Visiting Day – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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Today, December 14, is the anniversary of the date in 1954 that the UN General Assembly recommended there should be a Universal Children’s Day. At the suggestion of Pat at Children’s Books Heal and Vivian at Positive Parental Participation,  we are going to be doing our part to raise awareness of the plight of children around the globe and to promote the welfare of children in the world by posting books which focus on multicultural/multiracial issues, human rights, and/or children who have helped to change the world in some way.

I had two books on hold for this day at the library, and sadly neither came through in time. I have therefore chosen a book that highlights the rights and needs of children of parents in prison.

Visiting Day

Written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by James E. Ransome.

Published by Scholastic Press, 2002

Ages: 5-8

Themes: Prison, children’s visiting, prisoners, Afro-American, grandmothers, fathers and daughters

Availability: Sadly this book is out of print, but we have ten circulating in our library system, so I hope you do too!

Opening lines/synopsis:

Only on VISITING day is there chicken frying in the kitchen at 6:00 A.M. and Grandma smiling soft and low, smiling her secret just-for-daddy-and-me smile, and me lying in bed and smiling my just-for-Grandma-and Daddy smile.

VISITING DAY is a book about special day each month for the little girl who narrates this story. It is a day when she dresses up,  rides a bus with her grandmother, eats chicken and cornbread. For several pages the destination remains a mystery, carefully building the suspense. The highlight of her day is when she gets to visit her incarcerated father. Told and illustrated from a child’s point of view, the story shows how children can have unconditional love for their parents, even if a parent has made a mistake. The illustrations are amazing in their warm realism and their attention to detail. Little things in the background, a calendar, girl’s drawings scotched to wall of her dad’s cell, make this book so engaging. Two vivid double-paged wordless spreads depict Grandma fixing the little girl’s hair and the pair boarding the bus, with the reader still unaware where this bus load of friendly laughing people is headed. These wordless illustrations are packed with communication.

Why I like this book:

There is so much love, complicity and respect woven into this opening, I couldn’t wait to read further. It is a beautiful, powerful and emotional story, made even more so when one read’s in an afterword that the author drew on childhood memories of her uncle and grandmother.  If that weren’t enough, we then discover the illustrator, unbeknownst to editor and author, was dealing with his own brother’s incarceration. Clearly these personal stories are so hard for adults and children to share and process, and how important that a child can read of another child facing this same challenge, in an atmosphere of love, grace and optimism for a better future.

We do not know the crime committed by the father, and we do not need to, we simply discover the special joy sadness of the monthly visit and the knowledge that this little girl retains of both her father’s and grandmother’s love for her and each other and the respect maintained in the family. This is a story not about crime, but a little girl awaiting her father’s release from prison and spending her months writing letters and drawing pictures for a very grateful daddy.

The situation is presented very realistically. There is a neighbor across the hallway, Mrs Tate, who cannot afford the bus fare for the monthly visit to her son, and instead passes her gifts to the grandmother, who delivers them. The bus approaches the prison wall, with barbed wire atop. A uniformed officer stands in the background as the visit comes to an end. Waiting for a parent to be released is hard and this isn’t diminished here, but this little girls and her grandmother count their blessings and support each other through the process.

There’s as much information in Ransome’s lush illustrations as in Woodson’s lyrical text, and so a child’s understanding can grow with each reading. Prisoners are almost universally of color and a guard who is white, is clearly intentional on the artists’s (and art directors??) part! A too knowing sadness sometimes in the little girl’s eyes, and a mother who is clearly not in the picture may not be picked up on first reading.

I find this controversial topic is handled very delicately. Visiting Day isn’t so much a children’s book about prison as it is a book about putting the tragic fact of a father’s incarceration into an acceptable context a small child can handle.


I don’t wish to add any activities for this book, and I would not necessarily recommend this book in general for children who have no experience with prison, though I do feel it teaches a lot about compassion and unconditional love. However, for children who have a mother or father in prison, who have been in and out of foster care as their parents go in and out of prison, this is a wonderful book for them. I think it is valuable for teachers, carers and therapists to know that such a book is available for specific children they might know.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.
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15 Responses to Visiting Day – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. What does “incarcerated” mean? This book has a great message. 🙂

  2. Joanna, thank you for sharing this book. I think it is one I need in my ‘professional’ library. In the last 5 years we have ministered to 3 families (9 children) whose parent has been incarcerated. Five of those children were put in foster care with an aunt. My husband also is part of Rock of Ages Prison ministry, but I never thought of seeking a Picture Book about this topic. I am so glad you brought this book to our attention.

  3. Joanna says:

    Laura, your comment is so encouraging. I hesitated about reviewing the book as it does have such a specific audience. Your words reinforce the reality of the need of such stories for certain children. I am thrilled to think that you might buy it for some of the families you and your husband are ministering too. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Perfect selection today Joanna. Can’t imagine I missed this Woodson book as I love her books so much. This subject is also on my storybook idea list, so I need to read it. Love how you reviewed the book.

  5. Joanna says:

    One of the reasons I picked it is because I have a MG/YA idea percolating along these lines, Pat!

  6. Wonderful book and review Joanna. There certainly can’t be many books out there like this and it would be good to know there are more coming. A universal message indeed.

  7. Joanna says:

    I do agree, Diane, we need more like this!

  8. Darshana says:

    Wonderful review. Will definitely have to check it out. An difficult topic but important. Thanks.

  9. What a unique book. I’ll keep this title in my hip pocket in case this topic comes up.

  10. Carrie F says:

    This sounds incredibly touching, Joanna.

  11. I encountered this book in our library some months ago, and was moved and impressed by it. It is an excellent choice for this special edition of PPBF, Joanna. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  12. I’m so glad you reviewed this book, Joanna. We don’t have anything like it on our list, and you’re right – while it may not be a choice for the average child, for some kids it’s crucial to have books like these. I know James Ransome and love his art – I’ve had the privilege of getting to see him do his school presentations 2 or 3 times. At the end he always lets kids in the audience pick numbers from 1 to 10 which he draws and turns into amazing pictures! 🙂

  13. Antoinette Anderson says:

    One of a kind.. an awesome review. Stumbled upon it in our school library for a class assignment. I am so glad I did, shared it with my thirteen year old. Like some of you said he thought it is too tense for lower elementary grades.

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