Alice B. McGinty | Two of the best stories from 2018

Alice B. McGinty | Two of the best stories from 2018

At the end of each year, review journals take stock of the year in books and generate listings of the best. Included in Publisher's Weekly's "Best of 2018" picture books are these two gems, not only beautifully written, but with wisdom to share.

In acclaimed author and poet Jacqueline Woodson's "The Day You Begin" (2018, Nancy Paulsen Books, written by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez, ages 4-9), we see a close-up of a brown-skinned girl fretfully walking through the door of a classroom. "There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you," the text reads. "Maybe it will be your skin, your clothes, or the curl of your hair... or the lovely language of the country you left behind."

The focus changes from one child to another, as Woodson's lyrical text highlights ways each child feels set apart. "There will be times when the climbing bars are too high, the run is too fast and far, the game isn't one you can ever really play," one page reads.

Evocative watercolor illustrations depict the aloneness of the child standing apart on the playground.

Next, we transition to an illustration of a boy, book in hand, shoulders slumped, looking down at his reflection in a lake. There, the boy sees himself, book raised high, standing tall and speaking out with colors swirling from him and his book. "And all that stands beside you is your own brave self — steady as steel and ready even though you don't yet know what you're ready for," the text tells us.

As the story leaps forward, we circle back to the original classroom setting. "There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you," the text reads, "until the day you begin ...

To share your stories."

In this beautifully rendered, empowering book, "the world opens itself up a little wider to make some space for you."

In "Up the Mountain Path" (2018, Princeton Architectural Press, written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc, ages 4-7), we meet Mrs. Badger, who is very old and who's seen many things.

Her home is at the foot of a small mountain, and each Sunday she walks up the path to the mountain's peak.

The warm, child-friendly watercolor illustrations show Mrs. Badger heading off from her grass covered home onto the network of paths.

"It's a Sunday like any other. Maybe a little sunnier," and off she goes, picking mushrooms for a friend, helping a turtle in need. Every Sunday is the same. "But today she has a feeling she is being watched." And when she sees the small kitten in the woods, she shares her snack and invites her to come with. But "Mrs. Badger can tell when something is wrong." "I'm too small," the kitten says.

"I was your age when I climbed the mountain for the first time," Mrs. Badger says. For her, nothing is impossible. But she knows, "sometimes it's hard to have faith."

When the kitten, Lulu, decides to come along, Mrs. Badger has plenty to teach her — how to listen, how to help others, how to make choices.

And when they reach the top, they feel like they're on top of the world. From then on, each Sunday they climb together.

Then, however, things change. Mrs. Badger begins to get tired. At first, she must rest on the journey. Then, one sunny Sunday, she can't go at all. "Go by yourself," she tells Lulu. "When you return you can tell me everything." Lulu goes and "Gradually Mrs. Badger's mountain becomes Lulu's mountain."

One day, Lulu discovers a new path — and a new friend watching her. She shares her snack, and says, "I have a wonderful place to show you."

This lovely, understated story has a wisdom, warmth and power that is sure to touch your heart.

Alice B. McGinty (alicebmcginty.com) is the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children and the recipient of the 2017 Illinois Reading Council's Prairie State Award for Excellence in Writing for Children. Each summer, McGinty runs a writing camp for teens, Words on Fire.

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