With her newest picture book, “The Day You Begin,” Jacqueline Woodson creates another must-read that teachers will want to begin the year with. It’s a story about being excluded, about being different, about feeling different.
The book has an unusual narrator in that it’s written in second person.
“There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.”
But even though the book is about “you,” the readers know it’s really about a girl named Angelina who spent the summer caring for her younger sister and a boy named Rigoberto who just moved here from Venezuela. But it’s also about anyone and everyone who has ever felt like an outsider; too slow, too poor, too different to be included in certain activities.
For example, when everyone talks about the vacations they took over the summer and “you” haven’t gone anywhere, you might feel bad. Instead you were taking care of your little sister and reading wonderful books. Once you find your voice, Woodson says, you can explain that you read books and
“even though we were right on our block it was like we got to go EVERYWHERE.”
Children get it. I ask them, “Why was it like she went everywhere?” The kids who are readers jump to explain that when you read, you can go anywhere.
They also understand the carefully crafted but not quite easy-to-understand phrase, “where every new friend has something a little like you — and something else so fabulously not quite like you at all.” I read the sentence more than once, and the first graders took some time to think about it, but a discussion emerged about whether having a friend just like you might be boring, and that with a friend who has different interests, you can learn new things. And oh so subtly, the author rolls out lovely figures of speech, images that will grab the children and fascinate them even if they don’t quite understand why the language is so beautiful.
The illustrations by Rafael López must be mentioned. They are bright and beautiful and perfectly complement the words they accompany. The lonely boy standing over water reflecting a mirror image that is surprisingly — and wonderfully — different. And what a very perceptive first grader pointed out is that often in the illustrations, on a door, a table, a tree, are rulers. Why?
With each reading and rereading, children and adults will find more and more to notice and discuss in the page of this small treasure.
And it’s a perfect book to read with Woodson’s “Each Kindness.” Read one and discuss, and then read the other and discuss. Have the children explain how the author’s messages are similar in both books. The first graders were able to talk about someone being lonely in both books and feelings of exclusion. It was a wonderful conversation and a wonderful way for dual language students — and all students — to start the school year.
And for dual language or bilingual teachers, it comes in Spanish! “El día en que descubres quién eres”
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Nancy Paulsen Books, the publisher, for review purposes.