Chris Maynard's Reviews > Locomotion

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
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Here is my blackboard response to the powerfully moving novel in verse Locomotion by the one-and-only Jacqueline Woodson.

Overall Response: Like my classmates, I was moved and impressed by Locomotion, especially how the female Jacqueline Woodson is not only able to write various types of poetry from the perspective of a fictional 11-year-old boy named Lonnie Collins Motion but to do so in such a convincing, heartfelt, personal, realistic and seamless manner. Woodson’s portrayal of Lonnie’s complicated emotions following the tragic deaths of his parents and the unfortunate separation from his younger sister Lili, and his overall incredible perceptiveness (e.g. Lonnie observes with his eyes and conveys in his writing tiny life events that many fifth-graders and even adults would miss, such as when his classmate Eric, suffering from sickle-cell anemia, comes back to school on pages 91 and 92 looking “…like he’s seen some things we’ve never seen…Knows some things…we’ll never know”) was really strong throughout this novel in verse. Ultimately, I was left wondering how Woodson was able to think of so many small details (like the references to basketball, etc.) that would be relevant to a fifth-grader and package them with such purpose and effectiveness, once again, all from the eyes and mind of an 11-year-old who seems wise beyond his years, due to a combination of external circumstances and internal wiring, all of which is just amazing to me. Did Woodson observe fifth-grade students in an urban setting prior to writing Locomotion? Did she look at some poetry from such students? Or is she just this talented and capable of a writer? Perhaps I will explore the origins of Locomotion in greater detail for my author/illustrator study.

As an aspiring teacher who has never taught but hopes to teach in an urban setting, I was surprised by how Locomotion touched on many relevant issues that will likely apply to my first years of teaching. While telling the story of Lonnie, Woodson also provides incredible insight into the complex dynamics that can exist between motivated/idealistic teachers and worn urban students via Lonnie’s relationship with his teacher Ms. Marcus. While Lonnie clearly loves the white Ms. Marcus and the confidence she gives him as a poet, he also sees that despite her good intentions, “Ms. Marcus doesn’t understand some things…like my brown, brown arm” (p. 13). Woodson also touches on some of the challenges that exist in these classroom settings, like when an angry and unmotivated Lonnie writes in “Just Nothing Poem” how “Sometimes Ms. Marcus makes me sick” (p. 49) or when a frustrated classmate Lamont doesn’t want to write because “…No black guys being writing poetry anyway” (p. 67). Woodson even details some clear socioeconomic differences between Ms. Marcus and her students as Lonnie notes the differences in the padding of their jackets in the “Occassional Poem” on pages 57 and 58. Writing how “…Ms. Marcus got a nice coat” (p. 58), Lonnie observes how “…It’s down too but real puffy so…maybe when she’s inside it…she can’t even tell January from June” (p. 58), which is contrasted with Lamont’s coat, which is “…down but it looks like a lot of the feathers fell out a long time ago” (p. 58). When looking at Locomotion beyond Lonnie’s moving story, it seems that this novel in verse would be an effective, short read for teachers preparing to enter urban, elementary classrooms where students may already start to feel like they are “Throwaway boys” (p. 15) and girls.

Specifics: Overall, I feel that my classmates did a great job touching on the different types and aspects of poetry that were present in Locomotion. With that said, I will share a few things I observed.

● “Mama” (pp. 7-8) was perhaps the most moving poem in Locomotion for me, touching on the human experience of longing to remember something small but powerful about a loved one long gone, in this case, the smell of Mama’s honeysuckle talc powder, but realizing that the artificial experience doesn’t compare to the real thing, especially when that person is no longer with you. Add in the fact that Lonnie is viewed with suspicious eyes as if he is going to steal something from the department store when all he is really trying to do is remember his late Mother, and this poem is about as difficult as they came for me, that is, until when I came to “December 9th” (pp. 31-32), which details Lonnie vomiting on the four-year anniversary of his parent’s death. Apparently, Lonnie experienced the same thing the previous three years, making Miss Edna’s plea to above, “...It’s been four years,…How long will he carry this burden?” (p. 31), all the more powerful in terms of depicting the life-long pain of Lonnie’s loss of his parents.

● As most of the poems are written in free verse, it is quite easy to miss out on the end-line rhymes and overall rhyme scheme (ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GHGH) of something like the “Sonnet Poem” on page 20. I did not even recognize the rhyming in this poem until my second poem. With this said, the overall rhythm and movement of Locomotion is clearly the driving force beyond the reading experience of this novel in verse, though it can easily cause you to miss out on some things if not paying close enough attention. For example, a three-line poem like “Georgia” (p. 40) was easily glanced over by me and did not mean anything until later in the novel in verse when Lonnie struck up a friendship with the new student/outcast in school, who happened to be from Georgia.

● In contrast to “Mama”, “How I Got My Name” (p. 21) was one of the more uplifting poems for me. Describing the symmetry between Lonnie’s full name and a popular song from the 60s via a happy memory of Lonnie and Lili dancing with their late mother, this poem is a tribute to how such great memories can not only keep the spirits of those we’ve lost alive and well in our hearts but uplift our own spirits when feeling down.

● Just as a classmate described how the poem “Failing” (p. 28) takes on the shape of a balance scale, “Eric Poem” (pp. 63-66) almost looks like a sickle on the last page, in terms of the presentation of the words “Popsicle,” “Icicle,” “Bicycle,” and “Sickle cell.” Of course, this poem is about Lonnie’s classmate Eric, the mean boy with the golden voice, getting diagnosed with sickle cell anemia.

● All in all, I love the literal titles and different parts of the poems (Part I, II, III, etc.), all of which move forward Lonnie’s story and rhythm of this narrative in verse.

Curricular Connections: I especially liked a classmate’s comment about how Locomotion could be used to teach kids how not all poetry is like what we understand poems to look like, thus encouraging reading and writing of poems. With that said, I would use an example like the “War Poem” on pages 38 and 39, which is either a reference to the Iraq War or the War in Afghanistan depending on when Locomotion was published in 2003, as a prime example of how kids can write poetry about current events, particularly how they touch and impact their lives.

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