Daniel's Good Day

Cover of Daniel's Good DayHow many times a week do you hear or speak the phrase “Have a good day!”? It’s what Daniel hears from his friendly neighbors. One sunny day, he sets out on a walk to Grandma’s house and decides to ask his good day–wishing neighbors, “What makes a good day for you?” Their answers reflect their specific jobs. For the newsstand seller, “Busy sidewalks and friendly faces” make a good day; for the baker, “birthdays” make a good day. On his return journey, Daniel is delighted to see his neighbors having their good days. When his mom asks, “How was your day?” Daniel lists each of the neighbor’s responses. And what happens when each of these things come together? For Daniel, it was "such a good day!”   

There are so many good picture books published every year. I’m always sending suggestions to friends, parents of students, and other librarians. I can hear myself now, “Oh, that’s a good one!” But what is it about a book that lifts it from a good picture book to such a good picture book? Or, what are the things that create a “such a good” Caldecott Medal book? Robin Smith is responsible for the foundation of my picture book education. She introduced me to key concepts like jacket flaps, endpapers, gutters, and vignette illustrations, but more importantly she showed me that there’s a type of magic that happens when words and pictures come together to tell a story. And when these books are shared with a rug full of children, that magic is dazzling. 

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Daniel's Good Day.]

Ten years of reading picture books through the lens of Robin and the Caldecott criteria has equipped me with the tools needed to answer the question, “What makes ‘such a good’ Caldecott Medal book for you?” Put succinctly, it's excellent art, interplay, and presentation. Micha Archer's Daniel’s Good Day excels in all three categories, lifting it from a good picture book to such a good picture book, one worthy of the Caldecott Medal.

Excellent Art: These might be my favorite illustrations of the year. Archer masterfully uses oil paints and multi-layered tissue paper collages, patterned with homemade rubber stamps, to create a vibrant, color-saturated, and textured neighborhood for Daniel and his friends. It takes skill to use so many different mediums while keeping the illustrations cohesive and uncluttered, but Archer pulls it off. And much to readers’ benefit. There is indeed layer upon layer of things to look at in each illustration. For example, in an illustration featuring a city bus, the driver and other passengers are rendered in oils. But for Archer's rendering of the bus I counted fourteen different types of patterns or papers. Vintage typeface letters and numbers are used to label the bus, and what appears to be an old rubber stamp is used as well. One of the other passengers has old bicycle wheels patterning her dress, and a headlight is created from an golden sheet of music. Leaves and flowers created from a myriad of different papers, rubber stamps, and punches give trees, parks, and flower gardens a 3D effect, and tissue-paper overlays add depth to everyday objects such curtains, clothes, and clouds. Again, there’s so much to notice in each illustration, but never do these rich details overpower or distract from the story.

Excellent Interplay: One of the Caldecott criteria (perhaps the one most frequently overlooked by readers like myself) is “appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme, or concept.” Archer’s multi-layered and cheerful artwork beautifully correlates to Daniel’s story. His neighborhood is filled with diversity, and each neighbor has a unique thing that makes his/her day “good," but they are all united by the fact that they are neighbors. Like Archer’s hand-crafted illustrations, they are unique but united. The neighbors’ expressions and body language (Emma lets Daniel fly her kite; the mailman bends down to talk to him) go far to show that the neighborhood is close-knit and caring. And then of course there are those necessary artistic details that add meaning and go beyond the text. One look at the two screaming babies makes it clear why “a long nap for the babies” is what makes a good day for the nanny, and Emma's kite soaring high in the blue sky affirms that she is indeed having a good day.

Excellent Presentation: Like Martha, I am an advocate for excellent picture books that can be enjoyed by the youngest of readers. With its minimal prose, accessible subject, and bright illustrations, Daniel’s Good Day immediately grabs children’s attention, but it does so much more than just offer an entertaining story. It illuminates the beauty in the simplest of moments and the importance of being aware of and thankful for small pleasures — like bees, birthdays, and smiling faces. A few days after I shared this book with my kindergarten students, our custodian stopped me in the hall and told me that a student had asked her, “What makes a good day for you?” Oh, the power of story!

Excellent art, excellent interplay, and excellent presentation make Daniel’s Good Daysuch a good” Caldecott Medal book for me. Does it for you?


Emmie Stuart
Emmie Stuart
Emmie Stuart is a school librarian at the Percy Priest Elementary School in Nashville, Tennessee.
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Molly Sloan

Thank you for the beautiful introduction to this book, Emmie. You helped me slow down and really appreciate Daniel's Good Day. I loved the way Daniel was clearly being careful not to step on the cracks when he walked back home with his Grandma. And Grandma was dutifully doing the same, most likely at Daniel's admonition. And I love that this sub-story is all conveyed in one simple illustration! Each spread has those layers of story that aren't even mentioned in the text. That makes this book really stand out to me. I love it when there is interplay between the text and illustrations but careful reading of the illustrations reveals that there is so much more going on that what the text alone reveals. Daniel's Good Day does this beautifully. Alison, thank you for pointing out the masterful use of horizontal and diagonal lines. I feel each page leads young readers to the page turn. In fact I can imagine the chubby fingers of my three and four year olds tracing the line to the place where they should grasp the page to turn it (page turning is a skill we practice A LOT in preschool!). What a wonderful way for Archer to bring a tactile element to the experience of her story. Thanks to you both for highlighting what a special book this is.

Posted : Jan 08, 2020 06:29

Alison Morris

I am wild about this book and become even more so with each close reading. In addition to the wonderful things you've noted, I am wild about the strong and greatly varied horizontal and diagonal lines - created by fences, clapboards, stairs, dirt paths, sidewalks, and more - that pull the viewer's eye across every page and/or spread, and I love the way Micha Archer often accentuates those lines with borders that give them additional strength and visual interest. I love the way she uses the boldest of her patterned papers to draw your eye to tiny accents in the composition (e.g. the painter's handkerchief, the baker's whisk). I love the fact that we can see the central characters of this book on multiple pages, in multiple locations - enhancing the readers' sense that this is a very real space through which people are moving, going about their days. I love the distance from which we view Daniel on these pages - we're always just far enough away to be able to see what he and his neighbors are up to, but always close enough to feel like we're occupying the same space as them, bringing us right into that neighborhood. This choice lends the book a feeling of intimacy - heighted on those moments where we're drawn in closer. Using an extreme close-up for the "I had such a good day!" moment near end leaves no question that Daniel owns this story, making it one of the most kid-centered and kid-friendly picture books I have read this year. For these reasons and many more, I think Daniel's Good Day is wholly Caldecott-worthy!

Posted : Jan 08, 2020 03:46


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