“I wake up with my head down,” says D. He overslept because no one woke him up, and now Dad says they have to hustle. He walks to school feeling “scrunchy” as a cloud hovers above his head. “It can still be a good day,” he says. “Any day can be good if you try.” But D faces one disappointment after another: It’s gym day, and he forgot to wear his gym uniform, so he can’t play kickball. In writing class, he gets the laptop with the sticky space bar. When he calls out the correct answer in math class, the teacher criticizes him for not raising his hand instead of praising him for having the right answer. When he accidentally makes a mess that leads to a meltdown during show and tell, D must go to the principal’s office. Once there, his day takes an unexpected turn.
Keep Your Head Up is the debut picture book by journalist Aliya King Neil, with illustrations by Coretta Scott King Award winner Charly Palmer. Throughout this touching portrait of a child doing his best to manage a difficult day, D’s feelings of frustration and discouragement are palpable and create a sense of rising tension. Palmer’s illustrations feature thick, textured brushstrokes, and his impressionistic style enhances the emotional narrative. Pops of blue and pink complement D’s deep brown skin.
Parallels to Judith Viorst’s classic depiction of another boy and his “no good, very bad day” are obvious, but Neil never plays D’s troubles for laughs. Instead, she explores how the supportive adults in D’s life, including his parents and Miss King, the school principal, empower him to make positive decisions when it’s not easy to do so.
Reading Keep Your Head Up would be an excellent way to begin a conversation about how to process the highs and lows of life. It’s a simple and powerful reminder to not let bad days get us down.