A boy is living with his abuelita while his father is away. He dreads the first day at a new school because he has nothing special to share about himself. Each family member offers him an object that represents a memory from the summer, but the boy doesn’t think any of these is interesting. Then his abuelita whispers a secret in his ear. Whenever it’s his turn to talk, all he needs to do is open his backpack. When the moment arrives, he dumps the backpack’s contents onto the table. As his classmates pick up the objects, he retells the stories they represent. Suddenly, he is surprised that he has much to say. And when he returns home, his abuelita has an even bigger surprise.
In this slightly different take on the first-day-of-school story, Gabriel is nervous about his first day at a new school, while his dad is away. Everyone in the household eagerly offers input, but he doesn’t think he has anything of interest to share. Mom assures him that everyone in class will be talking about themselves. Rosa advises him to talk about the family and their pets. Abuelita suggests talking about their recent visit to the beach, and Alfonso says he should tell about their recent trip to Cuba. Gabriel is not happy with any of these ideas. At school, he respectfully listens to his classmates talk about themselves. When his teacher calls on him, he remembers his grandma’s advice, “When your teacher asks you to talk, open your backpack.” As Gabriel reaches for his backpack, pictures, maps, and family-related items spill out. His classmates rush to examine the objects and bombard Gabriel with questions. As the day ends, Gabriel is happy that Abuelita’s secret helped him get through the first day of school and even more excited about another secret that awaits him as he opens the front door—his dad. VERDICT A beautifully crafted, multilayered story about starting school that is buoyed by cheery and warmhearted illustrations. (October 18, 2019)