A young refugee living in America learns to see herself as beautiful, in spite of physical and emotional scars from her troubled homeland, thanks to a gifted teacher.
Spectacularly Beautiful tells the story of Shahad, a refugee who has moved to a new country and started at a new school with her new teacher, Ms. Truong. Shahad comes to school every day with perfectly braided hair tied in ribbons. But her hair can’t hide the scars on her face and leg that are painful reminders of the country she fled, making her feel less than beautiful, and different from her peers. When a class project proves difficult for Shahad, Ms. Truong helps her come to see that her scars are only part of her story, and that she is not just beautiful…she is spectacularly beautiful. Little by little Shahad’s confidence is renewed and she is able to return the same kindness to Ms. Truong.
Based on a true refugee story, this deep and hopeful book sports colorful, simplified shapes depicting students and their teacher. Stein does not attempt realistic depictions. The children look like jelly beans with limbs, facial features, and hair, and their all-blue teacher is only very slightly more detailed; all are digitally collaged over black-and-white photos of a Western classroom. This surprisingly effective choice allows readers to concentrate on the characters’ emotions…This heartening, well-crafted story refreshingly places its emphasis on its protagonist’s resilience. –Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
Stein’s illustrations — black-and-white photographs of the classroom, school and nearby areas, populated with cartoon images done with the simplest of lines and filled in with flat colors…— effectively bring out Lucas’s poignant parable. –The New York Times Book Review