The Way to Start a Day


Written by Byrd Baylor, Illustrated by Peter Parnall

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1978

Awards: Caldecott Honor

The way to start a day is this – Go outside and face the east and greet the sun with some kind of blessing or chant or song that you made yourself and keep for early morning.

The plot in a nutshell:  A look at how different cultures start the day

The book advises the reader to improvise asong when you’re alone and you feel the sun and it reminds us that cavemen sang to the sun as well. The book goes on to share the traditions of other countries and civilizations, such as chanting at sun temples in Peru or drumming in the Congo. Some people gave gifts, such as gold, flowers or fire as offerings to the sun. The book points out the cultures that still have rituals for greeting the day and reminds the reader to let the sun know he or she is there to make the magic happen for them.

Buddha's a big guy.

Buddha’s a big guy.

Author Byrd Baylor first published the text of this book as a poem in McCall’s magazine in 1977. This version was her fifth collaboration with illustrator Paul Parnall, three of which resulted in Caldecott Honors. Ms. Baylor’s love for the southwest and its people, as well as a strong respect for other cultures, shines through in this book. It’s also an example of what some saw as the hippie culture of the 70’s, in which we were exploring our relationships to the rest of the world. I could practically hear that ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’ Coke commercial while reading it.

The artwork, from Peter Parnall, just adds to the book’s sense of belonging so strongly to its decade. There are minimal lines, layers of colors and occasional stippling to provide a sense of texture in several places. In spite of its datedness, I really like the idea that we, as humans, have always seen in the new day with respect and awe. It certainly contrasts with the contemporary sense of dread with which so many people greet their workdays. I think children would enjoy the glimpses at all the different customs and maybe come up with their own way to positively welcome each new day.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that every new day has magic in it and you should meet it in whatever fashion works best for you.


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