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Brown Girl Dreaming

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Jacqueline Woodson, one of today's finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

337 pages, Hardcover

First published August 28, 2014

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About the author

Jacqueline Woodson

85 books8,222 followers
I used to say I’d be a teacher or a lawyer or a hairdresser when I grew up but even as I said these things, I knew what made me happiest was writing.

I wrote on everything and everywhere. I remember my uncle catching me writing my name in graffiti on the side of a building. (It was not pretty for me when my mother found out.) I wrote on paper bags and my shoes and denim binders. I chalked stories across sidewalks and penciled tiny tales in notebook margins. I loved and still love watching words flower into sentences and sentences blossom into stories.

I also told a lot of stories as a child. Not “Once upon a time” stories but basically, outright lies. I loved lying and getting away with it! There was something about telling the lie-story and seeing your friends’ eyes grow wide with wonder. Of course I got in trouble for lying but I didn’t stop until fifth grade.

That year, I wrote a story and my teacher said “This is really good.” Before that I had written a poem about Martin Luther King that was, I guess, so good no one believed I wrote it. After lots of brouhaha, it was believed finally that I had indeed penned the poem which went on to win me a Scrabble game and local acclaim. So by the time the story rolled around and the words “This is really good” came out of the otherwise down-turned lips of my fifth grade teacher, I was well on my way to understanding that a lie on the page was a whole different animal — one that won you prizes and got surly teachers to smile. A lie on the page meant lots of independent time to create your stories and the freedom to sit hunched over the pages of your notebook without people thinking you were strange.

Lots and lots of books later, I am still surprised when I walk into a bookstore and see my name on a book’s binder. Sometimes, when I’m sitting at my desk for long hours and nothing’s coming to me, I remember my fifth grade teacher, the way her eyes lit up when she said “This is really good.” The way, I — the skinny girl in the back of the classroom who was always getting into trouble for talking or missed homework assignments — sat up a little straighter, folded my hands on the desks, smiled and began to believe in me.

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5 stars
37,753 (45%)
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3 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 10,849 reviews
24 reviews20 followers
June 16, 2014
So beautifully good I am ashamed to write about it. I am a Michigan white boy so moved by the brown girl writing of Ms. Woodson that I emailed her at one point in the book after a night of lost sleep due to a particularly beautiful and painful moment in the verse and and she wrote back to me! I was put at ease, until I reached the next moment in the book the following night that stole my sleep!

Gorgeous writing. Powerful images and so much heart that I am left breathless upon completion! I cannot wait to have her in our school library this year. What a day that will be!
Profile Image for Jesse (JesseTheReader).
460 reviews162k followers
December 12, 2016
really enjoyed this! it was interesting seeing the things that jacqueline went through growing up and how she handled herself. i'm normally not a huge fan of novels being written in verse, but i felt it worked really well for this story. will talk more about this one in an upcoming video! youtube.com/jessethereader
Profile Image for Candace.
1,174 reviews4,119 followers
August 2, 2017
I listened to this audiobook with my two daughters (1st grade and 5th grade) and my grandmother on our most recent road trip. This book is beautifully written and the imagery was spectacular. It managed to captivate everyone in the car, which is saying something since there were 3 distinct generations represented.

Jacqueline Wilson describes her childhood, growing up in the 1960's. In her youth, her time was divided amongst Ohio, South Carolina, and later, New York. Each area provided a different experience and a vastly different culture. This gave Ms. Woodson the unique ability to describe her experiences, particularly those related to the civil rights movement, across a variety of social settings and geographic locales.

As we were driving, I had to pause this story several times to answer questions and explain things to my daughters. My oldest daughter, at ten years-old, had a lot of questions. This initiated some important discussions and proved to be quite enlightening for all parties.

It never ceases to amaze me how children can spot "right" and "wrong" so clearly, before external forces try to taint their inner goodness. Trying to explain the existence of Jim Crow laws and why Rosa Park's decision to sit at the front of the bus sparked such controversy at the time, led to some very interesting discussions. Sometimes, adults can learn from children and should follow their lead. The hatefulness and wrongness of those discriminatory and racist laws were incredibly obvious to my children. The fact that this was ever allowed to go on was very difficult for their minds to grasp.

Overall, this was a very moving and thought-provoking read. It is the type of book that encourages insightful discussions and instills strong values at a young age. It introduces young readers to some difficult, but important topics and raises awareness, lest we repeat history. I would definitely recommend this book to others.
Profile Image for Brina.
876 reviews4 followers
October 2, 2016
I recently read Jacqueline Woodson's Another Brooklyn, and people here recommended that I read her middle grade kids book Brown Girl Dreaming. Like Another Brooklyn, Brown Girl Dreaming is a poetic account of Woodson's upbringing in South Carolina and Brooklyn. The entire book flows in dreamy poetry as Woodson describes growing up during the 1960s, and for that I rate it 4 lovely stars.

