Brown Girl Dreaming


Brown Girl Dreaming
Jacqueline Woodson
August 2014

Rarely is my reading so perfectly timed as it was this past week when I finished Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming at just about the time she was winning the National Book Award. I can’t really take credit; I was reading it for book club. I did, however, feel that I could vouch for this book’s worthiness as I had almost no time between finishing it, loving it, and having my feelings completely validated as it was thrust into a deserving spotlight.

In Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson writes about her own childhood and coming of age being shuttled between her mother in New York City and her grandparents in Greenville, South Carolina. While the movement between the north and the south in the midst of the civil rights movement of the 1960s informs much of Jackie’s racial identity and exploration throughout the book, her story is so much more than a personal history of race, as the title may make you believe. Jackie is so many things in this book: a Jehovah’s witness (though a somewhat reluctant one), aspiring writer and poet (despite her struggles with reading), friend, sister, daughter, and granddaughter.

The entire book is told in free verse poems, none more than three pages long. In a less skilled writer’s hands, such short snapshots could easily become episodic and disconnected, glimpses of a life instead of the story of a life, but the linear chronology of her story and the threads that run throughout keep it all together. While not every poem moves the action forward, they all contribute to the depth of Jackie’s character and her overall journey to young adulthood.

While many of the themes in Brown Girl Dreaming continue to be relevant today, one poem in particular – “stevie and me” (p. 227) – is especially relevant for its connection to diversity in children’s literature and the We Need Diverse Books movement. In this poem, Jackie is at the library where she and her siblings can choose any 7 books they want to check out. Because of her difficulty reading, she is drawn to the picture books:

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.

I think it is safe to say that Jackie certainly has a story, and one that we can all be glad she shared in Brown Girl Dreaming.

2 thoughts on “Brown Girl Dreaming

    • I don’t seek out books in verse but I usually do enjoy them when I give them a chance. I heard The Crossover by Kwame Alexander was another novel in verse that is getting a lot of buzz this year, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. I hope you enjoy Brown Girl Dreaming!

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