Brown Girl Dreaming - Jacqueline Woodson

Ohio. The Buckeye State.
My fingers curl into fists, automatically
This is the way, my mother said,
of every baby's hand.
I do not know if these hands will become
Malcolm's--raised and fisted
or Martin's--open and asking
or James's--curled around a pen.
I do not know if these hands will be
or Ruby's
gently gloved
and fiercely folded
calmly in a lap,
on a desk,
around a book,
to change the world . . .

I know there has been a LOT of positive press about Woodson's memoir in verse, written for child readers, but I have to say I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Anyone who knows me well or who reads this blog, knows that I am hesitant about novels in verse. This year I've actually come across a number that I've enjoyed, though, and this is definitely one of those! I can only imagine the impact of hearing it read out loud by the author herself. I am definitely jealous of people who got a chance to listen to Woodson read from the book earlier this year.

    But Lord, Cousin Dorothy says. Everybody has a line.
    When I'm walking
    up to that lunch counter and taking my seat
    I pray to God, don't let
    anybody spit on me. I can be Sweet Dorothy
    seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day
    as long as nobody crosses that line. Because if they do,
    this nonviolent movement

    is over!

The book is about Woodson's life, starting with accounts of her birth, recounting her earlier experiences with and around civil rights movements, moving between the North and the South, and her journeys between her mother and father, grandparents, and her relationships along the way. It is obvious in her writing that she values her memories highly and treats her own history with great respect, including her recounting of various people she met and situations she encountered.

    My father, whose reddish-brown skin
    would later remind me of the red dirt of the South
    and all that was rich about it, standing
    in the yard, one hand
    on the black metal railing, the other lifting
    into a weak wave good-bye.

    As though we were simply guests
    leaving Sunday supper.

Though she does explore many aspects of her life since birth, the main focus is on her own family history and her relationships with parents, siblings, cousins, and even friends. Her prose are lyrical and her use of free verse very much complements the content of the novel. Brown Girl Dreaming is moving, sensitive, and emotionally expressive, revealing Woodson's dedication to history and its effects on the present and future. This is a book that begs to be read!

Highly Recommended


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