Jacqueline Woodson was born to Jack Woodson and Mary Ann Irby in 1963 in Columbus, Ohio. Her father was determined that his children not live a life enmeshed in Jim Crow so he desired to live in the north. Yet, Mary Ann pined for her Greenville, South Carolina home, and this soon become a source of friction. The couple divorced, and the Irbys returned to South Carolina when Jacqueline was just a baby.

Mary Ann longed to join her siblings Kay and Robert in Brooklyn so for long stretches she left her children with her parents Gunnar and Georgia in Greenville. Jacqueline writes of sipping hot chocolate on the porch, fireflies at dusk, and curling up with her siblings in her grandparents' bed. Despite the lingering de facto segregation, Greenville appears to be a wholesome place to raise a family. Even when the Irbys arrived in Brooklyn to stay, Jacqueline and her older siblings spent the summers in Greenville as their mother worked a full time job. Her writing reflects her dual homes- Brooklyn and Greenville, and her loyalty to both places.

In Bushwick, Jacqueline describes what it was like to be a kid in the late 1960s. At PS 106, she had teachers who saw the writer in her and encouraged her to share her gift with others. She also meets her forever friend Maria who moved in next door, and the girls become as close as family, even though their cultures are vastly different. Bushwick also appears to be a safe place to grow up. The Black Panthers at the time were hinted at as being in California, the melting pot of cultures in Brooklyn appear here to thrive in concert with one another. Jacqueline enjoys Maria's mother's arroz con frijoles yet also excels at double Dutch. While describing the friction in the world at large, Woodson still writes in flowery poetry that remains dreamlike in prose.

It is oftentimes difficult for me to find quality middle grade books for my children. I have read several books this year from recommendations from Goodreads friends. It is a relief to know there are quality books for my kids that are also enjoyable for adults. Jacqueline Woodson has been writing since childhood and has been published for over twenty years and won multiple awards for her work. Brown Girl Dreaming won a National Book Award in 2014, and it is a book that I would easily allow my children to read. An amazing poet and writer, I look forward to reading more of Woodson's books.
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
692 reviews3,240 followers
February 24, 2017
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

Jacqeuline Woodson recalls what life was like growing up in the 1960s and 1970s in this autobiographical middle grade novel. Written in verse, her account portrays a life divided between the North and the South, learning about the civil rights movement, and discovering a burgeoning passion for writing stories.

I am born as the South explodes,
too many people too many years
enslaved, then emancipated
but not free, the people
who look like me
keep fighting
and marching
and getting killed
so that today -
February 12, 1963
and every day from this moment on,
brown children like me can grow up
free. Can grow up
learning and voting and walking and riding
wherever
we want.

Woodson introduces young readers to important figures, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and author James Baldwin.

Not even three years have passed since a brown girl
named Ruby Bridges
walked into an all-white school.
Armed guards surrounded her while hundreds of white people spat and called her names.

She was six years old.


Whether she was living in Brooklyn, New York or spending the summer with her grandparents in South Carolina, Woodson never felt she fit in but, no matter where she was, family was her anchor. Family was her shelter. The ways in which she portrays the sense of love and security found in even the simplest aspects of being with family - such as enjoying a warm meal - are sublime.

Autumn is coming.
Outside, there's the sound of wind
through the pine trees.
But inside there are stories, there are biscuits
and grits and eggs, the fire in the potbellied stove
already filling the house with warmth.


She also paints a vivid portrayal of growing up at a time when race relations were strained to the point of breaking and learning to fight for one's rights and protect oneself in a violent society was as common as learning how to tie one's shoes.

This is the way brown people have to fight,
my grandfather says.
You can't just put your fist up. You have to insist
on something
gently. Walk toward a thing
slowly.


They learn
how to change the South without violence,
how not to be moved
by the evil actions of others, how to walk slowly but
with deliberate steps.
How to sit at counters and be cursed at
without cursing back, have food and drink poured
over them without standing up and hurting someone.
Even the teenagers
get trained to sit tall, not cry, swallow back fear.


Brown Girl Dreaming is a cadent portrait of a little girl cherishing her family and dreaming of a better world.

We all have the same dream, my grandmother says.
To live equal in a country that's supposed to be
the land of the free.

She lets out a long breath,
deep remembering.
Profile Image for Angela M (On a little break).
1,270 reviews2,217 followers
July 12, 2016

I've never read anything quite like this before - the telling of a life in such a unique way. The writing is lovely , the way it is told - memories in free style poetry. I don't know what I can say to do justice to what Woodson has accomplished here. Is it a memoir, a novel, a book of poetry? No matter how it is categorized, it is clear that this is precisely what Woodson says about it in her author's note "And that's what this book is - my past, my people, my memories, my story."

This is perhaps aimed at a YA audience as most of her books are but I didn't view it that way. I think anyone of any age can appreciate this story of her family, the places she lived, the times in which she grew up, how her writing life developed and how she followed her dream . I can't say enough about the beautiful writing. She has provided us a tremendous sense of time and place growing up in the 1960's and 1970's in Greenville, SC and Brooklyn, NY. and the inner thoughts of a young girl who dreams of becoming a writer.

