by Sharon Dennis Wyeth
illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet
A young girl looks out her window into a trash-filled courtyard. She leaves her house and walks around the neighborhood, seeing cruel graffiti, a homeless woman, and a dangerous dark alley. She claims that her mother says that “everyone should have something beautiful in their life.” She asks, “where is my something beautiful?”
In school she learns the word “Beautiful.” She thinks it means “something that when you have it, your heart is happy.” When she walks around town later that day, she tells everyone she meets that she’s looking for something beautiful. Every person in the diverse community is able to tell her about something that is beautiful to them. Beautiful is a fried fish sandwich, a jump rope, an apple at the store, music, a smooth stone, a baby’s laugh, and even the little girl herself.
When she returns home, she looks around her at the bad things, then begins cleaning up the trash and scrubbing off the graffiti. In her mind she plants flowers and gives the homeless woman a home. She creates her own beauty in her community.
Realistic illustrations framed in interesting angles make this a rich visual treat. As I was writing this review, a student peeked over my shoulder and asked what I was reading. He asked if we would read it in class, and perhaps we will. The spare text, hopeful message, and vibrant illustrations lend themselves well to create a wonderful and wonderfully usable book about revitalization.
Have students make a list of things that are ugly and beautiful in their community. Is there a way to fix the ugly things? What can kids do to help? Why is it important to help?
Why does the main character decide to clean up the trash and scrub off the spray paint? What do you think she will do if someone puts out more trash or makes more graffiti?
Some of the best parts of this book are the details – the fried fish sandwich or the beads in Rebecca’s hands, for example. What details do you think help make the story come to life? If you were to write your story about your community, what details would you include?