The Day You Begin by Jaqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López

In December of last year, National Ambassador for Children's Literature, Jaqueline Woodson spoke to the New York Times about two children's books she was working on, The Day You Begin and the middle-grade novel, Harbor Me, saying, "I am talking about what it means to be in this country at this moment in time in certain bodies." 

Working at a school very close to the border with Mexico and with a student population that is 80% Latinx, The Day You Begin was exactly what I needed to start this school year off with, especially since it is magnificently illustrated by Mexican artist with a loft in San Diego, Rafel López. The Day You Begin begins, 

There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you. Maybe it will be your skin, your clothes, or the curl of your hair.
From there, we follow Angelina, a student who questions the point of sharing her summer experience of taking care of her little sister and reading lots of books, when she hears her classmates share stories of travels to France, India, the beach in Maine and South Carolina. She asks herself, "What good is this when other students were flying and sailing and going somewhere?
At this point, Woodson's lyrical prose breaks from the story to look in on the lives of other children who have felt different, shy, left out, and pointedly ostracized for being different, reminding readers that they have their own, "brave self - steady as steel and ready even though you don't yet know what you are ready for."
Then, my favorite lines of this book that I always go back and repeat when reading it out loud, 

There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you until the day you begin

to share your stories.

The line break adds so much power to the words and the idea behind them. While there are still two more pages to the book, it's so hard for me not to stop and talk with the kids about feeling different (and quiet and alone) and how that changes when we reach out to another person and connect through words and stories - and when we LISTEN to that person. This builds perfectly on the experience my students had when last year, our entire school read Woodson's picture book, Each Kindness, which has a memorable metaphor of a pebble being dropped into water, creating ripples. As the teacher says to her class, who has been unkind to a student, "everything we do goes out, like a ripple into the world." Whether it's kindness or, as a student reminded me today, unkindness, our words and actions go out into the world and affect others. The Day You Begin feels like a companion, and antidote almost, to Each Kindness. Where one book shows kids that their words are powerful and can spread kindness or unkindness, the other shows kids that words can connect us and show us how we are the same even when, "the world feels like a place you're standing all the way outside of . . ." As someone who goes through this world with the printed word as my guide, my crutch, my wings and my way, The Day You Begin means everything to me.
Over the summer break this year, I bought special paint and turned one wall of my library into a whiteboard. After reading The Day You Begin, I invited students to write on the wall, sharing times they felt on the outside and alone.

Source: Review Copy

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