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Brown Girl Dreaming (review)

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

 

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Agenda-Less

A few months ago I heard Phil Vischer (creator of Veggie Tales) tell in a video lecture how his veggie empire and the dream of his film studio becoming the Christian Disney came crashing down. He was devastated.He came through that time wiser and having learned some lessons. I took a few notes as I was listening. Here are some bits from my scribbles:

“He who has God and many things is no better off than he who has God alone” – C.S. Lewis.

He learned to wait on God. His passion shifted from making an impact to God Himself. He had to die to his ambition and misplaced sense of identity.

He summed up his talk with three points:
1. God loves you the way you are even when you’re not doing anything at all.

2. When the time comes to be doing something for God, don’t worry about the outcome. That’s His job. The impact God has planned for us doesn’t happen when we’re pursuing impact, it happens when we’re pursuing God.

3. Beware of your dreams, for dreams make dangerous friends.
“Why would God want us to let go of our dream?
Because anything you won’t let go of is an idol.”

In the poem below, written some years ago, I grapple in my own way with living the self-directed life. It’s something I continue to battle. However, it’s important that I do because I believe the secret to true FREEDOM for a disciple of Jesus is the repeated and continuous relinquishment to Him of dreams, agendas, and outcomes.

Cultivator in grass and flowers

Photo © 2015 by V. Nesdoly

AGENDA-LESS

“And when I stop telling God what I want, He can catch me up for what He wants without let or hindrance….He can do anything He chooses” Oswald Chambers.

All my life
I’ve lived by agenda
guided myself by purpose
– be the best piano player, student, teacher, writer
governed by goals
– practice four hours, study six, work ten, write always
derived meaning, direction, identity
by pursuing them.

But such a penchant becomes a burden
when I become drive-obsessed
my life possessed by looking for evidence
my purposes are planted in reality.
This turmoil stirs and shakes
the vat of inner life
especially when best efforts all fall short
or when reaching one goal
leaves me still thirsty
mirages into another.

And so I seek a new agenda –Yours
to keep in step with You
give You responsibility
for my agenda.

Do I now need to change my course
mount a different horse?
Leave home and family, say,
and be a missionary?
Go into a different
line of work?
No. That may well be taking
my reins in hand again.

It only means
to change place
from plowman to ox
labor under Your easy yoke
my efforts synchronized
with Your large purpose
as I plow my small
furrow in Your field.

© 2015 by Violet Nesdoly (All rights reserved)

spiritual-journey-framedThis post is linked to Spiritual Journey Thursday where the theme this week is Freedom. Spiritual Journey Thursday is hosted by Holly Mueller at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

Watch a video of Phil Vischer giving his talk on dreams to the Convocation of Liberty University.

 
12 Comments

Posted by on September 10, 2015 in Personal, Religious

 

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