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Brown Girl Dreaming (review)

13 Oct

51-pl9bj7il-_sx331_bo1204203200_Poetry Camp inspired me to be a more regular visitor to my library (thanks, Janet Wong!). My fascination with verse novels prompted me to pick up Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

I quickly discovered, though, that this isn’t exactly a verse novel. It’s a memoir—the story of young Jacqueline taking us through her childhood and to a time she comes to realize what her dream is and begins to see it blossom in her life.

The whole thing is told in verse—in free verse poems that are simple. I would say deceptively simple for almost all end in a way that put me on my heels and had me thinking: I believe there is more to this than what first meets the eye. In other words, these accessible poems also invite re-reading.

I love the real-life detail that makes the characters, the brothers and sisters, Grandma and Grandpa, mother, aunts and uncles, come alive. While reading this book I experienced the phenomenon of the particularities of Jacqueline’s life becoming a vessel for my own experience—even though the setting and characters are vastly different.

As I read I also enjoyed one of the advantages of verse novels—how quickly the pages slipped by. I read through this 338-page tome in mere hours.

The book touches on lots of topics:
– What it was like to be an African American girl in the U.S. in the 60s and 70s (Woodson was born in 1963). This book was a great empathy builder for me.

– Family—what is a family, how family members relate to each other, the joy of being together. The family theme runs deeply and widely through the book. I loved the mini family album of photos at the end of the book and the fact that the pictures were of family members as children—about the age that the target audience would be.

“Football Dreams,” about her father, is a poem about family:

Football Dreams

No one was faster
than my father on the football field.
No one could keep him
from crossing the line. Then
touching down again.
Coaches were watching the way he moved,
his easy stride, his long arms reaching
up, snatching the ball from its soft pockets
of air.

Read the rest…

Feeling different is another theme. Not only was Woodson’s color a source of difference, but she was brought up Jehovah’s Witness. “Flag” tells about having to leave the classroom when the students made the flag pledge but how inside she wanted to be there and pledge big:

flag

Alina and I want
more than anything to walk back into our classroom
press our hands against our hearts. Say,
“I pledge allegiance . . .” loud…”

The poem ends:

When the pledge is over, we walk single file
back into the classroom, take our separate seats
Alina and I far away from Gina. But Gina
always looks back at us—as if to say,
I’m watching you. As if to say,
I know.

Read entire…

The book tackles more themes including death, tolerance, and finding joy in life, relationships and one’s passion.

On this page of her website Ms. Woodson gives a bit more information about writing the book.

This was a beautiful, upbeat, and  educational read that would be perfect for children in the middle grades–ages 10 and up, Grades 5 and up.

Brown Girl Dreaming won the National Book Award in 2014. (In the second video on the linked page she reads from the book.)

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PF-2This post is linked to Poetry Friday, hosted today by the lovely Irene Latham at Live Your Poem.

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26 Comments

Posted by on October 13, 2016 in Book Reviews, People, Poetry Friday

 

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26 responses to “Brown Girl Dreaming (review)

  1. murphpoet

    October 13, 2016 at 11:16 pm

    Violet. Thanks for this thoughtful review of a book I also really enjoyed. I have a collection of verse novels and this is one of my favourites.

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    • Violet Nesdoly

      October 14, 2016 at 5:56 am

      Thanks, Sally, I’d be interested to know which other verse novels are favourites of yours! I think verse novels are such a powerful yet subtle way of telling a story.

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  2. margaretsmn

    October 14, 2016 at 3:49 am

    I love this book. I saw Jacqueline at the Mississippi Book Festival in August. Her latest book, Another Brooklyn, is wonderful, too. Her writing is so real and raw. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Violet Nesdoly

      October 14, 2016 at 5:58 am

      You saw her in person! How cool. It was lovely to find the National Book Award site where she accepted her prize and read from her book. Her physical presentation was much like I expected it—very natural, and warm, appreciative of the award and the audience (who stayed around for her last reading).

