When Angelina, a young African-American girl, enters her classroom, she notices that her skin, clothes and the curl of her hair are different than her classmates’. When a boy in her class named Rigoberto tells the class he’s from Venezuela, he notices how the class laughs because they don’t understand him. At a lunch table, an Asian girl notices how her classmates wrinkle their noses at her kimchi. On the playground, a small white boy notices that no one picks him to be on their team. But all this is about to change for these young characters in The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a National Book Award winner and the winner of numerous other prestigious children’s literature awards.
Rafael López, a Pura Belpré Medalist, illustrates this poetic picture book with vibrant, expressive and richly patterned artwork. While the students describe their extensive summer travels to other states and countries, Angelina notices that, though she spent her summer at home reading, stories carried her to even more interesting places. And when she finds the courage to introduce herself during circle time, Rigoberto notices that she has the same name as his sister. In that moment, Angelina makes a connection and notices there’s room for her similarities and her differences.
It’s not enough to simply notice these differences, however. Woodson encourages children to celebrate them. López’s illustrations respond to the dark shadows of apprehension and loneliness and replace them with the vibrancy of wonder and friendship. Whether shared at bedtime or in a group, this book is sure to foster compassion and self-esteem.