A Restless Imagination: A Review of ‘My Life in Pictures (Bea Garcia)’

“Artistic talent is a gift from God and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation: to know that he cannot waste this talent, but must develop it.” – St. John Paul II

Reading Level

Grades 1-4, Ages 6-9

Review and Comments

Beatrice Holmes Garcia is a budding artist who illustrates her actual life experiences along with some very original daydreams.  Her drawings are not always restricted to her trusty journal however.  She has been known to draw on her little brother, the walls, and even the television.  Her family is usually very supportive of her enthusiasm unless her art extends beyond her notebook. 

It is obvious that Bea’s family and home are very important to her – the center of her world. That expands a bit when she happily meets her first best friend on her 5th birthday. The girls are kindred spirits from their first introduction.  They do everything together: draw, learn new things, and even share a magic tree in the backyard where their imaginations are truly free. 

All those wonderful times come an unhappy end when Bea’s best friend has to move “a million miles” away.  Her sadness is obvious to everyone. Things get even worse when she meets the new neighbor, a boy named Bert, also known as The Monster. The Monster plays his role perfectly. He growls, burps, shoves food in his mouth, and tries to scare (sometimes successfully) Bea and her little brother.  Bea’s situation becomes even more unpleasant when Monster is assigned the desk right behind her at school. He continues his behavior by making himself a nuisance and calling her names like: Bumble Bea, Bzzy Be, and Bumbo Jumbo.   

A simple Geography lesson is the beginning of better times for Bea although at first she feels her predicament could not be worse. The whole experience begins when Bea creatively includes Monster in every picture of her lesson. When the teacher sees her illustrations, Bea is sure she is doomed.  In an unexpected turn, however, the teacher actually displays her pictures for everyone to see – Bert on Mt. Everest, Bert under the Pacific Ocean, Bert in Death Valley…   Then the teacher does something very unusual.  She declares to the class that Bea is “one amazing artist.”   Everything improves from that moment on.  The students are impressed with her art, Monster is happy to be the center of attention, and the teacher encourages Bea to continue drawing, but not in her Geography notebook.  Life is good again.

Young readers will enjoy reading Bea’s journal.  It is a good introduction to chapter books (144 pages). The reader will experience a lot of humor through Bea’s black and white illustrations and detailed descriptions.  The facial expressions leave no doubt as to the emotions of her subjects.  I think my favorite drawing is when the teacher is showing Bea’s pictures to the class.  Bea draws herself hiding under her desk with only her feet and legs peaking out. This certainly expresses the feeling of wanting to hide during uncomfortable situations.  Much of the story is told through conversations in speech balloons (speech bubbles), which makes it fun and gives a comic book experience. Chapter 8 includes a very interesting conversation between Bea and her perceptive little brother, Pablo. He asks her to explain the difference between Bert calling her names and Bea calling him Big Pest.  Food for thought! The name calling throughout the story is unfortunate, but it can be used as a prompt to address this problem from both sides of the issue – reasons we do not harass others by name calling and ways to handle a situation if we are the object of name calling.

Possible Concerns

  • Beatrice calls her little brother, Pablo, Big Pest throughout the entire story.
  • Bert, The Monster, calls Bea different names.

Further Discussion

Fiction VS Non-fiction:

Bea’s story includes very good examples of fiction through her imagination and then reality through the experiences of her everyday life.

  • Make a chart.  Divide the chart in half and write the headings Non-Fiction and Fiction at the top of the columns.  List examples from the story under each heading.  For example:  Bea has a birthday, Bea’s friend moves away, Bea and her friend go to outer space and to the bottom of the ocean while playing in her tree. 
  • Illustrate a picture about what you and a friend like to do. Then draw a picture from your imagination about an unusual place you would you like to visit.  Write a few sentences explaining each picture.
  • Read selections from other books and decide if the examples are fiction or non-fiction.

Oral reading:

  • Practice voice by reading different conversations from the story while paying attention to the clues expressed in the illustrations (sadness, excitement, etc).

Find Australia and Missouri on a world map.

Catholic Resources

Patron Saints:

  • The patron saints of Australia are Mary, Our Lady of Help, St. Francis Xavier (feast day December 3), and St. Theresa of Lisieux (feast day October 1).
  • St. Catherine of Bologna (feast day March 9) is the patron saint of artists. 
  • This is a very interesting You Tube video that shows an artist drawing St. Catherine while a prayer is being said.

CCC 2054 Jesus acknowledged the Ten Commandments, but he also showed the power of the Spirit at work in their letter. He preached a “righteousness [which] exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees”5 as well as that of the Gentiles. He unfolded all the demands of the Commandments. “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill.’ . . . But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.

CCC 2055 When someone asks him, “Which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” Jesus replies: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.” The Decalogue must be interpreted in light of this twofold yet single commandment of love, the fullness of the Law

CCC 1944 Respect for the human person considers the other “another self.” It presupposes respect for the fundamental rights that flow from the dignity intrinsic of the person.

CCC 1946 The differences among persons belong to God’s plan, who wills that we should need one another. These differences should encourage charity.