"Jacqueline Woodson, one of today's finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse. Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child's soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson's eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become. Praise for Jacqueline Woodson: Ms. Woodson writes with a sure understanding of the thoughts of young people, offering a poetic, eloquent narrative that is not simply a story. but a mature exploration of grown-up issues and self-discovery"-The New York Times Book Review"-- "The author shares her childhood memories and reveals the first sparks that ignited her writing career in free-verse poems about growing up in the North and South"--
Original publication date
All of which makes it sound like a very worthy kind of book, which it is, having won the National Book Award. But it's also enjoyable to read. Woodson's memories rely on smells and tastes and sounds as much as any other sense; the feel of the red dust of South Carolina against bare feet, the joy of eating a lemon chiffon ice cream cone on a hot summer's day, the security of having a best friend. This is an immediate and accessible book and Woodson is an excellent companion through both the trials and tribulations of childhood in general and the experience of growing up as an African American during a very specific time in American history.
There are a lot of books about growing up black in the 60s - there are probably enough of them that start in the North, go South and then back North as well. And somehow Woodson manages to present another world - different from what you had believed. Some of the poems (or whatever we want to call the pieces) follow immediately one after the other; some are memories and scenes that seem unrelated but help to build a whole world. By the time you finish the book, you suddenly realize that you can see the world - with the marches and the problems, with the family struggles and friends and mainly - the world of a girl that needs to grow up in a world that does not always like her and that had a dream - to become a writer.
There does not seem to be anything too complex in the book (and it is written for children after all) but something seems to be working better than I expected - and the small glimpses allow you to add the missing pieces.
I wish Woodson had chosen a more conventional format for her memoir - I would have liked it a lot more in straight prose. Even if it was leaving the same gaps open -- the free verse is just a bit too free and too random for me I guess. Still - I do recommend this book - regardless of age. And I have a suspicion that someone younger or someone that grew up in the same places will like it a lot more than I did.
Publisher’s Summary: from Audible.com
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child's soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson's eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
Woodson, no question, is a talented writer/poet. I appreciate her vivid images of the beauty of the American South, and, by contrast, of what it felt like to walk to the back of the bus with her mother – before she was old enough to understand why. Her young struggle with reading, followed by her utter joy of language as she finds her voice through stories is indeed touching and powerful. My difficulty with Brown Girl Dreaming, then, is not with Woodson, but with me. Verse is not something I particularly enjoy reading, and so I do so very rarely. To listen to a novel in verse – well, it’s just not my thing. That said, I encourage other readers not to be dissuaded by my shortcomings. I look forward to Another Brooklyn, which is up next – and written in prose.
Each "chapter" of this memoir is a poem, taking us chronologically through Woodson's early life, and her discovery of words and writing. Her poems are infused with emotion. Some celebrate the happy freedoms of childhood, but many deal with prejudice, or loss, or the confusion children often experience when they don't understand events unfolding around them. Although this book is written for younger readers, I teared up more than once while reading it, which is a testament to Woodson's power with language.
In both South Carolina and Brooklyn, the former a recently desegregated Southern state and the latter a theoretically liberal minded Northern borough, she felt the impact of racism. In South Carolina, Blacks still went to the back of the bus to avoid conflict. There were stores that Blacks didn’t enter because they were ignored or because they were segregated prior to desegregation. In Brooklyn, there were streets Blacks didn’t cross because they took them into the white neighborhoods.
Ms. Woodson talks about her feelings of inadequacy when compared with her older sister who was considered gifted. She talks about wanting to be a writer, but reading initially didn’t come easy to her. And, as the 1960s ended and the 1970s began, a young Ms. Woodson was caught up in the idea of “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and the ideals of the Black Panthers.
Brown Girl Dreaming is eloquent. Her life and emotions, such as being sad when the Woodson children had to go in earlier in the evening than other children in the neighborhood, come to life. There are vivid images of both South Carolina and Brooklyn, the contrasting surroundings, soft cool green grass vs. hard, sharp concrete sidewalks, the sweet smell of rain vs. the non-smell of rain. Through it all, it is the bond of family that shines.
Many times I’m not in agreement with the judges of book awards, but Jacqueline Woodson, author of such Young Adult classics (or just classics) as If You Come Softly, Miracle’s Boys, Hush, and Locomotion, is a worthy recipient of the National Book Award Prize. Readers of all ages will get lost in the story telling of her books.
