First Mira gives a painting of an apple to Mr. Henry, the shop owner. She then offers a songbird to Mr. Sax and a deep red heart to the local beat cop. Still, her art project hits its limit. “Her city was less gray—but not much.” Soon a mysterious artist approaches Mira, offering a boost. “What do you see?” Mira asks him. “Maybe…something beautiful,” he replies. Leading readers on an infectious ride, Campoy and Howell’s text bristles with dazzling energy. Words pop out of the page in bursts of oomph (“BAM! POW!”) as color begins to fill the city. The authors, moreover, mix in dynamic moments with quiet scenes, producing a tone both lively and contemplatively hopeful. The illustrations, however, are the main attraction. López, whose career as a muralist inspired this story, loads each double-page spread with curves, splashes of paint, and geometric shapes, changing page orientation for emphasis at times. As Mira’s neighbors join in on the fun, the city comes alive with unforgettable human spirit. The mysterious artist sums it all up: “The world is your canvas.”
An inspiring and wistful message wrapped up in a subtle, thoughtful narrative and lively, beautiful art: simply superb.”
If it was possible to give a book 10 stars, I’d do it. A book like this doesn’t come along all that often. Exquisite in thought and design, it carries a powerful, layered message for all readers—children at all ages and adults. Isabel Campoy hits compelling and potent notes in her writing, while Rafael Lopez dazzles with images that bring the ideas to life. It’s going to be a focus in my mentor text workshops, no question.
“(…) Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, this delightfully bright book is awash with color and emotion. Reminding me of A Curious Garden, this is the story of transformation and what people can do within their own community. I love these kinds of stories, because it is important that children not only see themselves in stories, but can also see a place for themselves in the world. Mira seems to be a fictional character herself, but she is a good foil for children to see themselves in the story. As with any book about art though, it is the illustrations that are integral to the story. Rafael López was integral to the making of the Urban Art Trail, transforming San Diego’s East Village where he lived. López’s Mexican influences are on every page, having a vague fairy tale mythic quality to them. I simply can’t state enough how lovely this book is.”
Inspired by how illustrator López and his wife, Candice, helped enliven their San Diego neighborhood through art, Campoy and Howell introduce Mira, a young artist who sees possibilities in blank paper and loves to give away her pictures (“She gave a songbird to Mr. Sax and a red heart to the policeman who walked up and down the streets”). Mira finds a kindred spirit in a joyful muralist: “Maybe… something beautiful,” he thinks as he looks at a painting Mira has taped to a dreary wall. As Mira begins contributing her own murals, others join in. Somber gray buildings are soon replaced by electric shades of pink, blue, and orange—the bold shapes, vivid colors, and flattened tableaus of López’s mixed-media artwork bring a mural-like atmosphere to every page as Campoy and Howell deliver a clear, uplifting message about the power of art to revitalize people and their surroundings.