Just before this I read a copy of Woodson's new book Another Brooklyn, to be published on 8/9/16 and I'll say the same thing here as I did in my review of it , she was born to write and I am grateful for profound experience it was for me to see her journey.
Profile Image for Swrp.
561 reviews89 followers
July 24, 2020
"Even the silence has a story to tell you. Just listen."

An honest and moving memoir by Jacqueline Woodson. She narrates the sweetness and also the tough situations of her life, growing up during a unique time in America.

Brown Girl Dreaming can be described as warm, beautiful and wonderful.

What I Believe

by Jacqueline Woodson

I believe in God and evolution.
I believe in the Bible and the Qur'an.
I believe in Christmas and the New World.
I believe that there is good in each of us
no matter who we are or what we believe in.
I believe in the words of my grandfather.
I believe in the city and the South
the past and the present.
I believe in Black people and White people coming together.
I believe in nonviolence and "Power to the People."
I believe in my little brother's pale skin and
my own dark brown.
I believe in my sister's brilliance and the too-easy
books I love to read.
I believe in my mother on a bus and Black people
refusing to ride.
I believe in good friends and good food.

I believe in johnny pumps and jump ropes,
Malcolm and Martin, Buckeyes and Birmingham,
writing and listening, bad words and good words -
I believe in Brooklyn!

I believe in one day and someday and this
perfect moment called Now.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,668 followers
January 9, 2015
I’m having the most difficult time writing a review for brown girl dreaming. It’s so hard to bubble over and breathe and cry and write, all at the same time. Each and every page is a gift of wisdom and innocence and discovery. Heartbreak. Joy. Family. Loneliness. Childhood. History. I savored and smiled as I read. I wept. I rushed out to buy my own copy. I wish I could buy enough copies for the world.

My only reading goal for 2015 is to read more poetry. Without design—just luck of the queue at the library—brown girl dreaming, a memoir in verse, was the first book I completed this year. There is something sublime in that serendipity.
The book’s opening poem signals the story Jacqueline Woodson seeks to tell:
I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital
Columbus, Ohio,
USA—
A country caught

Between Black and White.

Woodson reminds us that when she was born in 1963, “...only seven years had passed since Rose Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus” in Montgomery, Alabama. The author, too, is of the South, but also of the Midwest and of the North. She moved with her mother, sister and brother to Greenville, South Carolina—to her mother’s family—when she was a toddler, and then to Brooklyn, New York in elementary school.

brown girl dreaming is also the story of a little girl finding her voice. In Woodson’s case, it was the discovery that words and stories belonged to her—she just needed the time to meet them on her own terms:

I am not my sister.
Words from the books curl around each other
make little sense
until
I read them again
and again, the story
settling into memory. Too slow my teacher says.
Read Faster.
Too babyish, the teacher says.
Read older.
But I don't want to read faster or older or
any way else that might
make the story disappear too quickly from where
it's settling
inside my brain,
slowly becoming a part of me.
A story I will remember
long after I've read it for the second, third,
tenth, hundredth time.

There is such joy and love in her verse, a profound appreciation for her family and for the places that make up her visions of home. She writes of her mother’s parents in South Carolina:
So the first time my mother goes to New York City
we don’t know to be sad, the weight
of our grandparents’ love like a blanket
with us beneath it,
safe and warm.

And of Brooklyn:
We take our food out to her stoop just as the grown-ups
start dancing merengue, the women lifting their long dresses
to show off their fast-moving feet,
the men clapping and yelling,
Baila! Baila! until the living room floor disappears.

You may find brown girl dreaming on the fiction shelves of bookstores and libraries, for it is classified as a “fictionalized memoir.” Leaving aside debates of genre, it is far more likely to find a readership from these fiction shelves, and that is a good and necessary thing. Memoir and free verse may seem like odd companions, particularly in a book meant for younger readers, but oh, what a stellar opportunity to read and teach the power of poetry.

brown girl dreaming received the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and is ostensibly a book meant for middle-grade readers, but it is timeless in its grace and eloquence. I recommend it to everyone, regardless of age.

Were I a pre-teen, I know I’d be reading this at every available moment: at the breakfast table, on the bus, in the cafeteria, in my room instead of suffering through long division homework and answering questions on the Emancipation Proclamation at the end of chapter 27 in my Social Studies text. The intimacy and immediacy of brown girl dreaming feels like a secret passed between BFFs, a Technicolor “now” of an After-School Special, the story of an American kid my age that is at once familiar in emotion and exotic in setting.

Were I the parent of a pre-teen or a younger child, we would read this together, for this is the history of America in the 1960s, and it offers so many of those “teachable moments”: opportunities to reach for history books, to seek out primary sources, to watch videos of speeches and documentaries of a time that is both distant, yet still very much at hand. The same would hold true for a book club of adults. brown girl dreaming can serve as a touchstone for African-American literature and history, which is our shared history.

As an adult, I read this with humility and wonder, enchanted by the voice of young Jacqueline Woodson as she discovers the importance of place, self, family, and words. As a writer, I am awed and overjoyed by the beauty of her language, by the richness of her verse.

