After the arrival of the package, it is carefully placed on the kitchen counter. Knowing what is inside makes the opening all the sweeter. Fingers feel the raised letters of the author's name. Eyes see the dust jacket colors arranged in a portrait of hope, the book case in a warm solid chocolate and page edges artfully deckled. Opening the cover and turning pages, the girl on the front is pictured again in black and white and the swirl of butterflies is gray beneath the title rising from the author's name. Butterflies, in my way of thinking, are a marvelous choice, a symbol of transformation. Then the dedication is read.
This book is for my family---
past, present and future.
On August 17th I began reading Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA)) written by Jacqueline Woodson. On the morning of August 27th I read the last three words,
will finally be.
Normally a book is completed in a single day, if not a single sitting but this book is so rich, so rare, it needs to be read slowly like smelling a bouquet of lilacs, tasting tea with honey, watching the sunlight sparkle on waves like diamonds, listening to the soaring notes of a meadowlark and brushing fingers over the fur of a beloved sleeping dog. Each word or collection of words needs to be held in your mind. Stopping to read aloud certain passages is a necessity.
Divided into five parts,
i am born
the stories of south carolina run like rivers
followed the sky's mirrored constellation to freedom
deep in my heart, i do believe and
ready to change the world,
Jacqueline Woodson through a collection of poetic memories conveys to readers her childhood. All the many stories, moments of her days, are braided together leaving a lasting impression. Like turning the pages of a scrapbook, her words fashion pictures profound and moving.
Born on February 12, 1963 in Columbus, Ohio the first year of her life is determined by her father's voice on naming, football, and the south, descriptions of the Woodson branch of the tree, the flow of good and bad family news, and journeys to her mother's home in Greenville, South Carolina. We listen in on the debate to name her Jack or Jacqueline. We ride the bus with her and her siblings at night from the North to the South and back again and again. All this time historical events, a chorus of sound, is rising across our nation as the civil rights movement gains momentum.
...We are near my other grandparents' house,
small red stone,
immense yard surrounding it.
A front porch swing thirsty for oil.
A pot of azaleas blooming.
A pine tree.
Red dirt wafting up
around my mother's newly polished shoes. ...
Now moved to Nicholtown, no return to Ohio in sight, with her older siblings, Jacqueline settles into life with her mother's parents. Years pass as life in the south, different but somehow familiar, defines their mornings, afternoons and evenings. First her mother visits New York City, and then she goes, promising to send for her children when a home for them all is found. We understand her grandfather's ties to his garden. We attend meetings for those participating in the civil rights marches. We learn as she and her sister, Odella, and brother, Hope, do of her Grandmother's strong faith as a Jehovah's Witness. We feel the simple pleasure of walking into the fabric store with no labels, as people.
...When we hang them on the line to dry, we hope
they'll blow away in the night breeze
but they don't. Come morning, they're right
where we left them
gently moving in the cool air, eager to anchor us
There is a new baby brother named Roman. There is a new home in a new city, Brooklyn, for the Woodson children. Here there is laughter and loss, support and challenges. We take joy in Jacqueline's affection for storytelling and her thirst to write. We makes adjustments for each day of the week, for the weather, and for the seasons as do the children whether they are in the city of the North or the town of the South in summers.
...It's hard to understand
the way my brain works---so different
from everybody around me.
How each new story
I'm told becomes a thing
in some other way
Keep making up stories, my uncle says.
You're lying, my mother says.
Maybe the truth is somewhere in between
all that I'm told
A new friendship begins, a forever sister to this day. The butterfly in Jacqueline is unfolding its wings; she listens, learns and writes. We travel with Jacqueline to visit her uncle Robert in jail. We laugh with her and Maria as they trade meals and share stories and secrets. We go with her to Greenville as she says last goodbyes.
It's easier to make up stories
than it is to write them down. When I speak,
the words come pouring out of me. The story
wakes up and walks all over the room. Sits in a chair,
crosses one leg over the other, says,
Let me introduce myself. Then just starts going on and on. ...
Changes come to Jacqueline's family in Brooklyn; when one leaves, another comes. Dedication to her writing grows and grows. We listen to her mother's conversations. We see the change in her uncle Robert as the revolution grows. We feel her elation at Ms. Vivo's words.
every wish, one dream
Every dandelion blown
each Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight.
My wish is always the same.
Every fallen eyelash
and first firefly of summer...
The dream remains.
Poignant but full of promise Brown Girl Dreaming written by Jacqueline Woodson is a brilliant memoir of life. We are brought into a vast array of vivid recollections told with such beauty it will take your breath away. As I sit here completing my thoughts I have read and read passages over and over, some marked with post-its. I know I will be getting another copy so I can highlight Woodson's thoughts. This book needs to be on all bookshelves everywhere.
Make sure you follow the link embedded in Jacqueline Woodson's name to visit her website. She includes important information about herself and her books. Here is the link to a post from her editor Nancy Paulsen about Brown Girl Dreaming. Donalyn Miller, author, educator and newly hired manager of independent reading and outreach at Scholastic Book Fairs wrote a reflection about this title and families at Nerdy Book Club. Here is the link to interview which recently appeared in Time For Kids. UPDATE: Follow this link to a series of videos at Reading Rockets. Below are two videos to use to further your understanding of Jacqueline Woodson and the writing of Brown Girl Dreaming.