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One Today

One Today
Written by Richard Blanco, Illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Published by Little Brown, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-316-37144-5
Grades K-Up
Book Review
Only five U.S. presidential inaugurations included poets reading their work. Of those five poems, only two have been turned into picture books. One was illustrated by Dav Pilkey, author-illustrator of the Captain Underpants series. Surprised?  Don’t be. On his “return” to the picture book, Pilkey has created a glorious visual metaphor to accompany the poem Richard Blanco originally composed for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Each two-page spread features a multicultural, intergenerational trio who make their way through a single day. Text and illustration work together to reinforce the notion that the internal connections that strengthen each individual community also metaphorically become the connective tissue of our national community. This seemingly single day is a stand-in for an entire year, as Pilkney’s acrylic illustrations first depict spring, and then transition from summer, to fall, to winter. The city is a stand-in for the United States, as Blanco’s words reference specific locations throughout our nation, such as the Smokies, the Great Lakes, the Colorado River, and the Freedom Tower, and the smaller places in which we live our lives: schools and subways, factories, farms, and fruit stands. “The dust of our farms and deserts, cities and plains/mingled by one wind – our breath.” Blanco’s words and Pilkey’s paintings serve as a love song to work and sacrifice, family and community, and the brilliant art and music created by everyday life, such as “the symphony of footsteps.” It speaks of “every language/spoken into one wind carrying our lives/without prejudice,” a poem of unity and shared vision that constantly evokes the plural: we, us. At this moment, with a fresh new year before us, it is easy to see that this beautiful book can inspire many vibrant conversations and projects in language arts, social studies, art, and music classes across America and around the world.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Vocabulary: Vivid Verbs. Throughout the poem, Blanco uses interesting verbs, such as kindled, charging, crescendoing, teeming, rooting, routing, gleaning, launching, and jutting. Create kid-friendly definitions of these words and spend time using them throughout the week. Ask your students to use these words in their spoken language, perhaps modeling their newfound knowledge to their families and neighbors. Team up with your music teacher, or a local musician if your school does not have a music program, to teach the verb “crescendo” with instruments or children’s voices.
Writing: Your One Today. Read One Today several times with your students, asking them to track what they notice about the words and pictures with each new reading. What do they notice about the seasons, the constant visual references to urban and rural areas? Wherever you and your students live, a piece of your life is most likely reflected in this book. But what if you students were to make their own books, of theirtoday? Have students spend time walking around your community (if you’re in a suburban or urban area where the school is within a neighborhood) or your school campus (if in a rural area). How are their senses activated? What do they see, hear, smell, taste (be careful!), and touch? Conduct a walk several times over the course of the week at different times during the school day. The following week, using One Today as a mentor text, have students compose their own poems about their community. How can they, through their words, connect your community to the larger community of the United States? Have students illustrate their poems as well. How can they, through their illustrations, connect your community to the larger one of our country?  Host a reading in which members of your community or neighborhood, as well as parents and families of students, can attend.
Artistic Influences. In a conversation with Publisher’s Weekly in 2013, illustrator Dav Pilkey said, “When I think about Richard’s poem, I see pictures in my head as if they were painted by Marc Chagall, Ezra Jack Keats, and William H. Johnson. I am hoping to achieve a very dreamlike ‘American primitive” folk art style.” To what extent did Pilkey achieve his goals? How did he stay true to this initial vision and how did his work change? Using the digital resources below, share the artwork of Chagall, Keats, and Johnson with your student. Perhaps divide them up into three groups so that they can each become an “expert” on one artist. What do they notice about his style across different paintings? How do they see some of those stylistic choices in Pilkey’s work? Have students report out to one another on their artist. Have students apply what they have learned from their classmates to re-interpret this picture book poem.
Author-Illustrator’s Craft: Inaugural Picture Book Duet.  Read aloud both inaugural poems turned into picture book format:  One Today written by Richard Blanco, illustrated by Dav Pilkey, and Praise Song for the Day written by Elizabeth Alexander and illustrated by David Diaz. What are the similarities between both poems? What are the differences between both poems? What are the similarities between the illustrations? What are the differences? After children explore a range of age-appropriate poetry collections, have each select and illustrate their own favorite poem. For further guidance, you might want to explore our Classroom Bookshelf entry on the spoken word
Grades 3 and Up
Listening to and Reciting Poetry. Sound is incorporated throughout the poem, as the poet calls on us to pay attention to the “din of honking cabs,/ buses launching down avenues, the symphony/ of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,/ the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.” The poem is of course an oral art form. After reading the picture book aloud, print out a full text of the poem so that each student has his/her own copy. If necessary, enlarge the print to make it easier to read. In small groups, have students practice reading the poem aloud, each student responsible for few stanzas. Have the small groups read aloud the poem to one another. If possible, record each reading. After all students have presented, have the students compare and contrast their deliver, using the recordings for evidence. What words did they emphasize differently? Similarly? How did they handle the line breaks versus the punctuation? Finally, play the recording of Blanco reading the poem at the 2013 inauguration. What similarities and differences do they notice?
Literary Interpretation: Picture Book Poems. After students have read One Today, have them compare the straight text of the poem with the illustrated picture book. Next, give students a copy of another poem that has been turned into a picture book, such as Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” In small groups, have them analyze what they see happening in the “straight” text first. What do they think it means? What events are described? What similes and metaphors does the poet use? What is the mood of the poem? Have students choose to illustrate one stanza of the poem that speaks to them individually, using colored pencils, pen and ink, collage, or whatever other art form they choose. Compare and contrast their interpretations. What is similar? What is different? Next, share the illustrated picture book of the poem. How did the illustrator interpret the poem? What similarities and differences do they see with their own work?
Grades 6 and Up
Author’s – Illustrator’s Craft: Subtlety and Specific Events. While One Today is a very positive poem, celebrating connection and community, disturbing events in American history are referenced in subtle ways, such as the Newtown school shootings and the events of September 11th. Have students explore the ways in which the author skillfully references these events in his poem. Next, have students explore the ways in which the illustrator decided to illustrate those pages. What do you believe the illustrator was trying to do? How did he achieve that?
Author’s Craft: Intertextuality. One Todayis in many ways an homage to poet Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing.” It also references the words of Martin Luther King, reminding us of the “’I have a dream’ we keep dreaming.” After reading aloud One Today, have students read Whitman’s poem, along with Langston Hughes’s response, “I, Too,” and King’s famous speech. What are the ways in which all four texts reference many of the same themes? How does each author do so differently? What does the essay allow that the poems do not? What do the poems allow that the essay form does not?
Author’s Craft: Inaugural Poems and Presentations. Divide your class up into five groups, each group taking responsibility for exploring the meaning in one of the five inaugural poems. Using the digital resources available below, students can explore the original full-text inaugural poem and listen to the poet deliver the poem. Ask students to explore what they identify as the thematic message(s) of their poem, referencing evidence from the text to articulate their interpretation. How did each poet use similes, metaphors, and imagery to convey meaning? What historical references are made? What other texts are directly or indirectly referenced? Have students present their findings to the class, either in-person or via digital technology. When all groups have presented, ask your students to tease out what they see as the “essential” components of an inaugural poem. What do all of the poems, or most of the poems have? Why?
Further Explorations