Even the silence
has a story to tell you.
Just listen. Listen.

Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
3,950 reviews2,177 followers
January 15, 2023
I am so glad my favourite booktubers recommended this book again and again over the years 💕

*An important book on how the black community struggled for their own identity

***Written beautifully about family, relatives and how lives change when one has enough courage to live their dreams


***Deals with racism, discrimination and violence against the black people

***Upbringing, religion and most importantly how it was like growing up in the 60s during the Civil Rights Movement

***The writing is really good

***One of the best books written in verse

*This book is important regarding so many things about the life of the author.
Apart from everything mentioned before, the writing also focuses on the difficulties the author faced because of her own learning issues and how it was like growing up with constant comparisons alongside her other 'smart' sibling.

***I really like how the author described her siblings. I loved reading about her bookworm sister and her younger brother who's obsessed with comic books and superheroes. Yes, that got me.

***There are some parts dealing with deaths and grief which I feel was handled well.
I cried too much when there's one part where the younger kid brother dies. It just broke my heart.

First half of the book is filled with family vibes, all innocence and overflowing love of parents , grandparents and siblings. Yes, it also highlighted how the adults in the family thought about the unrest and the movement.

The second half of the book developed into something really beautiful but also sad and wholesome.

"I am not my sister."

I really hate it when everyone keeps comparing someone with their so called 'smarter' siblings.

I can totally relate to that! Parents, teachers, relatives, grandparents, neighbours.

I say each one of us is smart in our own way.

Guess everyone isn't smart enough to understand this.

The whole book has five parts of which her writing really shines in part IV.

My most favourite parts of the book are the last two parts in which the writing drastically changes and has more confidence.

I love how the author never thought of giving up. She got hold of her dream. She believed in herself. And yes, she wrote the book I just finished up reading.
Profile Image for Nat.
542 reviews3,170 followers
June 5, 2020
Told through vivid poems, Jacqueline Woodson shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s. She covers everything from race to religion to the Civil Rights movement. Woodson's life was very complicated and very rich in detail, which I really loved. She's a natural storyteller that made me feel like I was transported back to each event through her writing. And I will remember her story for a long time to come.

As a result, I decided to share some of my favorite passages that were featured in here, so that I can come back to this review and reminisce:

daywork

“I’m not ashamed, she says,
cleaning is what I know. I’m not ashamed,
if it feeds my children.”

“Don’t any of you ever do daywork
, she warns us.
I’m doing it now so you don’t have to.”

the reader

“When we can’t find my sister, we know
she is under the kitchen table, a book in her hand,
a glass of milk and a small bowl of peanuts beside her.

We know we can call Odella’s name out loud,
slap the table hard with our hands,
dance around it singing
“She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain”
so many times the song makes us sick
and the circling makes us dizzy
and still
my sister will do nothing more
than slowly turn the page.”


south carolina at war

“This is the way brown people have to fight,
my grandfather says.
You can’t just put your fist up. You have to insist
on something
gently. Walk toward a thing
slowly.

But be ready to die,

my grandfather says,
for what is right.

Be ready to die
, my grandfather says,
for everything you believe in.”

“More than a hundred years, my grandfather says,
and we’re still fighting for the free life
we’re supposed to be living.”


the stories cora tells

“Don’t believe everything you hear, Jackie.
Someday, you’ll come to know
when someone is telling the truth
and when they’re just making up stories.”


composition notebook

“Nothing in the world is like this—
a bright white page with
pale blue lines. The smell of a newly sharpened pencil
the soft hush of it
moving finally
one day
into letters.”


writing #1

“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.
But as I bend over my composition notebook,
only my name
comes quickly. Each letter, neatly printed
between the pale blue lines. Then white
space and air and me wondering, How do I
spell introduce? Trying again and again
until there is nothing but pink
bits of eraser and a hole now
where a story should be.”


the other woodson

“Even though so many people think my sister and I
are twins,
I am the other Woodson, following behind her each year
into the same classroom she had the year before. Each
teacher smiles when they call my name. Woodson, they
say. You must be Odella’s sister. Then they nod
slowly, over and over again, call me Odella. Say,
I’m sorry! You look so much like her and she is SO brilliant!
then wait for my brilliance to light up
the classroom. Wait for my arm to fly into
the air with every answer. Wait for my pencil
to move quickly through the too-easy math problems
on the mimeographed sheet. Wait for me to stand
before class, easily reading words even high school
students stumble over. And they keep waiting.
And waiting
and waiting
and waiting

until one day, they walk into the classroom,
almost call me Odel—then stop
remember that I am the other Woodson

and begin searching for brilliance

at another desk.”


reading

“I am not my sister.
Words from the books curl around each other
make little sense
until
I read them again
and again, the story
settling into memory. Too slow
the teacher says.
Read faster.
Too babyish, the teacher says.
Read older.
But I don’t want to read faster or older or
any way else that might
make the story disappear too quickly from where
it’s settling
inside my brain,
slowly becoming
a part of me.
A story I will remember
long after I’ve read it for the second, third,
tenth, hundredth time.”


