About the Holiday
Newspaper columnist Harold Coffin established Nothing Day in 1973 to satirize the proliferation of daily holidays. His purpose was to give people a day to do absolutely nothing. Sounds good to me! Still, does celebrating this holiday constitute doing something? This may be the most baffling holiday on the calendar! Why not find something—or nothing—to do with today’s book?
On a Magical Do-Nothing Day
By Beatrice Alemagna
A little girl and her mom are “back again” at the cottage—even trudging up the walk in “the same rain”—while Dad is working back at home in the city. While Mom works at her computer, the girl destroys Martians, but she says, “Actually, I was just pressing the same button over and over.” She wishes that her dad were there.
Mom turns away from her writing and watches her daughter playing her video game. “Is this going to be another day of doing nothing?” she growls. Mom takes the device and hides it—“as usual”—and the little girl finds it—“as usual.” But this time she takes it outside. As the rain pelts down from gloomy skies it looked as if everything in the “garden was hiding from the sun.”
In the pond at the bottom of the hill she finds a line of flat stones. She hops from one to another, crushing them like the Martians in her game. While jumping, though, her game falls out of her pocket and into the pond. The water is so icy cold that she can’t grab it before it sinks out of sight. Oh no! she thinks, “Without my game, I have nothing to do.” The rain strikes her “like rocks,” and she feels “like a small tree trapped outside in a hurricane.”
Just then she spies four giant snails slithering by. She asks them if there is anything to do around there, and they tell her yes. She gently feels one of the snail’s antennae. It is “as soft as jello” and makes her smile. She follows the snails and discovers a field filled with mushrooms. Their damp musky smell reminds her of her grandparents’ basement—her “cave of treasures.” She walks on and finds a spot in the earth where she digs her hand into the ground. She feels “thousands of seeds and pellets and kernals, grains and roots and berries touch “her fingers and hand.” When she looks up the sun is shining “through a giant strainer” and blinds her.
Her heart starts beating fast with energy. She takes off running and runs so quickly that she tumbles down the hill. She lands on her back with a flop, and when she opens her eyes, the world is topsy-turvy new. Energized, she climbs a tree and gazes out at the horizon, breaths deeply in the fresh air, drinks raindrops as they fall from a leaf, and notices bugs she’s never seen before. She talks to a bird, splashes in a puddle, and watches the world through stones as clear as glass.
She hurries home and takes off her raincoat. When she glances in the mirror, for a moment she thinks she “sees her dad smiling at [her].” Her mom is still writing, but now she looks different to the little girl—“like one of the creatures outside.” Her mom notices how soaked she is and takes her to the kitchen to dry her off in a big, soft towel. The little girl feels like giving her mom a big hug. For a moment she wants to tell her about all the things she saw and did, but she doesn’t.
Instead, they enjoy their hot chocolate quietly together. “That’s it,” she says. “That’s all we did. On this magical do-nothing day.”
While the protagonist of A Magical Do-Nothing Day may never have looked at the world outside closely, Beatrice Alemagna certainly has. Alemagna’s exquisite illustrations portray the beauty of our environment—both indoors and out—and our connections to it with novel descriptions and stunning color and perspectives. As the girl ventures outside, video game clutched tightly, her face registers sadness and wariness. The Martians from the game crawl over and surround her, even when the game is off, seeming to fill any space that might be open to exploration, and, indeed, her first forays into the wild are taken game-style, hopping from platform to platform, rock to rock.
When the gaming device sinks into frigid water (as cold and impersonal as the gaming experience itself?), the child quickly comes out of her shell with the help of snails that lead her to greater discovery. The story gives readers much to ponder in the relationships between the child and parents and the child’s newfound appreciation for the natural world.
On a Magical Do-Nothing Day is a fantastic book to add to home and classroom libraries to spur children’s exploration—both in the natural world and within. While I used the feminine pronoun in my review, the story is told from the first person point of view and the child is drawn with gender neutral clothing and hairstyle, making this a book with universal appeal.
Ages 4 – 8
HarperCollins, 2017 | ISBN 978-0062657602
Discover more about Beatrice Alemanga, her books, and her art on her website.
Nothing Day Activity
Nothing To Do Coloring Pages
Rainy days are perfect “do-nothing” days. The next time you have an indoor day, grab your crayons or colored pencils and enjoy these printable coloring pages
Picture Book Review