Monte Vista Elementary librarian Linda Todd

Monte Vista Elementary librarian Linda Todd, left, and Ahwatukee muralist Suzanne Whitaker pose in front of Whitaker’s new mural.

The thrill the Fiesta Bowl game gave many fans might not have matched the thrill its charitable arm has given Linda Todd and a whole bunch of kids.

Todd, the librarian at Monte Vista Elementary School in Ahwatukee, was one of 200 teachers statewide who won a $5,000 Wishes for Teachers grant from Fiesta Bowl Charities.

“I was overwhelmed,” said Todd, who used the money in a way now bringing delight to the students who use Monte Vista’s library.

She hired Ahwatukee muralist Suzanne Whitaker, who replaced the drab and pretty outdated wall art in the library with paintings of trees and forest creatures.

Todd placed her name into the Wishes for Teachers lottery every year since it started four years ago, initially planning to replace the chairs in the library - there since the school opened more than 30 years ago.

But when she found out Monte Vista was in line for the 2020-21 school year furniture updates the Kyrene School District is undertaking at all its older schools, Todd changed direction and decided to do something about the wall art.

“We looked for another way to use the money to update the library,” Todd said, gushing, “It’s amazing. It’s so pretty.”

Whitaker said the old wall art consisted of a tree festooned with blossoms made of tissue paper. The faded blossoms had been there so long they were covered with dust.

Todd had read of Whitaker’s work last year at Monte Vista, where the unofficial Kyrene muralist painted several corridor walls.

In that case, she painted mountain lions, paloverde and eagles to reflect the school’s desert surroundings as well as the school’s values of perseverance in the pursuit of individual excellence.

Hundreds of children and scores of teachers and staff pass by admiring her work in eight of the district’s 19 elementary schools, including Mariposa, Cielo, Sierra, Altadena, Centennial, Ninos, Monte Vista and Lomas.

So, Todd reached out to Whitaker last December and hashed out in a matter of hours a theme for the library walls’ re-do.

But instead of lions, Todd and Whitaker opted for a gentler woodland theme.

Whitaker looked through photos to figure out what kind of tree would work best.

What she settled on was “not really a species of tree.”

Saying they were “magnolia-esque” with a touch of maple, Whitaker said she aimed for something “more whimsical.”

This fit Todd’s goal for the new wall art.

“I just wanted it to be a calm place and kind of neutral - not in your face because I’m a really quiet person and I wanted the library to kind of reflect just this sense of wonder and the sense of peace,” Todd explained.

Though there had been some earlier suggestions for book characters, she added, “I wanted it to be more understated.

And Whitaker delivered, not only with her whimsically designed tree but with little forest creatures she scattered in different places along the wall – much to the children’s delight, Todd said.

“It’s been really fun to watch their little faces light up when they see something thing they hadn’t noticed before,” Todd said, adding:

“The gentle feeling of being in there is just wonderful.” 

Now the project is over, though, Todd said she hopes it inspires not just the children who use the Monte Vista library, but her colleagues as well.

She said she is deeply grateful to the Fiesta Bowl program and hopes other teachers hear about it – and enter the drawing.

Fiesta Bowl Charities has given away millions of dollars teachers with “wishes” and the only thing the teachers have to do is answer its call for entries and include how they’d like to spend the money. Names are pulled randomly.

“I would love to say my mission now is to let other teachers know how incredibly easy it is,” Todd said. “And pretty life-changing.”

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