Teaching to adolescents, I am always on the lookout for a great book that grabs you right away. Many adults have short attention spans, but young adults? Even shorter. This novel is actually a memoir, but it’s told in poetry form. The author hooked me right away, and I was drawn not only to the language and word choice, but the gripping story that unfolded. I could not put it down.
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
Genre: memoir (told in poetry form)
Summary: This memoir is about a young African American girl born in Ohio in the 1960s. At a very young age, her mother leaves her father to move back home to South Carolina and takes Jacqueline (the author and narrator) and her two siblings with her. Her mother then leaves for New York City, to try to obtain a job and a better life for her children. While she is gone, Jacqueline is raised by her grandparents. Later, her mother returns for the children, and she spends the rest of her childhood in NYC. This is a bittersweet story of resilience and the desire to belong.
Excerpt from page 155:
And somehow, one day, it’s just there
speckled black-and-white, the paper
inside smelling like something I could fall right into,
live there–inside those clean white pages.
I don’t know how my first composition notebook
ended up in my hands, long before I could really write
someone must have known that this
was all I needed.
Hard not to smile as I held it, felt the breeze
as I fanned the pages.
My sister thought my standing there
smiling was crazy
didn’t understand how the smell and feel and sight
of bright white paper
could bring me so much joy.
And why does she need a notebook? She can’t even write!
For days and days, I could only sniff the pages,
hold the notebook close
listen to the sound the papers made.
Nothing in the world is like this–
a bright white page with
pale blue lines. The smell of a newly sharpened pencil
the soft hush of it
And even though she’s smarter than anything,
this is something
my sister can’t even begin
(Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson 155)
Have you read this book? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts! If not, you should. It’s powerful, touching, and uplifting. Enjoy! xoxo
Have you read “The Other Side” by the same author? It’s a wonderful story of bridging the racial divide. The illustrations are lovely, too, and the entire book is a springboard for discussion of historical context and what we can learn from the actions of the main characters.
No I have not read it, but I will put it on my list. Sounds interesting!
Robyn may have heard of the book — I used it with my 4th graders. There are some wonderful “picture books” that are not only beautifully illustrated, but get kids to think on different levels. The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco is another one of those kinds of books — she may not have intended it, but there are some “connections” for those who read the Psalms!
Picture books are great in the middle school to address things like plot details, imagery, or even character development because they are short, but very high interest. I have used it occasionally with my 7th graders. Will check out at library for sure. Thanks again! (And I love the connection to the Bible in there!)