Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

To be honest, the two most exciting things about BEA 2014 for me was meeting Jacqueline Woodson and Andrea Davis Pinkney and it a typical twist of fate, both authors were doing book signing at the same time.  What to do?  Get to the first signing early, even skipping two signings (one was favorite actor Alan Cumming) I would have liked to go to, then whip over to the second signing before it ended.  So I went home that day with two cherished ARCs - Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacueline Woodson and The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

So, now I have finished reading Brown Girl Dreaming.  Was worth all that crowd-pushing, line-standing, time-finagling?  YES, YES AND YES.

Written in free verse, Woodson shares the people and events in her childhood during the 1960s and 1970s which helped to shape her as a person and as a writer.  Beginning with her birth in Ohio, where her father's family, the Woodsons, lived, she was the youngest of three children, a sister and brother.  Jacqueline, named for her father Jack,  was still young when her mother left her father, and returned to her home and family South Carolina.  Leaving the children with her parents, she went off to New York to try to establish herself and bring her children up there.

In the south, Jackie, her sister Dell and brother Hope experience the best of family and friends.  The children became Jehovah's Witnesses like their grandmother, but, for Jackie, it was her grandfather Gunnar Irby who was her favorite.  But in the south, she also experiences signs that say "Whites Only" and even after things changed, her grandmother refuses to sit in the front of the bus, but also refuses to shop in stores where people made her wait and wait to be helped.

Later, her mother came to get her three children to bring them to their new home to Brooklyn and to meet their new baby brother, Roman.  Living in Bushwick, attending PS 106, the teachers immediately  recognize that Dell is gifted, Hope loves science, Woodson writes her name on the board as Jackie, avoiding the q that gave her trouble.  And she finds a best friend Maria, whose mother makes the best chicken and rice.  Brooklyn in this time frame is so familiar to me, that reading most of this memoir is like going home.  I laughed out loud when I got to the poem called "John's Bargain Store."  Woodson and her friend bought 3 t-shirts, blue, yellow and pink, to dress alike (My best friend and I bought .29 cent silver friendship rings at John's Bargain Store on Flatbush Avenue, and I still have mine).

Woodson doesn't skirt issues that others might want to avoid.  She grew up in pivotal times for the country, and in places where she experienced change first hand, but also the kind of passive-aggressive racism that exists even today.   But she also writes about more personal issues - her beloved Uncle Robert, his arrest and visiting him in an upstate prison; baby brother Roman's addiction to eating lead based paint and his hospitalization, the painful death of her grandfather - it's all there.

And slowly, through it all, we see the writer Jacqueling Woodson develop, beginning with a love of words and what they could do, hinting at the person she will and has become.

When I finished reading Brown Girl Dreaming, I thought about it for a few minutes, turned to the front of the book and began reading it again.  The images that each of the poems conjure up are at times beautiful, sad, funny, poignant and at time difficult and honest, but all are beautifully rendered.  In the hands of a great wordsmith like Woodson, the sparseness of free verse can create an image that this so full-bodied, in part because it allows you to carry your own experienced/memories to what you are reading and become a part of the poem.

Brown Girl Dreaming is a book not to be missed.  A good companion to it would be Rita Williams-Garcia's books One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven, which both take place in late 1960s and 1970s.

Brown Girl Dreaming will be available on August 28, 2013, exactly 51 years years after Martin Luther King, Jr gave his "I Have A Dream" speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom…something to really think about.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an E-ARC


  1. I love the suggested pairing of this book with One Crazy Summer. Going to put this book on my to read list.

  2. I love it when a book has me turning to the first page as soon as I finish the last. Those are the kinds of books that stay with a person forever, and this sounds like one of those. Thank you for your excellent review. Enjoy the rest of the weekend, Barbara.

  3. Alex, thanks for adding this to the Books You Loved collection. If you would like me to email you about each new edition please just drop me a line on ca4ole@gmail.com

    Cheers from Carole's Chatter


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