The Day You Begin is so incredibly beautiful. It took me some time to actually finish that first read-through, just savoring the words and pictures.
Nancy Paulsen, 2018. Hardcover Picture Book, 32 pages. Ages 4-8.
A boy named Jonathan holds out a jar
“filled with tiny shells so fragile,
they look like they’ll turn to dust
in your own untraveled hands.”
The Poet she is, Jacqueline Woodson’s latest picture book could withstand a lesser illustrator. Conversely, you could read The Day You Begin without reading a word. Rafael López’s work in this book easily could have withstood a lesser writer. López’s humans, palette, textures…so damn lovely.
Note where López works a ruler into the grain of a door, a table, a tree, and how you won’t find this symbol of measurement later in the book. This is perfect in a book of young people wondering where they belong, if they measure up to others’ standards of beauty, ability, experience…if there is space for them.
Together Woodson and Lopez craft a powerful narrative. “There will be times when no one understands the way words curl from your mouth” (emphasis mine); the “curl” here following the “curl” image/idea on the previous page.
The message is one that emerges from an empathetic voice. You may feel the difference, and you may not feel ready to embrace your difference by putting your name to it, to claim it out loud, but a time will come when you are ready and you’ll find that
all at once, in the room where no one else is quite like you,
the world opens itself up a little wider
to make some space for you.
I appreciate how Woodson and López depict difficult aspects of being different. The girl with her “strange” and “unfamiliar” lunch who huddles behind it in the first scene, finds a humoring smile for her crinkle-nosed friend in the second. Being different is different with a friend rather than a group; for one she still has that friend beside her at the table.
The boy with the book that no one wants to pick for their team is standing at a water’s edge: his reflection filled with joy, book open and the beauty it brings forth is so vastly different from the boy and his sky:
“All that stands beside you is
your own brave self—
steady as steel and ready
even though you don’t yet know
what you’re ready for.”
Every day brings and begins something new along the way of becoming You. It’s a process and we’re all still growing up, together. I really love the movement between the individual and the places that (in)form us: classroom, lunchroom, playground, home. The Day You Begin is mindful of our desire to have a place in community. This is no f* them if they don’t like who You are statement book. It is more optimistic. The girl that opens the book, will find a friend or two by the end of the book,
“where every new friend has something
a little like you—and something else
so fabulously not quite like you
The Day You Begin tackles uncertainty by being certain about how beautiful and capable each child is. That each voice, each story (told in so many ways) is precious. As with Angelina, it took time, “your voice / stronger than it was a minute ago,” but once you see what happens…
Recommended for all the libraries, and all the young ones…and even the grown-up ones. An effortless way to diversify your collection. A good start to the school year kind of read. Shelve this one with books like Sanna’s Me and My Fear and Yamada’s What Do You Do with an Idea?