How Beautiful by Antonella Capetti,  illustrated by Melissa Castrillón

How Beautiful by Antonella Capetti,  illustrated by Melissa Castrillón. Greystone Kids, c2017, 2021. 9781771648530

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Picture book

What did you like about the book?  In this beautiful picture book, illustrator Melissa Castrillón uses a limited and somewhat trippy color palette of gold, lavender, navy and yellow to anchor a philosophical exploration of beauty. A human picks up a caterpillar in the forest, exclaiming “How beautiful!”. No one has ever called him that before and the little guy is skeptical. So the creature roams through the forest, asking various animals what beautiful means; of course, it’s different for everyone. For the bear, it’s honey, for the squirrel, dried leaves, and for the blackbird, a shiny, discarded soda can. Finally, the caterpillar sees the moonrise and gasps, realizing this truly is beautiful. The illustrations are full-page bleeds and could have been inspired by the famous, medieval Unicorn Tapestries series on display at the Cloisters in New York. There’s even a graceful deer, reclining (oddly) on an elegant sofa, surrounded by vines and branches; other pages feature the same twisting motif using curling tree roots and branches, or cornucopias of autumn leaves. Castrillón created the pictures using five graphite colored pencil layers, before scanning and adding digital color but they have retained a lovely hand-drawn feel.

Anything you didn’t like about it? This book is translated from Italian and the language was slightly stilted. There’s not much action and strangely, the caterpillar did not turn into a beautiful butterfly, which is where I thought we were headed. Although I loved the flora of the book, the fauna were weird and not always identifiable. At first, I mistook the needle-nosed bear for an echidna. The caterpillar looks more like a shrimp, but with a button nose and apple-red cheeks on its human baby face. And the annoying blackbird is white! 

To whom would you recommend this book?  The star here is the artwork and thoughtful, quiet children who love to draw may be drawn to the book’s visual beauty. For others, it may prove a puzzle. 

Who should buy this book? Public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: November 20, 2021

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