Monday, July 20, 2015

Brown Girl Dreaming: A Review

Hi everyone! Last week I shared The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, the winner of the Newbery Award in 2015.  Today, I'm back to share Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, a Newbery Honor book.  Like The Crossover, Brown Girl Dreaming is written in verse.  Each chapter is it's own poem, with the entire book being a memoir of Jacqueline Woodson's early life.  It is beautiful, powerful and relevant to the times we live in.

The story begins in Ohio, where Jacqueline was born and lived with her mother and father until at a young age, the mother moves the family to her home state of South Carolina.  The year is 1963 and the nation is embroiled in the battle over civil rights.  The move to South Carolina means that the family must sit in the back of the bus, where the mother whispers to her son "we're as good as anybody."  While in South Carolina, Jacqueline lives with her grandparents and has experiences that will provide her with nostalgia for the south when her mother moves the family to Brooklyn a few years later.

"It's dawn and the birds have come alive, chasing
each other from maple to pine and back
to maple again. This is how time passes her.
The maple will be bare-branched come winter,
Mama says. But the pines, they just keep on living.

And the air is what I'll remember.
Even once we move to New York.

It always smelled liket his, my mother says.
Wet grass and pine.

Like memory."

I think most of all, I loved the relationship between Jacqueline and her grandfather.  Savvy readers will predict his fate pages before the narrator reveals his failing health.  His story made my heart ache.

The story Woodson tells is easy to follow.  Although the story is recommended for grades 5 and up (according to amazon), the text is complex and layered.  A fifth grade reader will likely comprehend the story as one about a girl growing up and moving between the north and the south.  An older reader with more prior knowledge will understand the themes of prejudice and racism.  These readers will pay attention to the change from civil rights to the black power movement.

"More than a hundred years, my grandfather says,
and we're still fighting for the free life
we're supposed to be living"
This is not a book about civil rights so much as it is a book about a girl witnessing the civil rights movement.  From this text students might realize how protesters were trained to sit at Woolworth's counters and how civil rights supporters could lose their jobs for protesting.  These readers might benefit from seeing images of the civil rights movement so they can envision these protests, particularly the sit-ins at Woolworth's counters.  I think this would be a great way to help students empathize and possibly better understand some of the current issues with race in South Carolina.

So who is this book for?  I think this book would speak to many girls.  The review from the New York Times questions the appropriateness of the title "Brown Girl Dreaming" as opposed to just "Girl Dreaming."  I love the title.  I think that Jacqueline Woodson wrote her story for other little girls to see their own story mirrored.  In the story, Jacqueline tells about her first time finding a book with African American characters:

"If someone had been fussing with me
to read like my sister, I might have missed
the picture book filled with brown people, more
brown people than I'd ever seen
in  a book before.

If someone had taken
that book out of my hand
said, You're too old for this
I'd never have believed
that someone who looked like me
could be in the pages of the book
that someone who looked like me
had a story."

Personally, I am excited to add this book to my library and will be looking for the perfect reader this fall!  I'd also like to add a set to my literature circle options!

Tell me: What are you reading right now?

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