A similar feel comes from being Kennedy Center Education’s artist-in-residence, turning many of its children’s stories into productions families can enjoy. Most recently, a world premiere musical based on “The Day You Begin,” a picture book that explores how kids – or anyone – can shake off self-doubt.
Woodson found inspiration in his great-grandfather William Woodson, who was the only black child in an all-white school just after the American Civil War. Even though she lives in a much more diverse world, Jacqueline Woodson can connect with how it must have felt. “There are very few rooms that I walk into and say, ‘It’s like home,'” she says.
So Woodson has filled his book with characters from different backgrounds, like Rigoberto, who is adjusting to life in the United States after leaving his native Venezuela, and Angelina, who has to take care of her younger sister. She pointed out how common it is to feel like you don’t fit in, whether it’s because of how you look, what you’re cooking for lunch, or what you’ve been up to on vacation. ‘summer.
The original title was “It’s Gonna Be Scary Sometimes”, which Woodson borrowed from a poem she had written about William in her memoir, “Brown Girl Dreaming”.
Trying new things is usually scary but also exciting, says Woodson. She thinks of the freedom of riding a two-wheeled bike for the first time and finally playing double Dutch jump rope after years of watching older children make it so magical.
“Leaving the single rope behind felt like a rite of passage,” says Woodson.
The message of “The Day You Begin” is that whether you’re in the playground, in the classroom, or anywhere else, it’s better because you’re there. You bring something special that no one else has.
Take, for example, the book “The Day You Begin.” Woodson appreciates that illustrator Rafael López didn’t just draw images to go along with his words – he also contributed his point of view. He scattered rules throughout the pages to show how we compare to others. And he inserted an image of his non-verbal autistic son, standing alone next to a tree.
His son became the character of Sam in the musical version of “The Day You Begin,” which taps into the talents of a larger team, Woodson says. There’s music (by his friend Toshi Reagon), as well as dancing and unexpected visual effects, such as tiny flashlights that glow to mimic rain. As they began to plan, director Charlotte Brathwaite asked Woodson, “What do you think of the puppets?” She hadn’t considered them. Now they are an important part of the show.
“I get shy, but not to create things,” says Woodson, who enjoys the experience of seeing his story come to life in a different way. “It became once for me when I wrote the words. Now it becomes again in this world.
Of course, as with anything new, it’s a bit scary. Woodson’s concern on opening night last Saturday: “Am I going to be sitting in an empty room? [theater]?” But she pushed the fears aside and instead focused on the endless positive possibilities.
What: “The day you start.”
Where: Family Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street Northwest Washington.
When: Until December 18.
How old: Ideal for ages 7 to 12.
How much: $20 to $25. Buy your tickets online at kennedy-center.org.
A photo caption in an earlier version of this story misidentified the title of the picture book Jacqueline Woodson is reading. The book is “The Other Side”.