Maybe Something Beautiful – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title:  Maybe Something Beautiful, How Art Transformed a Neighborhood

Author: F. Isabel Campoy & Theresa Howell

Illustrator: Rafael Lopez

Publisher: HMH, 2016

Ages: 4-7

Themes: art, neighborhoods, communtiy

Genre: Based on a true story


In the heart of a grey city, there lived a girl
who loved to doodle, draw, color, and paint.
Every time she saw a blank piece of paper,
Mira thought to herself,
Hmm, maybe…
And because of this, her room was filled with color
and her heart was filled with joy.


Based on the true story of the colorful transformation of the East Village neighborhood in San Diego, California. Mira (which in Spanish means look/see) is a little girl who loves to create art. She lives in a gray city where she tries to share her art and change things, but her art is too little to make big changes. Then she meets a man, illustrator, Rafael Lopez (muralist) and his wife Candice, a graphic designer and community activist, who is creating huge murals and who allows Mira to help him. Soon other neighbors are helping and colors begin to fill the streets, creating a close-knit community.

Why I like this book:

The artwork, the joy, the unity, and the diversity in this book came together to make it a feast. It is all the more uplifting to know it was based on a true story. The end papers zing and the art is life-giving.


  • Would work great as a read-aloud as part of a community service project.
  • There are four pages of more information from the authors about the Urban Trail at the back of the book.
  • Paint a school mural together

Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

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Book Recommendation – Things too Huge To Fix By Saying Sorry

Title: Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry

Author: Susan Vaught

Publisher: A Paula Wiseman Book (S&S), 2016

Themes: Racism, civil rights movement, Oxford (Mississippi), 20th century, families, Alzheimers, 

Ages: 10-14

Edgar Award Nominee for Best Juvenile, 2017



It made me wonder if ghosts and ghost stories were like stains on a shirt that just won’t come out. Or maybe some things, like wars and hate and discrimination and violence, those things that Indri said were too huge and awful to fix by just saying, “I’m sorry,” stain time so nothing can ever be the same again.


“Sooner or later, we’re all gonna be okay.”

That’s what Dani’s Grandma Beans used to say. But that was before she got Alzheimer’s. Lately, Dani isn’t so sure Grandma Beans was right. In fact, she isn’t sure of a lot of things, like why Mac Richardson suddenly doesn’t want to be her friend, and why Grandma Beans and Avadelle Richardson haven’t spoken in decades. Lately, Grandma Beans doesn’t make a lot of sense. But when she tells Dani to find a secret key and envelope that she’s hidden, Dani can’t ignore her. So she investigates, with the help of her friend, Indri, and her not-friend, Mac. Their investigation takes them deep into the history of Oxford, Mississippi, and the riots surrounding the desegregation of Ole Miss. The deeper they dig, the more secrets they uncover. Were Grandma Beans and Avadelle at Ole Miss the night of the Meredith Riot? And why would they keep it a secret?

The more Dani learns about her grandma’s past, the more she learns about herself and her own friendships—and it’s not all good news. (Goodreads)

Why I like this book:

This is an ambitious, and audacious middle grade book tackling issues of race in a way I haven’t seen before. The pacing is excellent making it a can’t-put-downer for me. I left work on my own manuscript aside to finish this one. In part because the story was so gripping but also I wanted to make sure I finished it in time to put it in prime of place in my Black History Month Display. 

Much of the appeal and skill of this novel is the three points of view. The main narrator is Beans, the young girl through whose eyes we see the present story unfolding, and who is tasked with solving the mystery that her semi-lucid grandmother has given her from her own past. The second POV is the grandmother’s own diary entries, which are trickled through the narrative. The third POV is masterful as we see the past told through excerpts of a novel published many years before after the Oxford riots by the grandmother’s oldest frenemy and which is at the heart of their family fallout (The Magnolia Feud). 

The balance of racial identities enriched this complex story. Grandma Beans is black, Dani’s mom is white, and Avadelle Richardson (the frenemy) is white, as is one of the characters in her book (a white college girl who comes to help out in the 1960s, and stays with a black family. Dani’s bets friends are Indri (white) and Mac, Avadelle’s grandson. Making Dani biracial adds to the dynamic of very real civil tensions and responsibilities both past and present. The story actually kicks off at the end of the summer semester of 7th grade and Mac telling Dani he’s not allowed to hang with her anymore. 

