Vietnamese author-illustrators Phung Nguyen Quang’s and Huynh Kim Lien’s vibrant artwork and lyrical, emotive narrative relate the exciting, yet frightening fictional journey of a Vietnamese boy named An who lives in the Mekong Delta. The rainy season has come, swelling the Mekong River. For the first time, An will make the journey to school in his little, open boat on his own.
An realizes there’s so much he doesn’t know and that “there is still a world to learn.” He’s also aware that the journey holds many dangers—pouring rain, rough waters, a giant python lurking beneath his boat, crocodiles, and a myriad of threatening creatures.
The authors skillfully employ metaphor to reveal the school-like nature of An’s journey on the river: “It’s different when you’re alone in the unfamiliar hallways of the forest. I hear the chatter of a classroom full of animals as I move by.” Even though “fear slithers in like a python,” An forges onward because “what you know can make a difference, turn the unfamiliar into family. I get to trace the edges of my path—do it for myself, write my name across the blackboard of the river. The sky is a crayon box full of colors for me to take flight—grow my own wings—a dance of storks and new worlds.” When An finally arrives at his school, he sees many other joyful children arriving in little boats.
My First Day is a visual feast and an informative children’s picture book that offers one window into how children around the world navigate their way to school. Author-illustrators’ notes provide added insight into the lives of children like An: “Children go to school the world over in all sorts of different ways. ... First days happen around the globe in deserts, cities, rural areas, and on water. For the people of the Mekong Delta, the water shapes their relationship with everything in their daily life. It’s a roadway, a supermarket, a meeting place, and even a path to school.” (Make Me a World)