Digital Texts
Richard Blanco’s Official Website
Dav Pilkey’s Official Website
ABC News Coverage of Blanco’s Reading at President Obama’s Inauguration
Full Text of “One Day”
Richard Blanco, The Academy of American Poets
Richard Blanco, The Poetry Foundation
Poetry and Literature Blog at the Library of Congress
Literary References
Walt Whitman, “I Hear American Singing” Full Text, American Academy of Poets
Langston Hughes, “I, Too,” Full Text, American Academy of Poets
Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream…”, U.S. Archives
Inaugural Poems
Elizabeth Alexander, video “Praise Song for the Day,” at President Obama’s first inauguration,
Elizabeth Alexander, “Praise Song for the Day,” full text, American Academy of Poets
Maya Angelou, video “On the Pulse of the Morning,” at President Clinton’s first inauguration
Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of the Morning,” full text
Miller Williams, video “Of History and Hope,” at President Clinton’s second inauguration
Miller Williams, “Of History and Hope,” full text
Robert Frost, audio of “The Gift Outright,” at President Kennedy’s Inauguration, American Academy of Poets
Publisher’s Weekly Story on “One Today” as Picture Book
Marc Chagall, Guggenheim Museum
Marc Chagall, Museum of Modern Art
Ezra Jack Keats, The Jewish Museum
The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
William H. Johnson, Smithsonian
William H. Johnson, Philadelphia Museum of Art
William H. Johnson, within African-American Artists, 1929-1945, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Alexander, E. (2012). Praise song for the day. Diaz, D. (Ill.). New York: Katherine Teegan Books.

Frost, R. (2001/1978). Stopping by woods on a snowy evening. Jeffers, S. (Ill.). New York: Dutton.

Hughes, L. (2012). I, too, am America. Collier, B. (Ill.). New York: Simon and Shuster.

Longfellow, H.W. (2001). The midnight ride of Paul Revere. Bing, C. (Ill.). San Francisco, CA: Chronicle.  

Longfellow, H.W. (1996). Paul Revere’s Ride. Rand, T. (Ill.). New York: Puffin. 
Mary Ann Cappiello About Mary Ann Cappiello

Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.