My First Day is a captivating story that depicts one child’s journey to school.
“Today is the first day.” A young Vietnamese boy, his backpack resting snugly on his shoulders, heads out. Mama told him he’s finally big enough to do this alone. Paddling where “the great river, mother Mekong, tumbles into the endless sea,” the boy cuts a striking figure as he stands resolutely in his boat while tall, foam-crested waves in rich shades of green and cyan swell around him.
The book’s language is both plain-spoken (“I set out upon the waves and begin my adventure”) and evocative (“I paddle out into the floodwaters, past yesterdays and all the things I didn’t know”). Author-illustrators Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huỳnh Kim Liên draw seamless parallels between the boy’s travels and the first day of school that awaits him: “There is still a world to learn,” he says as he first leaves home. Later, he likens his journey to the “unfamiliar hallways of the forest” and refers to the “blackboard” of the river.
With resilience, the boy endures rough waters, rain, crocodiles and pythons—some real, some imaginary. These darker spreads, filled with menacing, beguiling shadows, eventually make way for exquisite, light-filled pages. Coral-hued rays of sunlight break through clouds, and the sky fills with brilliant colors and “a dance of storks and new worlds.” In one thrilling spread, Quang and Liên provide an underwater perspective: The boy floats on the surface as we look up at him alongside schools of fish who move gracefully through the water.
Fluid, energetic lines, compelling page turns and a forward momentum as the boy steadfastly paddles through the water make My First Day a particularly propulsive, cinematic story. Readers everywhere who know the thrill of the first day of school will delight to see other children arriving in their respective boats at the book’s close, though they may be sad to see the boy’s adventure end. The book’s back matter includes a note reminding readers that children go to school in many different ways and that some children are “even heroes on their journeys!