The half-title page of Our Favorite Day, the debut picture book from author-illustrator Joowon Oh, depicts merely two mugs. One is large with a tea bag in it. The one to the right of it, colored a warm blue, is smaller and is adorned with smiling clouds, as if for a child. We know from the book’s cover that this is likely a story about a girl and her grandfather. This endearing illustration, a small image resting in ample white space, is one of the book’s first invitations into their cozy, loving world.
The story is told from the point of view of the young girl, who refers to her grandfather as “Papa.” The first half of the book shows the life he lives as a widowed man with daily routines. (Observant readers will know he’s a widow from the pictures in his home.) Every morning, he drinks tea; takes care of his plants; straightens his small house; takes the bus to town; and orders dumplings, his favorite lunch, at his favorite restaurant. He walks home leisurely, taking in the “flowers growing along the path.”
It’s clear this is a regular occurrence of events for the man, but on that first walk, we see him stop at a crafts store. He looks at the patterned papers hanging in the window and has an idea. On his walk home the next day, he purchases supplies from that store, the cashier saying, “Ah, it must be Thursday!” There is, no doubt, something special about Thursdays. Papa, in fact, brings home two orders of dumplings that day.
Then, we take in the joyous moment, the revelation about what is remarkable about Thursdays. The book’s narrator, his granddaughter, arrives, and this is the story that dominates the book’s second half (which switches to speech-balloon dialogue to depict their communication) — that special day of the week where she regularly visits. “Papa!” she yells in the same illustration that is seen on the cover, the girl with her backpack on a cool autumn day, running into his arms. They have dumplings together, and they make, with the papers he purchased for her, a kite they fly together at twilight in the book’s closing spread.
This story, one she started while a student in the MFA illustration program at the School of Visual Arts, is loosely based on Joowon’s own childhood relationship with her grandfather. The book’s devotion in its first half to the life this man leads is particularly satisfying. He is elderly, and he lives alone. But he is not lonely or unhappy, a refreshing thing to see. We see, on his walk into town, that he is a beloved member of his community, and these spreads are filled with warmth — from the sunny palette to the smiles on the faces of the people who greet Papa as he is out and about. This is a story that may even prompt young children to think about the caretakers in their own lives; it may not be often that they stop to wonder what granddad or grandma does during the days when they aren’t around to see them.
Children may even be prompted to think about the ways in which their grandparents’ lives are like their own. My favorite moment in the book is the one right before the girl arrives. Papa has prepped for her visit, and we see in one illustration that he sits at the kitchen table by the window. He stares. “Then he waits.” This is something that young children often do when they know a visitor they long to see is on their way. They plant themselves right by the window or door—and do nothing except watch and wait for the big arrival.
Joowon, who was born in Korea and now lives in New York City, rendered these illustrations—many divided into small panels to smoothly accelerate the action—via watercolors and gouache. Cut paper illustrations were adhered to painted backgrounds, and this brings a pleasing texture to the illustrations. It’s as if Papa steps right off the page, and Joowon also gives readers close-up images of the details of his measured life that mean a lot to him—vignettes that zoom in on his carefully folded clothes, the plant he waters, and the flower he picks from the ground on his walk home.
“I felt loved,” Joowon has said about her own memories of her grandfather, “by seeing how carefully he listened to me while I talked about my day—or maybe I just loved being with him.” I think she’s on to something with the listening, which is an act of love, after all. “Don’t you think they’re the same thing? Love and attention?” says the nun at Lady Bird’s Catholic school in the film Lady Bird. Indeed, they are, and this is surely what the girl in the story senses and what makes Thursdays—and her grandfather—so special.
This affectionate story, brimming with good cheer, will be on shelves in early September, and I can’t wait to see what Joowon does next.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
OUR FAVORITE DAY. Copyright © 2019 by Joowon Oh. Illustration above reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.