus, this is instead placed upon the communal nature of the murals, and how art can bring people together, inducing happiness through both its admiration and creation. Mira provides an excellent character to provide point-of-view; even her name is a clever nod to the act of appreciating art. My only complaint is a scene on when the muralist, at that point a stranger, invites Mira to come with him to create art and she does; it may be important to point out to young readers that they should never go off with strangers. Still, the glorious illustrations will inspire, the length is good, and JJ loved it. Baby Bookworm approved!

Because (Mo Willems)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Because, written by Mo Willems and illustrated by Amber Ren, a lovely ode to the community of people that are behind a single work of art.

It begins with Beethoven: “Because a man named Ludwig wrote beautiful music, a man named Franz was inspired to create his own.” Each page follows in this way, looking at how Franz’s music inspired an orchestra to form to perform his music; musicians to practice, craftsmen to prepare the music hall, artists to design the posters, and patrons to buy tickets. And because one little girl’s uncle came down with a cold, she got her aunt’s spare ticket, and was there to hear Franz’s music – and was transformed, inspired to create her own art and share it with the next young artist.

Beautiful. At once a celebration of the importance of art and the army of people that band together to create it, Willems’s cause-and-effect story structure puts a spotlight on both splendidly while creating a compelling and exciting narrative. I especially loved the focus on how art is most often a community effort, with people working together both onstage and off to make something beautiful for their audience; I’ve only seen it once before in a picture book, and it made me smile to see it here. After all, art is best when it’s shared, and able to inspire the next great artist to take up the torch. Ren’s illustrations are lovely, creating a rich and diverse cast of characters and some wonderfully heartwarming visuals (such as when a flowing stanza of musical notes literally sweeps the young protagonist off her feet and carries her along). The length is great, and JJ and I adored it. Baby Bookworm approved!

A Song For Gwendolyn Brooks (Alice Faye Duncan)

Hello, friends! Our book today is A Song For Gwendolyn Brooks, written by Alice Faye Duncan and illustrated by Xia Gordon, an appropriately poetic look at the life and work of the famed Pulitzer Prize winner.

Gwendolyn is a shy young girl, growing up in Chicago in the 1920’s. Other children her age play and yell and live out loud, but Gwendolyn is content to read, to observe, and most of all, to write. She fills journals with poems, challenging herself to compose one each day, reworking the ones she likes and burying the ones she doesn’t in her mother’s garden. Her poems are so advanced for her age (and, it is implied, skin color) that her teacher accuses her of plagiarism. Her theretofore-quietly supportive parents protest this, her mother having Gwendolyn compose a poem on the spot to prove her talent. With the encouragement of her parents, then later friends and husband, Gwendolyn continues to compose, write, study, and create, her work winning awards and accolades wherever it is published. In 1950, she wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, the first black person to do so – the shy young bud having grown into a furious flower.

Beautiful. Exploring Brooks’s life and work through poems – mostly free-verse couplets – Duncan invites the audience to share Gwendolyn’s voice in the telling of her story. Several of Brooks’s own poems are included in the text as well, and readers get a real sense of how much work and effort went into perfecting her craft (an element that greatly appealed to me; picture books about artists don’t often explore the WORK that goes into being great, only the talent). The art is wonderfully done, using a minimalist eye with rich, folksy tones that evokes both the art of the time and Brooks’s work and personality. The length might be better for slightly older bookworms, though JJ was engaged throughout due to the beautiful art and passionate verse. A beautiful tribute to a brilliant artist, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

What If… (Samantha Berger)

Hello, friends! Our book today is What If…, written by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Mike Curato, an ode to the power of the creative mind.

With a pencil and paper, the unnamed protagonist can write stories and draw art to tell the tales that sing from within her. But what if the pencil was gone? Not a problem – she could fold the paper into origami sculptures to create her stories. And if the paper was gone? Not to worry, there is no end to the mediums she could use to create and express herself: wallpaper, wood, snow, song, dance, dirt, light and dark, on and on. There’s a whole universe of stories within her, and she will find a way to bring them to life by any means available: “As long as I live, I will always create.”

Delightful! A passionate look at the drive to express oneself through art, the charm is in the girl’s unflagging ability to find artistic outlet, and Curato’s fabulous mixed-media depictions of this. With each medium, her work grows more elaborate and fantastic: a life-sized paper airplane carved from a wooden table, a fire-breathing dragon of autumn-colored leaves, an igloo and snowman constructed of sugar cubes and marshmallows. Then even stripped down to basics – creating shadow puppets or singing into the darkness in the absence of light – she aims to artistic expression still. It’s a nice way of exploring creativity as a need, and the indefatigable drive artists have to make real the inspiration within them. For artistic young readers, this will feel like a book that speaks directly to them, and validates this drive. Otherwise, the length was fine, and JJ loved the colors and textures of the brilliant artwork. A lovely bit of encouragement for young creatives, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Drawn Together (Minh Lê & Dan Santat)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Drawn Together, written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat, a heartwarming family tale of language, culture, and love.

The story opens in largely silent comic book-style panels, as we see a boy being dropped off for a visit with his grandfather. Lacking a common language, the two have difficulty connecting, creating a quiet distance… until the boy takes out his art set and begins to draw. Finally finding a commonality, the grandfather produces a paint-and-ink set, and begins to draw as well – and just like that, the conversation can begin. The two have different art styles (the boy’s is modern, brash, and colorful; the grandfathers is more mature, intricately detailed, and traditional), but their respective heroes still find a way to come together and defeat the dragon that separates them, leaving a connection stronger than words can describe.

This was a widely loved book this years and it’s easy to see why: Lê and Santat have crafted a heartwarming, relatable, exciting, and visually stunning tale. Each detail works perfectly, from the visual indications of how different the two characters are (down to the meals they eat), the intentionally spare text until their art begins a deeper story, and the jaw-dropping way that the illustrations beautifully explore two very different styles of art, then seamlessly merge them. It’s a beautiful message about finding connection, the value of elders and cultural tradition, and a lesson in the idea that love can be expressed in many ways. The length was great, JJ loved the art, and this one is Baby Bookworm approved!