The Day You Begin

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
The Day You Begin Book Poster Image
Encouraging advice for kids who feel excluded or less than.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Different races, nationalities, and backgrounds represented. Boys' name Rigoberto, country Venezuela. Other locations mentioned: France, Maine, India, Spain, South Carolina. Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower. Scarf from India. Traditional Korean meal pictured and mention of kimchi. Information that "rice is the most popular food in the world."

Positive Messages

You can find your voice even when others seem to have advantages or might be excluding you. You can find commonalities with people and also learn to value the things about you that are different and special. When people are friends they can enjoy both their differences and their similarities.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The kids pictured, of different races and backgrounds, have relatable emotions -- feeling insecure or excluded -- but find ways to connect, identify with others. Rigoberto's teacher appreciates his name, helps him feel good about it. The girl who's not well traveled, and spent the summer in the city caring for her sister, realizes her experiences have value, too, and proudly reports them to the class. Kids are shown reading books. Kids bridge the gaps and befriend each other.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Day You Begin is by celebrated author Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming), who's won just about every medal or award available to kids' book writers, and is currently serving as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Illustrator Rafael López (Drum Dream Girl) has also garnered numerous awards. Woodson's books are noted for tackling serious issues with a sensitive touch, and in this book, she imagines a variety of kids of different races and backgrounds who might feel excluded or less than. The text addresses the kids directly as "you," offering words of encouragement as well as a scenario in which some of the characters end up becoming friends. This book is also available in Spanish as El Dia en Que Descubres Quien Eres.

 

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What's the story?

THE DAY YOU BEGIN describes various kids who feel different and uncomfortable with their peers at school. For instance, a boy named Rigoberto feels self-conscious about his name. One girl doesn't want to report what she did for the summer since she stayed in the hot city while her classmates took enviable trips. Another girl wonders why her friend wrinkles her nose at the girl's lunch of rice and kimchi. And one boy isn't picked for a team. The author addresses the kids directly, counseling them that if they open up and express themselves, "the world opens itself up a little wider to make some space for you."

Is it any good?

This sensitive and emotionally astute book about kids feeling like outsiders addresses kids directly, like welcome advice from a trusted elder, encouraging kids to "share your stories." In The Day You Begin, the prose is poetic but accessible. A teacher pronounces a boy's name "so soft and beautifully that your name and homeland sound like flowers blooming the first bright notes of a song." A girl admires "a jar filled with tiny shells so fragile, they look like they'll turn to dust in your own untraveled hands." Yet the text is never out of reach, and the situations are carefully chosen to be ones kids will relate to -- for instance, not getting picked for a team or hesitating to share in class.

The illustrations by Rafael López fit the text perfectly and are just as welcoming. The art depicts and celebrates kids of different races. On many pages, López also includes a looming measuring stick, which seems to represent the way kids feel they measure up or not. This very inviting art extends a friendly hand just as the kids in the story do.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the feelings the kids have in The Day You Begin. Do you ever feel that other kids have advantages you don't? What's different about you? What's special? What are your strengths?

  • Do you ever think other kids might feel bad about or unsure of themselves, too? Have you ever noticed things about other kids you hadn't been aware of before? How do the boy and girl become friends at the end?

  • Why do you think the illustrator put a ruler or measuring stick on the cover and in many of the pictures? Can you find them all? What do you think they might mean?

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