Saturday, December 13, 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming

Title:  Brown Girl Dreaming
Author:  Jacqueline Woodson
Publication Information:  Nancy Paulsen Books. 2014. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0399252517 / 978-0399252518

Book Source:  I read this book after the announcement of the National Book Awards.

Favorite Quote:  "Each day a new world opens itself up to you. And all the worlds you are ... gather into one world called You where You decide what each world and each story and each ending will finally be."

Jacqueline Woodson was born in Ohio in 1963. Her childhood was spent between Greenville, South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York. In other words, Jacqueline Woodson grew up in the heart of the civil rights movement.

She writes for an audience of children and adolescents. Her works have won many awards such as Newberry Honors and the Coretta Scott King Award which recognizes books about the African-American experience that are written for a youth audience. In 2014, she was the US nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award which recognizes a living author for their "lasting contributions to children's literature," and in 2005, she won the Margaret A. Edwards Award which recognizes an author and a specific body of his or her work for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature. This book, Brown Girl Dreaming, won the National Book Award for young people's literature in 2014.

This book is Jacqueline Woodson's biography told through poetry. At a personal level, it is a story of childhood, At a family level, it is a story of births, marriage, divorce, death, and everything in between; it also captures Woodson's upbringing as a Jehovah's Witness. At a societal level, it tells her story of growing up African American during the 1960s and in the heart of the Civil Rights movement. With her traveling back and forth between South Carolina and New York, the book captures the juxtaposition between the North and the South on civil rights issues.

Each poem is a vignette of a moment; together, the moments create a vivid picture of a childhood and of a turbulent time in US history. Part 1 is about her birth and time in Ohio. Part 2 is about the years in Greenville, South Carolina. Part 3 is about life in Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York City. Part 4 is about the straddle between South Caroline and New York.

The vignette approach reminds me of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. The individual vignettes are only a page or two long, with brief titles like "uncle odell," "night bus," "the blanket," "leaving greenville," "Because we're witnesses," "lessons", and "the stories I tell." (Note: The book does not capitalize titles.) Sprinkled throughout are 10 very brief poems titled "how to listen" #1 - #10. These seem to capture her progression as a writer - remembering, observing, thinking, and writing.

Although written for an adolescent audience, this book grabbed me to the point that I read almost the entire book in one sitting. My reaction at the end - Wow. Written with restraint and in a few, well chosen constructs, the book beautifully paints a history. For a younger audience, I would hope the book would be accompanied by a conversation about the history that the book describes but does not explain - Kingdom Hall, Angela Davis, Black Panthers, Woolworth's, Langston Hughes, and the phrase "deep in my heart I do believe" among other things. For a younger reader to fully appreciate the content, the conversation is necessary. However, even without the conversation, this book is an interesting take on biography, grabbing attention perhaps more than a fact-based narrative of a life.

Recommended reading for young adults and adults alike!

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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