The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Maybe Something Beautiful


Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood

Written by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell and Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2016

ISBN 978-0-544-35769-3


All Ages


Book Review

“In the heart of a gray city, there lived a girl who loved to doodle, draw, color, and paint.” Young Mira looks at the world and sees a canvas – and she spreads her love for art-making by gifting her paintings to the people she encounters on the streets. When she tapes a picture of a glowing sun on a shadowy wall, a “man with a pocket full of paintbrushes” eyes it and sees “something beautiful.” Wielding a paintbrush as powerful as a magic wand, the man begins to spread color “throughout the streets,” creating brightly-colored fanciful murals. Community members join his efforts and the austere streets are transformed. As walls, benches, and utility boxes brighten, so do the faces of the painters. Inspired by the story of the Urban Art Trail in the East Village of San Diego, this fictional picture book by co-authors F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell celebrates the efforts of muralist Rafael Lopez and his wife Candice Lopez to beautify their neighborhood. Illustrated by Lopez, the master muralist himself, this joyous book celebrates the power of community; illuminates the potential of art as a catalyst for transformation; and reminds us that a small group of committed individuals really can change the world.

Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom

The Murals. After reading Maybe Something is Beautiful, examine photographs of the murals designed by Rafael Lopez: The Joy of Urban Living and The Strength of Women. Invite your students to examine the images closely, describing: “What’s going on in this picture?” (see Visual Thinking Strategies for more information about this technique). Be sure to visit the website for Maybe Something Beautiful which offers more information about the creation of these murals. Invite students to use the murals as inspiration for writing – the images and themes could be explored through prose or poetry.

A School Mural. After reading Maybe Something Beautiful, you and your students may be inspired to try your hand at mural arts. Listen to Rafael Lopez talk about community mural design in Chicago and Fort Collins, CO and then engage your students in a discussion of how they would like a mural to represent the character, values, and unique aspects of your school community. Work collaboratively to design a mural that encompasses the characteristics identified by students. If possible, work with your art teacher and/or a local artists to create the mural on a school wall. If a permanent mural is not possible, use a large roll of paper to create a more temporary display.

Something Beautiful in Your Classroom. A reading of Maybe Something Beautiful can serve as inspiration for redecorating your classroom. Engage your students in a conversation about what might be done to make your classroom environment “more beautiful.” Recruit the support of your school art teacher or artists in your community and/or the support of parents or local volunteers to make your beautification project a reality.

Illustrator Study: Rafael Lopez. Rafael Lopez, the real-life “muralist” of the East Village in San Diego, is also an award winning children’s book illustrator. Learn more about his life and artistic style by visiting his website, reading a collection of books that he has illustrated, and listening to his interview with Reading Rockets. Guide children to record their learning about Rafael Lopez’s biography, his artistic influences and style, and how his body of work reflects his commitment to social justice.Be sure to visit our entry on Lopez’s Pura Belpre award- winning title Drum Dream Girl.

“You My Friends, Are All Artists.” As the frenzy of mural making draws to a close, the muralist pronounces, “You my friends are all artists… The world is your canvas.” Explore this concept with your students by reading about the lives of famous artists. Consult with your school and/or public librarian to locate an array of picture book biographies of artists (for examples from The Classroom Bookshelf use the search term artist). As you read about the lives of various artists, keep a chart that records: artist, artistic style, childhood experiences, key events that influenced development as an artist, personality / character development, values and commitments, significant accomplishments [adjust these categories to meet your students’ needs]. Following this study of artist’s lives and inspirations, invite your students to name the ways that they are artists and to share artwork that they have created in their preferred medium and subjects.

Figurative Language: Simile and Metaphor. The text of Maybe Something Beautiful is described on the dust flap as “lyrical.” Reread the text with this descriptor in mind and invite your students to notice the author’s’ craft in the book – how have Campoy and Howell used words to create the kind of flow / fluency in the text that can be described as lyrical? How does their writing style match the subject and theme of the book? Zoom in further to notice the author’s’ use of figurative language, particularly similes and metaphors. Record examples of these on an anchor chart that you can then add to over time as your students discover additional examples in other texts that they are reading.

Color Text Set. Gather together a collection of picture books in which color plays a significant role. For some examples from The Classroom Bookshelf see our entries for: The Noisy Paint Box, Extra Yarn, Sky Color, The Great Big GreenThe Day the Crayons Quit, and Green. Discuss the role that color plays in the illustrations, plotline, characterization, setting, and theme. What aspects of color are explored in each book? Follow this immersion in picture books about color, invite your students to compose and illustrate their own color-inspired stories.

