Eve Bunting’s Picture Book, “A Day’s Work,” Has Lessons for Young Readers on Both Labor Day, 2021 and Every Day of Their Lives.
A Day’s Work
By Eve Bunting; illustrated by Ronald Himler
Maybe you’ve them seen; workers standing in the early morning hours. They gather huddled in groups drinking coffee, trying to get warm. And waiting for work.
At a certain hour, trucks and vans pull up and eager workers hop in. Maybe someone needs a laborer or a gardener, bricklayer or some other job – for a day.
You’ve heard the phrase, “A day’s work for a day’s pay”or “It’s all in a day’s work.”
Tens of millions of undocumented immigrants seem to be waiting for just that every day; just a day’s work.
I’m not going to argue the legalities involved here or the moral imperatives to finding a just AND legal solution to this conundrum that has galvanized a nation’s frustration on both sides of the argument for years.
But, that is what I love about picture books. They can bring issues such as immigration to the fore for children with stories accompanied by wonderful art that both prompt questions from readers and also points sometimes, in a direct or indirect way, to simple ways to build character in a child.
I venture to say that your young reader may have plenty of questions for you after sharing this book.
Eve Bunting’s picture book, “A Day’s Work” and the earthy artistry of Ronald Himler does just that. It provides a window on a new elderly, immigrant carpenter turned gardener for a day.
How his abuelo or grandfather, shapes the life of his young grandson, Francisco, through his reaction to the grandson’s telling of a lie in order to get work for his grandfather, is revelatory and character building.
Abuelo, newly come to California to live with his daughter speaks no English. His grandson, in a generational role reversal, acts as interpreter and guide, in the scrambling shape up for jobs.
Hired for a weeding job on a hillside for one day culminates in a misunderstanding of what’s what in the identification of chickweeds versus plants! A botched job results and Mr. Benjamin, the new boss, is angry.
But the soft spoken abuelo, a just and honest man, realizes his employer has been fibbed to by Francisco, in his grandson’s eagerness to obtain the $60 daily wage for the two of them. This is unacceptable to abuelo and must be rectified.
As abuelo and Francisco replant the entire bank of flowers, refusing even half the wage until the entire job is completed as promised, a young boy has modeled to him what a man’s word and integrity mean.
It is a question of honor…and honor is rewarded, because in the words of Mr. Benjamin, “The important things your grandfather knows already. And I can teach him gardening.”
Named a Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, it was also named a 1994 Americas Commended Title by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs.
Intergenerational books are some of my favorites. And here, in Eve Bunting’s touching tale of old and young learning what’s important from one another, the wisdom of age sometimes surpasses our younger generation’s ability to interpret the world and the values that have meaning.
It was MLK, Jr. that said something akin to, and I am paraphrasing here, “An education devoid of values is like a ship without a rudder.”
Well said, and so true in the tension and tumult that we see on the national scene, as students return to school amid Covid-19 concern.
Francisco has been guided true north by the compass of his abuelo’s conscience and the content of his character.
They will both be alright!