Jacqueline wasn't the smart child; she wasn't the child who could sing; she was the child with the words swirling around her.
Told in verse, Jacqueline begins with her earliest memories of living in the big house in Ohio with her father. After her mother leaves him, Jacqueline and her family move to South Carolina to live with her mom's family. Grandpa becomes Dad, and they are loved. Eventually, they move to Brooklyn.
Lyrically told, brown girl dreaming is well-written and a first-hand account of how to live black in the north, the south, and in Brooklyn. Also, if interested in writing, it is a great story of how she became a writer. Stories swirled about but never landed as words on a page. In time, they do and now Ms. Woodson is a multi award-winning author.
start dancing merengue, the women lifting their long dresses
to show off their fast-moving feet,
the men clapping and yelling,
Baila! Baila! until the living room floor disappears."
With Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson has written a fascinating and moving book in free verse about her family and growing up black in America. Born in 1963, she starts in Ohio and then moves with her mother to Greenville, South Carolina, where segregation was only reluctantly being let go, and it was still safer to ride in the back of the bus. Later she moves again to the more liberal New York City, where she gets fairer treatment and a better education, but also sidewalks instead of mimosa trees. She misses her relatives and the more easy-going living: “the South is so heavy in her mouth my eyes fill up with the missing of everything and everyone I’ve ever known.” Her grandmother in Greenville makes her follow the strict religion of the Jehovah's Witnesses, but she is surrounded there by family love. The racial prejudice is frustrating, but balanced by the feeling of community in her immediate neighborhood, and her best friend Maria.
"Late August now
home from Greenville and ready
for what the last of the summer brings me.
All the dreams this city holds
right outside — just step through the door and walk
two doors down to where
my new best friend, Maria, lives. Every morning,
I call up to her window, Come outside
or she rings our bell, Come outside.
Her hair is crazily curling down past her back,
the Spanish she speaks like a song
I am learning to sing.
Mi amiga, Maria.
Maria, my friend."
Moving to New York is hard at first. “Who could love/ this place—where/ no pine trees grow, no porch swings move/ with the weight of/ your grandmother on them.” But as she settles in, she begins to understand her strength with words and storytelling, a strength that leads to the very book we're reading.
I don't know what caused Woodson to choose the free verse form, but it works beautifully. Easy to read and appropriate, it reminded me a bit of Spoon River Anthology. This was a special read. Four and a half stars. I'll be looking for others by this author.
This is a National Book Award finalist, and a book that's been getting a lot of Newbery buzz. I liked it a lot, and can certainly see its distinguished qualities. I tend to want memoirs to be more like novels (real life has a distressing lack of plot, have you noticed?), but Woodson does a good job of tying her life story together in a cohesive way. Whether it scoops a lot of big awards or not, I think this is an important book, and I'd recommend it to memoir readers and kid lit aficionados.
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.
It is clear that this talented woman was born to write and to carry on the strong oral tradition of sharing stories.
One of my top ten books of 2014. Read it and weep and hug your family.
I'm not sure I have words for how much I enjoyed this book. I've been hearing about it for months, but it didn't seem like a book I would be interested in. I'm not a huge fan of nonfiction and I don't read a lot of memoirs. I especially don't read books written in verse (but I only found out about that once I started reading).
But! Sometimes it's good to branch out and I'm so glad I did. I gobbled up Woodson's beautiful words and inspiring story. Her words brought the people and places to life. I could see her Uncle Robert dancing to James Brown and smell the collards cooking (reminds me of my own childhood!). Her childhood wasn't always perfect, but she tells her story of growing up in 1960s/70s South Carolina and Brooklyn so perfectly.
I listened to this as an audiobook. Although read by Woodson, I feel as though I missed something by not having the physical layout of her poetry in front of me.
For me, this book was nostalgic, since a piece of it takes place in Brooklyn, and the author actually lived on Herzl Street, in Brooklyn, where my good friend Pearl lived when I was growing up, about a decade earlier. Many of her descriptions of games and neighborhoods were familiar to me and brought back so many happy memories. We shared a time, a place and a joy of living that is often absent in that neighborhood today. I was totally ignorant of the problems that existed, when I was young, and no young person today should grow up as ignorant of that struggle or of any other major struggle, for that matter, such as the Holocaust, as well.
