Book Review: The Day You Begin
by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by Rafael López
Publication Date: Aug 28, 2018
List Price: $18.99
Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
Target Age Group: Picture Book
Imprint: Nancy Paulsen Books
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann
Book Reviewed by Neoma Nwasike
Have you ever felt like an outsider, or like you just did not belong? In this big world, with so many different faces, it can sometimes feel overwhelming and as if you are drowning, but in Jacqueline Woodson’s children’s book The Day You Begin Woodson flips this narrative on its head, by writing about the beauty that comes from being unique and different. In the book Woodson is writing about the first day of school, and how daunting of an experience this can be. Walking into a classroom full of new faces is never an easy thing to do, but Woodson’s storytelling has a way of humanizing everything and putting things into perspective.
Inspired by a poem in one of her previous works Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson writes from the perspective of a little Black girl, and a young Latino boy immigrant who find it hard and intimidating adjusting to a new school environment. None of the kids look them or come from the same places as they do. Woodson writes about some of these many differences that the Black girl and Latino boy are facing, by stating;
“Maybe it will be your skin, your clothes, or the curl of your hair.”
This is a line that Woodson writes in the beginning of the book and it is a poignant one at that. It is a line that defiantly sets the tone for the whole book, because throughout the story, although these children are dealing with these many insecurities, everything, eventually all finds a way of working itself out. Once the girl and boy tell their stories and become bold and confident enough in being truly themselves, both kids eventually end up finding their place at school amongst their peers, and end up blossoming, regardless of what others may think of them.
Woodson writes about the very essence and the importance of that old adage of a “caterpillar turning into a butterfly”, and this is definitely a great sentiment for all children to learn. We all start out being shy and feeling undeserving, but once you find your voice, you end up establishing your place in the world. This is especially important on a first day of school, like the one Woodson writes about in her book, to understand how your differences can be the things that you can use to your benefit, to empower you, and this is exactly what Woodson’s book is teaching children.
With illustrator Rafael Lopez’s help Woodson writes a story that is sure to be motivational and inspiring to so many children. Lopez’s illustrations are full of so many different unique and warm pastel colors. Lopez’s art has a way of making each page truly stand out, while also helping to add to Woodson’s narrative, by creating illustrations that highlight these difference that Woodson so beautifully talks about.
Overall this book is a moving depiction on the importance of accepting and loving who you are, and with a title like “The Day You Begin,” it is clear that Woodson, is wanting children, to learn to stand in their truth, because the day they begin to do this, will be the day, in which, they fully learn to love themselves, and all of their glorious uniqueness.