That last sentence is so beautiful!!

stevie and me

“Every Monday, my mother takes us
to the library around the corner. We are allowed
to take out seven books each. On those days,
no one complains
that all I want are picture books.

Those days, no one tells me to read faster
to read harder books
to read like Dell.

No one is there to say, Not that book,
when I stop in front of the small paperback
with a brown boy on the cover.
Stevie.

I read:
One day my momma told me,
“You know you’re gonna have
a little friend come stay with you.”
And I said, “Who is it?”

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.

The little boy’s name was Steven but
his mother kept calling him Stevie.
My name is Robert but my momma don’t
call me Robertie.

If someone had taken
that book out of my hand
said, You’re too old for this
maybe
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.”


REPRESENTATION MATTERS!!!

how to listen #7

“Even the silence
has a story to tell you.
Just listen. Listen.”

description
To say Brown Girl Dreaming hit home would be an understatement. This book came at the exact right moment for me to read. And the way Woodson told her story and that of her family felt like I was right there.

To quote the author:

“As my sister reads, the pictures begin forming
as though someone has turned on a television,
lowered the sound,
pulled it up close.
Grainy black-and-white pictures come slowly at me
Deep. Infinite. Remembered”


Speaking of, the writing in here was gorgeously elucidated. I'm craving more of Jacqueline Woodson's words, so I'm hoping to pick up The Other Side in the near future.

Oh, and I also really appreciated that the author took the time to include some great family photos:

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*Note: I'm an Amazon Affiliate. If you're interested in buying Brown Girl Dreaming, just click on the image below to go through my link. I'll make a small commission!*


This review and more can be found on my blog.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,056 reviews30k followers
August 13, 2017
Listening to this middle grade novel on audio read by the author was a gift. Poetic. Genuine. A young girl dreams of being a writer. Stories of her family, growing up between Ohio, South Carolina, and New York, her loving grandparents; this is Jacqueline Woodson's story, but it's a story for everyone.

2017 Summer Read #22
Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews203 followers
February 8, 2016
Brown Girl Dreaming
Jacqueline Woodson


 photo woodson_jacqueline_p_lg_1_zpsbilbpwc8.jpg
The author won the National Book Award in 2014 in the category of Young People's Literature for Brown Girl Dreaming

We tend to believe that the way our memory process works is similar to a movie playing back in our heads in a sort of linear, chronological order, in reality though, at least in my experience, memories come in flashes and moments, not in long scenes like in a book or a documentary.

According to some literary critics, the use of poems as a format to write memoirs was pretty much unheard of before Woodson did it. And I have to say that it does work beautifully on the lyrical and mesmerizing "Brown Girl Dreaming".

"Memory doesn't come as a straight narrative," Woodson said about why she didn’t choose prose. "It comes in small moments with all this white space."

With its innovative and creative use of succinct, vivid poems and vignettes "Brown Girl Dreaming" is a unique memoir that explores the power of dreams and words and how writing can help you make sense of the world you live in and in the process find your life's purpose.

On an interview with NPR, Woodson describes that the first time she discovered poetry and loved it was in elementary school when reading Langston Hughes.

"Until then, I thought it was some code that older white people used to speak to each other. I didn't know what was going on with the line breaks and the words," Woodson recalls. "Once the floodgates opened, they opened."

The world Woodson was born into, was turbulent and chaotic, and she skillfully brings the reader along to experience how it was to grow up in America as a black girl during the 1960's and 1970's .

Growing up during the last throes of the Jim Crow era and right in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Woodson weaves these poems to narrate both her family and personal stories as well as the political upheaval of the times.

In the background little Jacqueline can hear the grown-ups discussing civil rights marches, non-violence resistance training, MLK and Malcolm X, Freedom Singers and a girl named Ruby Bridges. Seeing these political events through the eyes of a child provides a wonderful and different perspective.

"Brown Girl Dreaming" starts on February 12, 1963 in Columbus, Ohio, the day Woodson was born in a "country caught between Black and White" as she describes it.

The poem "A Girl name Jack" is about her parents arguing to choose her name is amusing:
A Girl Name Jack
Good enough name for me, my father said
the day I was born.
Don’t see why
she can’t have it, too.
But the women said no.
My mother first.
Then each aunt, pulling my pink blanket back
patting the crop of thick curls,
tugging at my new toes,
touching my cheeks.
We won’t have a girl named Jack, my mother said.

As you can tell by the author's given name, you know who won that argument!

Ruby Bridges photo Problem_web_zpsv4tscuie.jpg
The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell depicts Ruby Bridges as a 6 year-old on her way to school during the process of racial desegregation in the South.

Her parent's differences didn't end with their little squabble about choosing Jacqueline's name. They were also divided by Jacqueline's mom yearning to go back to her native South Carolina and her dad's disdain of the South.

