Brown Girl Dreaming is the memoir-in-verse of acclaimed novelist, Jacqueline Woodson. A book rich in personal memories and unforgettable phrasing, it will be enjoyed by a wide range of students and their families.
Growing up in Ohio, South Carolina, and then Brooklyn, Woodson uses a series of elegantly wrought poems to paint a richly layered picture of growing up in these different places during a time of great upheaval in this country. The changing historical landscape is shown through her eyes, the eyes of a growing child, an observant child, a child seeking to learn and understand all about the world around her. For example, when walking through Greenville, South Carolina with her grandmother, Jacqueline notices:
We walk straight past Woolworths’
without even looking in the windows
because the one time my grandmother went inside
they made her wait and wait. Acted like
I wasn’t even there.
Young Jacqueline’s world is filled with different generations, home-cooking, dinner table conversations, friendships, siblings, and books. She comes slowly to reading, but the stories ultimately become part of her.
I am not my sister.
Words from the books curl around each other
make little sense
I read them again
and again, the story
settling into memory. Too slow
the teacher says.
Too babyish, the teacher says.
But I don’t want to read faster or older or
any way else that might
make the story disappear too quickly from where
inside my brain,
a part of me.
A story I will remember
long after I’ve read it for the second, third,
tenth, hundredth time.
She is a reader who wants to become a writer, despite the misgivings of those around her:
But maybe you should be a teacher,
I’ll think about it, I say.
A story told in verse helps students attend to the book’s carefully crafted language and beautiful phrasing that begs to be read aloud. Students who think they don’t like poetry may quickly discover that in the hands of Woodson, poetry is expansive and consuming.
Read Brown Girl Dreaming together. Use it as a window into the lives of Black families in the 1960s and 1970s and into one girl’s odyssey of discovery and self-creation. It may also open up students to a new world of creative expression and storytelling, while introducing them to the canon of a contemporary icon in literature for young people.