Her lyrical presentation describes the history of the Civil Rights struggle in America succinctly and clearly. Middle grade children should have no problem understanding her underlying message of hope and also of despair. However, it would be better if the book was used as a teaching tool so that the political, social and moral conscience of the book could be further developed. The profound concepts, expressed so gently through Woodson’s memories, impart an understanding of the times that would be more accessible with the aid of an instructor. The poetry of her message will fill the reader with questions and also with wonder. In spite of so much hardship, there was optimism and hope that seems missing today. That is really the broader discussion that should arise for adults who read the book and the learning experience that a teacher could help the children obtain. How can the situation be improved? What are we doing wrong in society? What are the implications of history, then and now? Has any real progress been made? At some point do those persecuted assume they are now entitled to more than equal opportunity to make up for lost time and is it their due? Are these legitimate questions? They cannot be understood by a child without the help of an adult, and an adult should read it to become more aware and intimately involved with the problems clearly expressed in the book that are still being faced today.
The author and I had a lot in common, and yet we were worlds apart. We were brought up in the same area, perhaps a decade apart. We played together in the street, regardless of age or sex. We felt safe, except perhaps for the duck and cover of the Cold War air raid practice sirens. We experienced the same newsreels and world events. We both have a genetic gap in our front teeth. We both had someone in our lives who inspired us, who taught us right from wrong, good from bad behavior, honesty vs. dishonesty, proper language and appropriate dress, so that we presented a positive face to the world. So, we were not, and are still not, so different, after all. The answer to how to make those worlds come together again in a color blind way, may simply lie within the pages of this little, unassuming book. Anger, bias and hate is largely absent from it. In the hands of skilled teachers or open-minded readers, peace may finally be achievable for all people, no matter how different they are, if only they are willing to learn from mistakes and move on.
Of course, this may sound Pollyanna to many, and maybe it is even like wishful, unrealistic thinking, but it only takes one dedicated person to make a change, as Martin Luther King surely proved, as Ghandi surely proved. Evil exists only if we let it. This book gave me hope for the existence of its opposite. It reminded me of the idealism of my youth, a time when I believed the world could be a better place, although it was also a time when outside influences also often convinced me that it could not.
Perhaps we should all lose ourselves in hopefulness, rather than hopelessness. Jacqueline Woodson found her place in life, her gift to give to the world. Shout it from the rooftops that we are all family and provide the equality to all that has been guaranteed by law, but is still out of reach to so many because of ignorance and hate. Wipe out the ignorance and the hate will surely disappear as well. Believe in the ultimate goodness of people, rather than in judgment based on narrow-minded ideas about color, religion and station in life.
The rain here is different than the way
it rains in Greenville. No sweet smell of honeysuckle.
No soft squish of pine. No slip and slide through grass.
Just Mama saying, Stay inside today. It's raining,
and me at the window. Nothing to do but
the gray sidewalk grow darker,
the drops slide down the glass pane,
people below me move fast, heads bent.
Already there are stories
in my head. Already color and sound and words.
drawing circles on the glass, humming
myself someplace far away from here.
Down south, there was always someplace else to go
you could step out into the rain and
Grandma would let you
lift your head and stick out your tongue
Down south already feels like a long time ago
but the stories in my head
take me back there, set me down in Daddy's garden
where the sun is always shining.
In the background of Woodson's childhood are the Civil Rights and feminist struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, but her story is about family and love and creativity.
Curricular connections for 6-8 grades can be made with language arts and social studies. Students can explore the idea of the memoir. What are the memories that have shaped you as a person? How do you pare down the many events in your life to write a concise picture that shows the reader who you are? Students can use the book to study poetry, then take an event from their lives and write about it in free verse. Connecting with social studies, students can focus on relevant passages pertaining to Jim Crow, civil rights, Birmingham, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Black Panthers. They can springboard into deeper research and evaluate what was happening around the nation, or create a timeline and plot relevant events to the current period.
Woodson has a unique way of sharing her past, her people, her memories, her story, as she herself describes BGD in the author's note. With an economy of words and free verse style, her book transported me to the times and places she so easily brings alive. Even though it's a YA book, I felt a connection born of being in the same age cohort, remembering things like The Big Blue Marble, bubble gum cigarettes, and having to re-establish roots after long geographical moves. I think most readers, however, will relate to the sounds and smells of the seasons, the expansiveness of childhood, and the ways in which the actions of adults are endlessly confusing when the world seems to offer such simple joys.