Here's a poem that describes their differences:
Journey
You can keep your South, my father says.
The way they treated us down there,
I got your mama out as quick as I could.
Brought her right up here to Ohio.
Told here there's never gonna be a Woodson
that sits in the back of the bus.
Never gonna be a Woodson that has to
Yes sir and No sir white people.
Never gonna be a Woodson made to look down at the ground.
All your kids are stronger than that, my father says.
All you Woodson kids deserve to be
as good as you already are.
Yes sirree, Bob, my father says.
You can keep your South Carolina.

This poem provides a window into how Woodson love for writing began:
The Beginning
I cannot write a word yet but at three,
I now know that letter J
love the way it curves into a hook
that I carefully top with a straight hat
the way my sister has taught me to do.
Love the sound of the letter and the promise
that one day this will be connected to a full name,
my own.
That I will be able to write
by myself.
Without my sister's hand over mine,
making it do what I cannot yet do.
How amazing these words are that slowly come to me.
How wonderfully on and on they go.
Will the words end, I ask
whenever I remember to.
Nope, my sister says, all of five years old now,
and promising me
infinity.

I read this book as I listened along to Woodson's own narration of the audiobook version. The rhythm of the short poems makes for a great read-aloud and who better to perform her own words than the writer herself?

This book is both personal and political, is about family, friendship, religion, race and prejudice but at its core, is about the author's love of writing and how she discovered her passion for it.

That Woodson so eloquently crafted these linked-poems to create a narrative that flows so naturally, is a testament to her talents as a writer and to the power and beauty of the written word.

So Jacqueline with a J & a Q, I salute you for writing such a wonderful book!
Profile Image for Riley.
422 reviews20.5k followers
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February 6, 2017
“Even the silence
has a story to tell you.
Just listen. Listen.”

Such a beautiful memoir written in free verse. The pages were dripping with imagery and metaphors that so perfectly captured a moment or a thought. It touched on so many important themes like, family, race and intersectional feminism.
Profile Image for Brown Girl Reading.
342 reviews1,604 followers
December 17, 2014
I was really excited to finally receive my copy of Brown Girl Dreaming this month. I as anticipating reading something by Jacqueline Woodson who I had herd so much about. Brown Girl Dreaming is a poetic account of Woodson's family life while at the same time giving a very good idea about what life was like growing up in the South and in New York. Beautifully written and telling a sensitive true story of how she felt about things. I enjoyed everything about it. I can see this book being used a pedagogical tool to encourage writing and to explore life for Blacks in the 60s and 70s. It's a wonderful read for all ages. It. Rings back good and bad memories but the closeness of family Is the universal theme that speaks to us all. You really should check it out. It would also make a great Christmas present - in the hardcover edition which really is very pretty.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,687 reviews14k followers
January 13, 2015
What an amazing way to tell her life's story, in wonderful prose. From Ohio, to South Carolina in the sixties, where things are changing but not quite quick enough, to New York. We learn the story of Woodson's family, their changing fortune and the wonderful relationship she had with her grandfather. Her calling to be a writer, and how she made up stories in preparation for the day she would be able to write her own. Her early induction as a Jehovah Witness and how this effected her young life. Simple, beautiful and profound.
Profile Image for Emma.
59 reviews2,332 followers
May 31, 2017
This book was so beautiful. It's written in poetry from the author's point of view when she was a child, and it's one of the most interesting pov's I've ever read. Not to mention how much I appreciate her perspective as a child with fighting for equality and dreaming of being an author.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,688 reviews2,242 followers
July 17, 2016

There is something so very real, honest, and about Jacqueline Woodson’s writing, regardless of what she’s writing about in “Brown Girl Dreaming.” Her prose contains heartrending stories, thoughts, musings, and emotions ranging from bliss to anger. There’s a childlike purity in her work, these snippets of thoughts that tell her story, stories… the story of her family, friends, her beliefs, her religion.

Growing up in the south in an era where so much change was taking place, where children were surrounded from the outside with the message to be proud, and where the message from the older generation was still to avoid eye contact, you might expect more anger, more focus on the ugly side of that time. It’s not glossed over, it’s that the focus for those years shared in “Brown Girl Dreaming” is love for the place, the people and her memories. The nostalgia is sweet without sacrificing any truth, her power in the restraint she shows.

“The first time I write my full name Jacqueline Amanda Woodson without anybody’s help on a clean white page in composition notebook, I know if I wanted to I could write anything. Letters becoming words, words gathering meaning, becoming thoughts outside my head becoming sentences written by Jacqueline Amanda Woodson.”

This is the story of one girl finding her voice.

This is also the story of a part of America’s racial history.

This is Woodson’s story, but it’s also a story that is part of all of us.

“The people who came before me worked so hard to make this world a better place for me. I know my work is to make the world a better place for those coming after. As long as I can remember this, I can continue to do the work I was put here to do.”

Profile Image for PorshaJo.
436 reviews655 followers
October 4, 2016
What a pleasant surprise this one was for me. I heard a lot about the story some time ago and added it to my list. Now, with Woodson's new book out, I've been hearing more about her and both of these books. I added this one to my audio queue and didn't think much when it arrived.

