maybe something beautifulMaybe Something Beautiful
How Art Transformed a Neighborhood
By F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell
Illustrated by Rafael López

This truly beautiful picture book is a triumphant celebration of collaboration and the transformative power of art. It is based on the true story of Rafael and Candice López and the birth of San Diego’s Urban Art Trail.

The story is told through the eyes of a fictional young artist named Mira. Mira loves to draw and doodle, color and paint. She lives in the city, which can be quite gray and dreary. But when Mira sees a blank piece of paper, she is inspired to paint something beautiful. “And because of this, her room was filled with color and her heart was filled with joy.” She gifts the people she passes in the neighborhood with small works of art and tapes a colorful, smiling sun to the wall of a gray building . . . an earnest but singular attempt to make the city less gray.

One day Mira comes upon a muralist who invites her to join him. As he draws pictures Mira adds “color, punch and pizzazz!” Soon the whole neighborhood joins in. Color appears on walls, benches and sidewalks, and joy is spread through the city streets. This simple idea brought people together, changed attitudes and transformed “the heart of a gray city” into Something Beautiful.

The book’s illustrator, Rafael López, is the muralist whose bright and colorful work inspired the story. He and his wife Candice,  a graphic designer and community leader,  live and work in San Diego’s East Village. Together they designed a plan to bring people together to create murals. They inspired police officers, graffiti artists, teachers, single parents, children, homeless people – volunteers of all ages, races, and walks of life to collaborate on a common goal: reviving their community through art. Details of their efforts and the response from the community are offered in the back matter.

Authors, F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, tell a story that is relatable for children, making Mira’s love for art a central theme. What child wouldn’t want to paint wall-sized pictures! But speaking to the heart of the story is Mira’s selfless character and joyful spirit. She helps to move a whole community from their everyday lives into a world of possibility and hope. The message is strong that young Mira is empowered and has a real place in this joyous collaboration.

This is a wonderful read-aloud in support of both self-expression through art and peacemaking. Collaboration comes from the labors of peacemaking. We see the beauty of collaboration in our Montessori environments every day – an older child helps a younger to learn to tie a shoe; classmates work together to plant a school garden; children listen respectfully to shared ideas and brainstorm solutions. Maybe Something Beautiful is a testament to the importance of collaboration to make the world better. It is a story that confirms for young readers the peacemaking lessons of the classroom in the real world. Share it joyously with your students. Stories like this are important for the inspiration they deliver to young minds and hearts to imagine the possibilities and to do big things – together.

Here are some picture books in the genre of realistic fiction that also have collaboration as a central theme:

For more on collaboration, including picture book suggestions, see A Facilitator’s Guide to the Peacemaker Messages