It does not matter how old you are. It does not matter how many times you've done this in the past. Each time, it's like starting over. You step into an unfamiliar setting, glancing around only to discover your outward appearance is different. Your brave, confident, inside-self grows a little bit smaller.
It should not be, but for children this is particularly challenging. Children are courageous, compassionate and more willing to embrace change. They are in the process of becoming their best selves and this is what makes them vulnerable. The Day You Begin (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, August 28, 2018) written by the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by award-winning Rafael Lopez explores through beauty in words and images first time apprehensions.
There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.
One or more things about you set you apart from the other people. The language you speak or the accents given to the words you use are unique. Saying your name out loud makes laughter fill the room until your teacher repeats it. Then it envelopes you in welcoming warmth.
What do you say when the other children speak of summer visits to other countries and states, proudly holding mementos in their hands? Your summer was a comfort to your sister. Days of shared joy and love, quiet naptimes and hours of reading filled your shimmering-hot weeks.
What do you do when your beloved ethnic food is looked upon as strange at lunchtime? What if no one will play with you at recess because you don't share the same skills? This is when you call out to your inside-self asking it to be bold.
You realize, as you tell the tale of your summer, the light of awareness sparks in the eyes of those listening. You are still a wonderful individual, as are they, but little similarities reach out to join in friendship. Be strong, little one, your confidence is contagious.
There is a question at Jacqueline Woodson's website,
Do you think you'll ever stop writing?
Her reply shines through each word she carefully places on the pages of her books.
When I stop breathing.
In this title, the unseen narrator softly chats with a child (all children) eloquently using language to fashion scenarios so real you can recall the familiar ache of being different. The repetition of specific phrases supplies a gentle refrain. Each portion of this story is a layer building toward a marvelous result waiting to be found and released. Here is a passage.
And in that room, where no one else is quite like you, you'll look down
at your own empty hands and wonder What good is this
when other students were flying
and sailing and
All of the poetic truth of Jacqueline Woodson's words is depicted by the vivid, lively and heartwarming images of Rafael Lopez. The uncertainty the little girl senses is reflected in her body posture and face on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case. The shifting shades in the varnished colors of the text hint at the color palette. The beauty coming from her book is symbolic of the power of shared stories. The ruler placed on the door is used several other times within the interior of the book. This is sure to promote discussions on its significance.
To the left, on the back, text is framed with leaves, trees and flowers from the children's native countries. Shades of muted green paint a pastoral scene on the opening and closing endpapers. A grasshopper perches on a stem and a bird rests on a flower stalk. A single rose-colored blossom, petals closed, is the only other hue on the opening endpapers. The conclusion of the story is mirrored in the closing endpapers as the grasshopper leaps into the air with two other insects. Two other birds join the first in flight. How many flowers do you think are in bloom now?
with a combination of acrylic paint on wood, pen and ink, pencil, and watercolors, and put together digitally in Photoshop
these illustrations begin their story on the verso and dedication pages as the child sits in her apartment window reading on a summer day. All of the pictures extend from page edge to page edge across two pages with the exception of the final wordless single page, the perspective a birds-eye view of pure bliss found in contented children. Rafael Lopez's rich visuals focus on the children striking a chord in our hearts.
At times we are drawn close to their faces to accentuate a moment. Other times we step back as imagining and wonder resonate from his scenes. Birds and natural landscapes flow from page to page.
One of my many, many favorite illustrations is of the boy dismissed from playing with the other children at recess. He walks to the edge of the ground bordering a pool of water. The sky glows with the heat of those first few days of school, a full-bright sun hanging in the sky on the left over a single home. The boy also on the left, closed book in hand, looks into the water. The water does indeed reflect what is above with a brilliant alteration. The boy is grinning holding a now-opened book. There is a yellow glow around him. From the book loveliness pours forth in vines, leaves and blossoms.
Surely this title has been used to start many classroom sessions. The Day You Begin written by Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by Rafael Lopez transcends age inspiring all who read it to bring out our brave, willing to speak our truths with others. How else are we to make our world better for everyone? How else are we to discover our connections while preserving our singularities? This book has my highest recommendation for your personal and professional collections.
To read and learn more about Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. Both Jacqueline and Rafael maintain Twitter accounts and Instagram accounts here and here. At the publisher's website is a teacher's guide for Jacqueline Woodson books, including this title.