The story is the early life story of the author. When she was growing up, very young, splitting her time between the South and New York City. I grabbed the audio, which is read by the author. Immediately something seemed a bit 'different' on the audio. I forgot that this book is a series of poems, almost a stream of thought at times. I wondered if perhaps I would loose something on this by not having the print, and listening to the audio. But I was so drawn to this story and Woodson does a wonderful job with the audio.

I loved hearing the stories of her growing up, her siblings, her grandparents. I did not want this one to end. I still have the little song in my head that her Dad/Grandfather would sing, and that she would sing in the audio. I'm so glad that I finally picked this one up and that I listened via audio. I've already ordered Woodson's latest book, but sadly, she does not narrate this one.

Overall, I would highly suggest this one, and grab the audio. You will not be disappointed.
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 6 books1,204 followers
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October 4, 2014
This is a DAMN good book. Press this into the hands of all middle grade readers, especially girls, especially girls of color, especially girls who don't think themselves to be great at school, especially girls who don't have an easy life at home.

Woodson writes excellent verse here, and the way she talks about herself, her place in social/political history, and her place within her family are absorbing and moving.
Profile Image for Anne Bogel.
Author 6 books50.6k followers
January 17, 2016
This was amazing. I highly recommend the audiobook, read by the author.
Profile Image for Betsy.
Author 8 books2,685 followers
June 1, 2014
What does a memoir owe its readers? For that matter, what does a fictionalized memoir written with a child audience in mind owe its readers? Kids come into public libraries every day asking for biographies and autobiographies. They’re assigned them with the teacher's intent, one assumes, of placing them in the shoes of those people who found their way, or their voice, or their purpose in life. Maybe there’s a hope that by reading about such people the kids will see that life has purpose. That even the most high and lofty historical celebrity started out small. Yet to my mind, a memoir is of little use to child readers if it doesn’t spend a significant fraction of its time talking about the subject when they themselves were young. To pick up brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is to pick up the world’s best example of precisely how to write a fictionalized memoir. Sharp when it needs to be sharp, funny when it needs to be funny, and a book that can relate to so many other works of children’s literature, Woodson takes her own life and lays it out in such a way that child readers will both relate to it and interpret it through the lens of history itself. It may be history, but this is one character that will give kids the understanding that nothing in life is a given. Sometimes, as hokey as it sounds, it really does come down to your dreams.

Her father wanted to name her “Jack” after himself. Never mind that today, let alone 1963 Columbus, Ohio, you wouldn’t dream of naming a baby girl that way. Maybe her mother writing “Jacqueline” on her birth certificate was one of the hundreds of reasons her parents would eventually split apart. Or maybe it was her mother’s yearning for her childhood home in South Carolina that did it. Whatever the case, when Jackie was one-years-old her mother took her and her two older siblings to the South to live with their grandparents once and for all. Though it was segregated and times were violent, Jackie loved the place. Even when her mother left town to look for work in New York City, she kept on loving it. Later, her mother picked up her family and moved them to Brooklyn and Jackie had to learn the ways of city living versus country living. What’s more, with her talented older siblings and adorable baby brother, she needed to find out what made her special. Told in gentle verse and memory, Jacqueline Woodson expertly recounts her own story and her own journey against a backdrop of America’s civil rights movement. This is the birth of a writer told from a child’s perspective.

You might ask why we are referring to this book as a work of historical fiction, when clearly the memoir is based in fact. Recently I was reading a piece in The New Yorker on the novelist Edward St. Aubyn. St. Aubyn found the best way to recount his own childhood was through the lens of fiction. Says the man, “I wanted the freedom and the sublimatory power of writing a novel . . . And I wanted to write in the tradition which had impressed me the most.” Certainly there’s a much greater focus on what it means to be a work of nonfiction for kids in this day and age. Where in the past something like the Childhood of Famous Americans series could get away with murder, pondering what one famous person thought or felt at a given time, these days we hold children’s nonfiction to a much higher standard. Books like Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s No Crystal Stair, for example, must be called “fiction” for all that they are based on real people and real events. Woodson’s personal memoir is, for all intents and purposes, strictly factual but because there are times when she uses dialogue to flesh out the characters and scenes the book ends up in the fiction section of the library and bookstore. Like St. Aubyn, Woodson is most comfortable when she has the most freedom as an author, not to be hemmed in by a strict structural analysis of what did or did not occur in the past. She has, in a sense then, mastered the art of the fictionalized memoir in a children’s book format.

Because of course in fiction you can give your life a form and a function. You can look back and give it purpose, something nonfiction can do but with significantly less freedom. There is a moment in Jackie’s story when you get a distinct sense of her life turning a corner. In the section “grown folks’ stories” she recounts hearing the tales of the old people then telling them back to her sister and brother in the night. “Retelling each story. / Making up what I didn’t understand / or missed when voices dropped too low . . . / Then I let the stories live / inside my head, again and again / until the real world fades back / into cricket lullabies / and my own dreams.” If ever you wanted a “birth of a writer” sequence in a book, this would be it.

