Book: Something Beautiful

Something Beautiful
Sharon Dennis Wyeth
Illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet
1998

This is a simple picture book about a little girl living in a very poor neighbourhood looking for beautiful things in the world around her. The story follows her as she walks around the neighbourhood talking to people and asking them what they find beautiful in their lives. People find simple things beautiful – diner food, a baby’s laugh, or music. The little girl decides that she needs to find her own beauty, but her neighbourhood is so dirty and poor she doesn’t know where to find it. Then she realizes that she can make some beauty where there isn’t any and cleans up her front stoop. The story is very simple, but extremely strong. It is hard not to feel bad for the little girl living in squalor and not to feel good when she overcomes it in her own little way.

The writing in this book is good. Each character has a distinct voice which gives the book a good sense of realism. I think that the message wouldn’t work nearly as well without that sense that the whole thing is real. I like that the book doesn’t shy away from things that often get sterilized out of children’s books, like the homeless woman who sleeps covered in plastic wrap or the spray painted “die” on the little girl’s front door. I think that while a lot of children would have no experience with such things, they can appreciate the difficulty the girl has finding beauty when surrounded by these things and possibly even learn to empathise or desire to help.

The pictures are every bit as good as the story. They are blurred, but gritty and real as well. The little girl visits many places in her wandering, from a laundromat to a pavement jump rope game, and each one looks very real, as if the illustrator spent time wandering around in such a neighbourhood looking at each place in detail. The brown bricks of the buildings, the garbage on the streets, and even the faces of the people are realistic. The neighbourhood is also fairly generic, I got a New York City vibe from it, but nothing in the pictures or text said that it was New York and it could as easily have been Chicago or some other big city. It was simply a poorer, mostly African American neighbourhood in a big city. The pictures really were wonderful and paint the scene. Without them, I doubt that the awfulness of some of the girl’s surroundings (like her front stoop) would have had the same kind of impact.

I thought this book was excellent. It’s a well done book that could easily raise the community awareness of children if presented in the right way. I like the realism and the grittiness. It didn’t shy away from anything, and that is often a rare thing in picture books. I definitely recommend this book!

Publisher’s Description
Sharon Dennis Wyeth’s Website
Chris K. Soentpiet’s Website
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