The purpose of the More Diverse Universe Challenge is to draw attention to authors of color. As you can see, I’m a few days late in celebrating my second author in this challenge. (See my post celebrating Zora Neale Hurston HERE.) So even though I’m late, I’m posting anyway. I don’t think it hurts to draw attention to authors of color at other times during the year. In my opinion, this author is too important to pass up.
I’m highlighting a contemporary writer of books for children and young adults, Jacqueline Woodson. She is a multi-award winner. She’s won three Newberry Honor Medals, the Coretta Scott King Award, Claudia Lewis Award, Hans Christian Andersen Award, and for this book, the National Book Award. As you can see, lots of people like her work.
Ms. Woodson grew up telling stories. Unfortunately, the people around her said she was lying. That’s how it went until, in elementary school, she won an award for a poem she wrote. Jacqueline discovered that “a lie on the page was a whole different animal.”
Brown Girl Dreaming is a personalf memoir in verse form. Jacqueline Woodson was born in Ohio but lived her early life in Greenville, South Carolina and New York City. She grew up in the 60s and 70s — a turbulent time that most of us remember clearly.
Although I grew up white in the 40s and 50s, I understood and could so closely feel “brown girl’s” experiences. I was right there with her when she was:
- fighting with her brother and sister,
- found a true best friend,
- listened as a beloved grandmother told Bible stories,
- her teacher didn’t believe she had written a super-good story, and
- her absolute joy when given a whole table full of board games.
Ms. Woodson doesn’t duck away from the negative things that happened. I felt it when:
- she was confused and hurt when her parents separated,
- her sadness when her fun-loving uncle had to go to prison,
- embarrassment when she had to leave the classroom during the pledge of allegiance because of her family’s religious beliefs, and
- her fear when interacting with white people.
I couldn’t really feel the “brown girl’s” pain at the treatment she experienced because of her skin color, but I did feel anger at the injustice of it. The author’s style of honesty and openness appealed to me and, I’m sure, the children she writes for. Most children will say, “That just isn’t fair!”
The other thing I believe young readers will like about Brown Girl Dreaming is the verse form in which it is written. The lilt and rhythm of the short sentences are so enjoyable. I wanted to share a short quote from this heartfelt book so you can see what it’s like. I think you will identify with this young book-lover:
When we can’t find my sister, we know
she is under the kitchen table, a book in her hand,
a glass of milk and a small bowl of peanuts beside her.
We know we can call Odella’s name out loud,
slap the table hard with our hands,
dance around it singing
“She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”
so many times the song makes us sick
and the circling makes us dizzy
my sister will do nothing more
than slowly turn the page.
Was that you under the table? I’m pretty sure it was me too. This short story is a perfect example of why this book is not just for brown girls. I celebrate that it was written by and for brown girls, but inside we are the same—girls.
I highly recommend you read this book. Actually, please read this book and then, find another girl to read it with you. Thanks to my daughter Candice for recommending it to me.
Published by Nancy Paulsen Books 2014
2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
2015 Corretta Scott King Award