Ten Beautiful Things

Ten Beautiful Things
By Molly Beth Griffin
Illustrated by Maribel Lechuga
Charlesbridge
January 2021

Moving from her home in the city to her Gram’s house in rural Iowa, Lily’s life changes in the span of a day-long car trip in Ten Beautiful Things. In the grand tradition of an adult struggling to keep a child occupied in the car, Gram challenges Lily to a game – find ten beautiful things before they reach their destination. Lily is convinced that nothing could be beautiful on this difficult day of transition in her life. That is until the wonders of nature – the glow of a sunrise, the smell of mud, the babble of a creek – and industry – windmills, a decaying barn – and Gram’s quiet patience slowly fill the empty space in Lily’s heart.

In a year full of unexpected loss, changes, and moves, Ten Beautiful Things speaks to the ambiguity and uncertainty that has plagued the last year for so many children and their families. We never find out what Lily’s past life was or what lead to her moving in with Gram. There’s no mention of parents, friends, school, activities, all the trappings of a “normal” life. There is only looking ahead to an uncertain future and looking outward toward nature and wide open spaces in an effort to find some measure of calm. 

It’s not all fresh air and sunshine, however, as a Midwestern thunderstorm suddenly descends on Lily and Gram’s car, causing them to have to stop and wait it out. This climactic (and climatic) turn of events never actually seems to present a danger; rather it bonds the two characters as they endure the storm, in both the literal and metaphorical sense, together. The book ends with a heartwarming homecoming that, while a bit tidy, acknowledges in the final lines – “None of this was easy. Maybe it would never be easy.” – that a difficult change can’t be overcome in a day.

Lechuga’s illustrations faithfully depict the colors and textures of the Midwest – the muted, dappled pastels of the plains, the bright blue expansive sky, and the dark, draping thunderclouds. The perspective shifts from outside the car to inside the car to a bird’s eye view and on, keeping the car ride interesting but always centered on Lily’s emotions and experience. 

Ten Beautiful Things is a story that meets our current moment but will also provide comfort for challenges big and small in years to come. 

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