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The Day You Begin

When you feel different, the world around you can tell. It shows in the fear on your face, the slump in your shoulders, the distance between you and others in your class. And the children around you will remind you how different you are with their side-eye glances and low whispers — and the way they position their bodies away from you, not-so-subtly announcing you are not invited to join the group. Have you been the outsider before? Can you visualize what it looks like? In The Day You Begin, Rafael López’s illustrations marry with Jacqueline Woodson’s text to create the perfect visual experience of growing from an outsider to finding the courage to connect with others “a little like you [but] so fabulously not quite like you at all.”

We can see the growth take shape throughout the book. When Angelina, the book’s central character, inquisitively peers from a doorway into a great unknown on the book’s dust jacket, readers instinctively know she will experience growth. López’s use of symbolism can be seen on the cover both vertically and horizontally, from the brown-colored ruler that complements Angelina’s skin tone (vertical) to the vibrant, water-colored flower vine that flows from a book Angelina carries (horizontal). It is this vine that leads the reader to the front endpapers with a muted garden containing a single bright flower. López expands this garden on the back endpapers with his addition of two more pink flowers, each symbolic of the number of isolated characters introduced by Woodson.

As the story begins, Angelina opens the door a little wider, and it is here you notice what López does best — fluidly create two separate worlds on each of his spreads throughout the book. The beauty lies in his effective use of a scene that depicts the togetherness of a group, yet the loneliness of being an outsider when people are hesitant to get to know you. Though you may not catch it the day you begin this book (pun intended), after reading it successive times you will appreciate the brown ruler’s return in later pages. Each time López uses it, you are reminded that growth will come — for the girl eating a lunch unfamiliar to her classmates or for the alienated boy on the playground during recess, longing for acceptance. It will come even for the immigrant child who cracks a slight smile when his teacher introduces him in a tone so soft it sounds like a song. Did you ever consider how similar a ruler and music staff appear?

In The Day You Begin, there is hope in the ruler. Hope in the bright purples, pinks, and greens that build the scenery of each illustration. Hope in just about every spread as the garden continues to grow. Most importantly, hope in the faces of these young people. Woodson writes how “the world feels like a place that you’re standing all the way outside of,” and López evokes that emotion in the reader with a lonesome boy standing on a deserted lawn on the recto in juxtaposition with a playful group of classmates on a playground on the verso. But it is when Angelina develops the confidence to share the stories of her summer reading, which take her to many worlds beyond her bedroom, that López allows her to sprout from the page. Not only does she leap into a new world with her sister, but she flourishes within. And on the next spread, so do her classmates as they listen curiously to all her adventures. And while this is where Woodson’s nonlinear text climaxes and you know the story will soon end, it’s where López widens the children’s eyes and turns up the corners of their mouths, while Angelina’s pose boasts a sense of belonging. Flip to the final page — with not a single word on it — to see the joyful image of a group of once shy, skeptical, and outcast individuals enjoy a friendly moment playing in the fall leaves. Then you close the book, and if it failed to hit you before, you realize López could have told the story with his illustrations alone.

Caldecott worthy? I think so. What do you think?

Erika Long About Erika Long

Erika Long is a school librarian in Tennessee. She was named a finalist in AASL's first year of Social Media Superstar Recognitions. She is an advocate of books as mirrors and windows and empowers students to use their voice to impact social justice change. You can connect with her on Twitter @erikaslong.

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Comments

  1. Emily Perkins says:

    I enjoyed your synopsis of this book! The review gives a concise look , not only of the book, but life itself! I am so proud of you and your accomplishments! Well done, Erika Long!

  2. Ann Carpenter says:

    A lovely book, and one that, as I read it to classrooms a few weeks ago, more than one teacher asked me to write the name down so they could add it to their list of books of books that they share each year with students (and were not surprised when I said the author’s name: Each Kindness was on most of those lists already!)

    It’s interesting because this review, and about 75% of the classrooms I visited, all comment that the back endpapers have three bright flowers to “reflect the the number of isolated characters” – but there aren’t three isolated characters, there are four: Angelina, Rigoberto, the girl with the food (all three of whom are pictured playing together in the last illustration) and the boy on the playground. On the one hand, I can thematically see why that boy is left out, since his thread in the story is that you rely on yourself, you can be ready on your own (I don’t have a copy on hand so I can’t quote it). But on the other hand, I had a couple of classes that noticed that he didn’t get to be part of the friendship triangle OR the blooms/birds/insects on the endpapers (ALL of the classrooms were convinced they represented the “new friends”) and one child was disturbed that “even the kids that felt left out, they still left that boy out.”

  3. Ann Carpenter says:

    I left a comment, but it didn’t show up, so I’m sorry of this is repeated.

    Most of the classrooms I read this with, like the reviewer, saw the flowers/birds/insects going from one to three as “symbolic of the number of isolated characters introduced by Woodson.” But there aren’t three isolated characters, there are four: Angelina, Rigoberto, the girl with the food, and the isolated boy. The first three are all together at the end, but the left-out boy is, well, left out. On the one hand thematically I can see how that boy’s thread is about finding strength in yourself, so maybe that’s why he’s not included in the group. But on the other hand, I did have one child who was disturbed that “the kids that feel different and left out, they still left out that other boy ” (Whether or not that’s an accurate read of what’s going on, I’ll leave to others, but it was one student’s response.) I’ll admit that it does bother me a little that one of the kids didn’t get to be part of the play group or part of the symbolic flowers. Is he not blooming the way the others are, surrounded by friends?

  4. Gail P. Currie says:

    Great commentary Erika. Congratulations!

  5. Ann, thank you for sharing your students’ perspectives. Rafael visited my blog this year and talked about this briefly (and how the character was inspired by his own autistic son). He wrote: “Now that The Day You Begin is out, I’m receiving mail from parents and grandparents letting me know that someone in their family has autism. They want me to know their child saw something familiar in that character. I decided to not show this character on the final page of the book but instead show his joy and inner strength in that reflection. Santiago has taught me there are many ways to connect to others by sharing our stories in our own way. … There are many possible reasons why a classmate might choose to be alone or like it,” he wrote. The post is here if you’re interested in reading more from him: http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=4726.

    Of course, the committee may not necessarily seek creators’ comments on why they did what they did in their books — they will be looking at what the book on the table in front of them communicates. You make a valid point.

    (But I did think of that post when I read your comment, so I’m sharing!)

  6. I agree it is a worthy choice joining a crowded 2018 crop. With Woodson as author and Lopez as illustrator it couldn’t miss and it didn’t. I agree the illustrator could have told this story alone, but like you am still captivated by Woodson’s prose and the bursting lyricism of the presentation. A soulful work about the power of friendship and how people are alike yet different. It seems Lopez is in the running every year but so far he’s come up empty from the committee. This may well be his time, and his lovely work here is surely up there with his very best.

    Fantastic review and comment section!

  7. Ann Carpenter says:

    Thanks for sharing that Julie, it’s exactly the sort of insight that brings extra meaning to the book for me. I don’t think it’s going to hold it back from the Caldecott, whether the committee takes the author’s comments into account or not, because it does follow with the theme of that boy’s words.

  8. Yes, it does, Ann!

    Sam, “a soulful work” is a good way to describe it.

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