This has been a whirlwind year for Jacqueline Woodson, who was appointed National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in January and named the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award laureate in March. She also has two new books coming in August from Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books: Harbor Me, her first middle grade book since her 2014 National Book Award–winning Brown Girl Dreaming; and The Day You Begin, a picture book illustrated by Rafael López, which will be released simultaneously in a Spanish-language edition, El día en que descubres quién eres.
In Harbor Me, six kids who meet for a weekly chat at school feel braver after discovering they can share the feelings and fears they must hide from the rest of the world. “I think a lot of times I write because I have questions, not answers,” says Woodson. “And so here I’m asking, ‘How do we move forward, around obstacles that we continue to see and hear?’ I feel hopeful writing for young people and looking at life through their eyes.”
The Day You Begin, about finding the courage to connect with others, was inspired by a poem in Brown Girl Dreaming that drew on Woodson’s great-grandfather’s childhood experience as the only black student in an all-white school. “There was no one else in the room who looked like him—he was alone,” she says. “And thinking about that, I again asked questions: ‘What does that mean?’ and ‘What do you do with that?’ ”
Woodson praises López’s illustrations for the book. “As a writer, I think it’s always hard to let go of one’s work and see it through an illustrator’s interpretation,” she notes. “But Rafael added such an amazing depth to the story, as well as a lightness that complements it. He is phenomenally smart, and a great illustrator.”
Visitors to Penguin’s booth (2121) will find a standee wall where they can jot their own spins on Woodson’s platform as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature: Reading=Hope x Change. “I like the idea of creating what seems to be a mathematical equation to represent reading,” says Woodson.
“By this, I am saying that we read to feel hopeful, and reading gives us that hope,” she continues. “When we have hope, it makes us stronger, braver, more directed. With that direction, we are different and we can create difference in the world. We are changed and can create change.”