      >

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  3. katswhiskers

    October 14, 2016 at 5:20 am

    This one is high on my list of verse novels to acquire, and read. Thanks for the detailed review, Violet.

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    • Violet Nesdoly

      October 14, 2016 at 6:00 am

      You won’t be disappointed, Kat! Maybe you could get it from your library? (Or maybe you’d just like to own it? I could see why.)

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  4. lindabaie

    October 14, 2016 at 9:08 am

    I’m in the midst of reading more than one verse novel, but Brown Girl Dreaming will always be a favorite. She manages so much emotion around family, connecting all of us to our own relations, and what they meant to us. I’m glad you shared your ideas about this book, too.

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    • Violet Nesdoly

      October 14, 2016 at 10:36 am

      That’s good to hear, Linda! I’m amazed how you keep all the books you read, straight.

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  5. Jane the Raincity Librarian

    October 14, 2016 at 10:25 am

    The scenes in which she explores the library and discovers characters in stories who she can relate with, and who help her realise that her stories are worth sharing, left me breathless. So much emotional power delivered with only a few well-chosen words.

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    • Violet Nesdoly

      October 14, 2016 at 11:32 am

      Jane, you must have enjoyed her sister too, who pretty well lived in books. They’re a couple of dream characters for librarians.

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  6. Irene Latham

    October 14, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    My favorite poem in Brown Girl Dreaming is “At the Fabric Store.” It’s one place where young Jacqueline felt we are all equal. Love it, as that is my experience, too! Thank you for your thoughtful review, Violet. xo

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    • Violet Nesdoly

      October 14, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      Ah, Irene, why doesn’t that surprise me (given your love for sewing and making)? That is a really lovely place for Jackie.

      One of my favourites is “Tobacco.” Its foreshadowing gives me the shivers.

      >

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  7. Kimberley Moran

    October 14, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    Oh how I loved this book. Her verse is flawless. Her story is so vivid. Thank you for bringing it back to me.

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  8. mbhmaine

    October 15, 2016 at 3:40 am

    Thanks for reminding me that my good intentions to read this book have been paving roads! It’s moving back up to the top of the list!

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    • Violet Nesdoly

      October 15, 2016 at 5:39 am

      Good. You’ll enjoy. You’ll be surprised at what a quick read it can be. (Of course, one can read it slowly and savour too.)

      >

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  9. Linda Mitchell

    October 15, 2016 at 7:33 am

    A beautiful review of a beautiful book. I have the joy of being a middle school librarian. And, I love getting Brown Girl Dreaming into young hands and lives. Thank you for sharing this today.

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    • Violet Nesdoly

      October 15, 2016 at 8:12 am

      You librarians are a wonderful breed—such loyal champions of good books!

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  10. Brenda Davis Harsham

    October 15, 2016 at 7:55 am

    I love this book. An enticing glimpse of her life. Great post.

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  11. Michelle Heidenrich Barnes

    October 15, 2016 at 11:49 am

    I also remember this memoir affecting me deeply when I read it. And not just because she and I share a birthday. 🙂 Nice write-up, Violet.

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    • Violet Nesdoly

      October 15, 2016 at 3:31 pm

      Thanks, Michelle. That is pretty special, sharing a birthday with someone.

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  12. Tara Smith

    October 16, 2016 at 4:44 am

    Loved this book, and its author! We’ve read Brown Girl in class and taken so much joy and wisdom from Woodson.

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    • Violet Nesdoly

      October 16, 2016 at 5:49 am

      Tara, I’ll bet this is so much fun to teach and get kids’ reaction to. I can see it inspiring kids to try writing verse stories of their own lives.

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      Liked by 1 person

       
  13. Heidi Mordhorst

    October 16, 2016 at 5:01 am

    Always good to revisit a favorite through the keen eyes of a first-time reader. Thanks, Violet. Today I came here through your main website and the happy apply red and green design made me smile wide!

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    • Violet Nesdoly

      October 16, 2016 at 6:02 am

      Why, thank you, Heidi! That’s been up a while and I was wondering, is it due for a change? I appreciate your reaction to it.

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