Monday, October 27, 2014

From Columbus, You Could Go Just About Anywhere: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Interstate 77 could take you south
but my father said
no colored Buckeye in
his right mind
would ever want to go
From Columbus,
my father said,
you could go just about

Her father had wanted to name her Jack, after himself, but her mother chooses Jacqueline to make sure she will never ever be called Jackie.

Her mother longs to return home, to Greenville, South Carolina, to the soft summers and and warm arms of her family, and when Jacqueline is two, they move there, right into her grandparents' hugs and comfortable house. Grandpa becomes "Daddy," to her, and she and her older brother and sister settle in to the Black community there, soon losing their Buckeye way of fast talking. But times are changing even there, and her grandfather had his own ways of changing, too.

"This is the way brown
people have to fight,

my grandfather says.
You can't just put your
fist up.
You have to insist on something
gently. Walk toward a thing
slowly. But be ready to die,

my grandfather says,
for what is right.

But in time Jaqueline's mother grows restless of walking slowly and, leaving her three children behind, she follows her brother to New York City to find opportunity and a better place for her family.

How can we have both places?
How can we leave all that we've
What about the
fireflies and ditches?

But their mother comes back for them and Jacqueline moves to her third place, expecting glorious things, even diamonds in the sidewalk. It's not like that in Brooklyn, but her brother learns that he can sing, her sister learns that she is brilliant, and Jacqueline has a teacher who tells her every morning

Now that Jacqueline is
here, the day can finally

And I believe her.

And it does begin. She learns to write her name, Jacqueline Amanda Woodson, on the first page of her composition book, and then she slowly fills it with stories that she imagines. Her mother worries that her made-up stories are just lies, but her uncle tells her to keep writing, and she does. She finds her first poetry, strange at first, some coded language only white people know, but as her teachers ask her to remember and recite it, it becomes her language, too.

How an award-winning author finds her own stories is the subject of Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014), a memoir of the people and the places she loved and where she was loved as she grew up. Written in blank verse that flows as easily as her storytelling, this book is filled with vivid, memorable people and a strong sense of place, of three geographical places, but also of finding a personal place in the world. It is one of many American stories--recollections of family love, hard work, and the willingness to move on--that run through all our own narratives.

A 2014 National Book Award finalist, Brown Girl Dreaming gives middle readers an understanding of life in the second half of the twentieth century and how it brought us to where we are now. Its lyrical flow takes readers deep into that time, not so long, ago, and makes it as real as yesterday, with the sights, sounds, and scents of three places in the heart of the writer. “A memoir-in-verse so immediate that readers will feel they are experiencing the author’s childhood right along with her. . . .The poetry here sings: specific, lyrical, and full of imagery. An extraordinary—indeed brilliant—portrait of a writer as a young girl.”
says Horn Book

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