The weaving of past and present, the old documentation, and the present day conflicts provide the reader with both a gripping modern day middle grade mystery and age appropriate insights into the progress of integration in the 60’s at Ole Miss. The effects on the Oxford community are clearly not dead and buried. I so appreciated the modern day perspective reflecting so much progress and yet, age-old unresolved racial tensions. How timely!

The excerpts from the adult novel require a certain level of maturity in the reader, but one that will be well rewarded. 

I do also want to mention the warmth and sorrow evoked through Bean’s care for her grandma. This book is multilayered, and the addition of a relative suffering from dementia not only furthers the plot but adds another emotional layer, which does not feel superfluous.

The chapter titles are also noteworthy as are the key and flower symbols at the top of the pages. 

The only question I had was an unexpected twist at the end, which didn’t feel necessarily forwarded the story. However, I would highly recommend the book for all middle schools and young readers who enjoy mystery and/or historical fiction.


Susan Vaught’s story creates an accessible vehicle for young readers to become immersed in a lesser known moment in integration history. I highly recommend this as a class read in 5th, 6th, 7th or 8th grade. 

While she spent her early childhood in Mississippi and this is evident in her writing, at the back of the book Susan Vaught shares her concerns in writing “other”. As a writer of diverse characters myself, I feel she presents a great example of impeccable research and successful sensitivity reading. 



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Molly, by Golly – Black History Month PPBF

Title: Molly by Golly, The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter

Author: Dianne Ochiltree

Illustrator: Kathleen Kemly

Publisher: Calkin’s Creek, 2012

Ages: 5-8

Themes: African Americans, Firefighters, New York City

Genre: legend, biography


“Our Molly is a fine a cook as any in New York City.” The Lads in Fire Company No. 11 liked to boast.

“In Fact she’s wondrous fine.”

“Molly’s Hasty Pudding is always the tastiest.” the Captain always said.

“No, Sir,” Isaac would declare, it’s her chicken roly-poly makes a man’s mouth water.

“Hot apple tansy is Molly’s most delicious dish,”Jonas was sure to insist.

The argument would go around the fire company’s table until the very last bite of venison stew or codfish muddle had disappeared. But one thing the men agreed: Molly. by golly, put hands and heart to every task, in or out of the kitchen.

One wintry day, she proved just how wondrous fine she could be.


This legendary tale introduces young readers to Molly Williams, an African American cook for New York City’s Fire Company 11, who is considered to be the first known female firefighter in U.S. history. One winter day in 1818, when many of the firefighting volunteers are sick with influenza and a small wooden house is ablaze, Molly jumps into action and helps stop the blaze, proudly earning the nickname Volunteer Number 11. Relying on historic records and pictures and working closely with firefighting experts, Dianne Ochiltree and artist Kathleen Kemly not only bring this spunky and little-known heroine to life but also show how fires were fought in early America. (Goodreads)

Why I like this book:

Dianne Ochiltree has written a fictionalized account of America’s first female firefighter, an African-American named Molly Williams, and a little known folk hero. The story, crafted from legend and a few available facts portrays Molly Williams as a servant-cook who took up the firefighter’s role in a time of need.

Molly’s not just a hero; it is her motivation that really hooks the reader in. Molly was faced with a circumstance where the opportunity to do good took precedence over any other role that was assigned or expected of her. Encouraging young readers and future firefighters to do the same in the name of unselfish public service is at the heart of this larger than life character! The addition of much humor and lightheartedness in the lengthy but flowing text, help accentuate Molly’s courage.

The vivid illustrations and double page spreads in watercolor make the story vibrant and detailed. The somewhat stereotypical images feel totally appropriate for a folktale for young children.


Don’t miss my interview with the illustrator here.

Teachers and librarians will want to include Molly in classroom activities of all sorts. Besides the obvious connections to firefighting and public service, the content does provide elementary-aged students a glimpse into a neglected area of early American city life. Add this piece of Americana to the collection with confidence that it will circulate and spark conversation about life past and present.

An author’s note explains how she embellished the historical record for this particular book; “Frequently Asked Questions” (a great way to address particular points raised by the text); further grade-level books to read; websites; a pointer to how to find fire museums to visit in person; a bibliography; and an acknowledgements that includes the subject matter experts consulted by the author.


Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

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