Art as a Gift. When Mira sees a blank piece of paper, she see potential. As Maybe Something Beautiful begins, she offers her artwork as a gift to people she meets in her community. Encourage your students to create and give away their own works of art – by providing them with time and materials with which to produce their own masterpieces. Develop a center in your classroom that students can visit throughout the year to create gifts of art. Artwork can be offered to classmates, school community members, friends and family, or members of the broader community.

Grades Three and Up

Muralists. Invite your students to learn more about the process of mural making and about famous murals and muralists. You may want to start locally, identifying and exploring the history of a mural in your community. Then branch out to learn more about murals in the United States and the around the globe (see our entry on Heart and Soul for a critical literacy discussion of the murals in the rotunda of the Capital). Discuss the locations that murals are typically found, their purposes, and make connections between historical mural making (start with cave paintings!) and contemporary mural art. If you are able to, work with your art teacher to explore the technique of fresco painting to help students gain an understanding of what is involved in working with this media. Investigate the techniques used by muralists today. A great website for learning more about contemporary murals is the website for Philadelphia, PA, “Mural Capital of the World.” This teaching idea originally appeared in our entry for Diego Rivera: His World and Ours.

Community Based Art. Is there an example of a community art project in your neighborhood? If yes, investigate the history of the art installation – how did it come about? Who was involved? If not, invite your students to consider how art might serve to beautify or inspire an area in your community. What ideas do they have? Who would need to be involved to bring their ideas to fruition? What town organizations could support such a community based art initiative?

Community Transformations. Maybe Something Beautiful is an ideal text to include in a text set on individuals and groups who have influenced community transformations. For more, see this teaching idea in our entry on Extra Yarn.

Grades 6 and Up

Duet Model Reading. Conduct a Duet Model reading of Maybe Something Beautiful with Painting for Peace in Ferguson, which describes community efforts to beautify their community and to heal through community collaboration in art making following the riots in 2014. Invite your students to consider the similarities and differences of the contexts in which these community art projects occurred. Discuss the power that art has to encourage expression, healing, and change.

Critical Literacy

Graffiti vs. Murals. While Muralists and Graffiti Artists share many of the same artistic practices and social goals, one of these art forms is publicly sanctioned and the other is illegal. Explore the complexities of graffiti art with your students – begin the conversation by sharing the New York Times article “Malta’s Walls are Covered in Murals, and Street Art is Covered in Schools.” and extend your study with additional information from the online resources listed below and others found in the Times Topics on Graffiti. Invite your students to debate their positions on the value of graffiti within communities.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Book Website: Maybe Something Beautiful

Author’s Website: F. Isabel Campoy

Author’s Website: Theresa Howell

Illustrator’s Website: Rafael Lopez

Betsy Bird: Book Trailer Premiere

Reading Rockets: Interview with Rafael Lopez

You Tube: Rafael Lopez Describes his Chicago Mural

You Tube: Rafael Lopez Describes his Ft. Collins Mural

Visual Thinking Strategies

The Artist’s Toolkit

Cool San DIego Sights: Joy of Urban Living Mural

Cool San Diego Sights: The Strength of Women

Mural Arts Program

Times Topics: Graffiti

Art Crimes: The Writing on the Wall

Graffiti and Street Art Museum


Barnett, M. (2012). Extra yarn. Ill. by J. Klassen. New York: Balzer & Bray.

Daywalt, D. (2013). The day the crayons quit. Ill. by O. Jeffers. New York: Philomel.

Engle, M. (2016). Drum Dream Girl Ill. by R. Lopez. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Gifford, P. (2014). The great big green. Ill. by L. Desimini. Honesdale, PA: Boyd Millls Press.

Klein, C.S. (2015). Painting for peace In Ferguson. Treehouse Publishing Group.

Reynolds, P.H. (2012). Sky Color. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

Rosenstock, B. (2014). The noisy paintbox: The colors and sounds of Kandinsky’s abstract art. Ill. by M. GrandPre. New York: Knopf.

Seeger, L.V. (2012). Green. New York: Roaring Brook Press.

Tonatiuh, D. (2011).  Diego Rivera, His world and ours. New York: Abrams.



Erika Thulin Dawes About Erika Thulin Dawes

Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.


  1. Erika Thulin Dawes Erika Thulin Dawes says

    For a terrific listing of picture book biographies of artists, see Carol Goldman’s post @