At its heart, that’s really what brown girl dreaming is about. It’s the story of a girl finding her voice and her purpose. If there’s a theme to children’s literature this year it is in the relationship between stories and lies. Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener and Margi Preus’s West of the Moon both spend a great deal of time examining the relationship between the two. Now brown girl dreaming joins with them. When Jackie’s mother tells her daughter that “If you lie . . . one day you’ll steal” the child cannot reconcile the two. “It’s hard to understand how one leads to the other, / how stories could ever / make us criminals.” It’s her mother that equates storytelling with lying, even as her uncle encourages her to keep making up stories. As it is, I can think of no better explanation of how writers work then the central conundrum Jackie is forced to face on her own. “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 / that happens, / in some other way / to me . . . !”

The choice to make the book a verse novel made sense in the context of Ms. Woodson’s other novels. Verse novels are at their best when they justify their form. A verse novel that’s written in verse simply because it’s the easiest way to tell a long story in a simple format often isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Fortunately, in the case of Ms. Woodson the choice makes infinite sense. Young Jackie is enamored of words and their meanings. The book isn’t told in the first person, but when we consider that she is both subject and author then it’s natural to suspect that the verse best shows the lens through which Jackie, the child, sees the world.

It doesn’t hurt matters any that the descriptive passages have the distinct feeling of poems to them. Individual lines are lovely in and of themselves, of course. Lines like “the heat of summer / could melt the mouth / so southerners stayed quiet.” Or later a bit of reflection on the Bible. “Even Salome intrigues us, her wish for a man’s head / on a platter – who could want this and live / to tell the story of that wanting?” But full-page written portions really do have the feel of poems. Like you could pluck them out of the book and display them and they'd stand on their own, out of context. The section labeled “ribbons” for example felt like pure poetry, even as it relayed facts. As Woodson writes, “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 / to childhood.” And so we get a beautiful mixing of verse and truth and fiction and memoir at once.

It was while reading the book that I got the distinct sense that this was far more than a personal story. The best memoirs, fictionalized or otherwise, are the ones that go beyond their immediate subjects and speak to something greater than themselves. Ostensibly, brown girl dreaming is just the tale of one girl’s journey from the South to the North and how her perceptions of race and self changed during that time. But the deeper you get into the book the more you realize that what you are reading is a kind of touchstone for other children’s books about the African-American experience in America. Turn to page eight and a reference to the Woodsons connections to Thomas Woodson of Chillicothe leads you directly to Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Page 32 and the trip from North to South and the deep and abiding love for the place evokes The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963. Page 259 and the appearance of The Jackson Five and their Afros relates beautifully to Rita Williams-Garcia’s P.S. Be Eleven. Page 297 and a reference to slaves in New York City conjures up Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. Even Jackie's friend Maria has a story that ties in nicely to Sonia Manzano’s The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano. I even saw threads from Woodson’s past connect to her own books. Her difficulty reading but love of words conjures up Locomotion. Visiting her uncle in jail makes me think of Visiting Day as well as After Tupac and D Foster. And, of course, her personal history brings to mind her Newbery Honor winning picture book Show Way (which, should you wish to do brown girl dreaming in a book club, would make an ideal companion piece).

It’s not just other books either. Writers are advised to write what they know and that their family stories are their history. But when Woodson writes her history she’s broadening her scope. Under her watch her family’s history is America’s history. Woodson’s book manages to tie-in so many moments in African-American history that kids should know about. Segregation, marches, Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. One thing I really appreciated about the book was that it also looked at aspects of some African-American life that I’ve just never seen represented in children’s literature before. Can you honestly name me any other books for kids where the children are Jehovah’s Witnesses? Aside from Tom Angleberger’s The Qwikpick Papers I’m drawing a blank.

The flaws? Well it gets off to a slow start. The first pages didn’t immediately grab me, and I have to hope that if there are any kids out there who read the same way that I do, with my immature 10-year-old brain, that they’ll stick with it. Once the family moves to the South everything definitely picks up. The only other objection I had was that I wanted to know so much more about Jackie’s family after the story had ended. In her Author’s Note she mentions meeting her father again years later. What were the circumstances behind that meeting? Why did it happen? And what did Dell and Hope and Roman go on to do with their lives? Clearly a sequel needs to happen. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this.

I’m just going to get grandiose on you here and say that reading this is basically akin to reading a young person’s version of Song of Solomon. It’s America and its racial history. It’s deeply personal, recounting the journey of one girl towards her eventual vocation and voice. It’s a fictionalized memoir that nonetheless tells greater truths than most of our nonfiction works for kids. It is, to put it plainly, a small work of art. Everyone who reads it will get something different out of it. Everyone who reads it will remember some small detail that spoke to them personally. It’s the book adults will wish they’d read as kids. It’s the book that hundreds of thousands of kids will read and continue to read for decades upon decades upon decades. It’s Woodson’s history and our own. It is amazing.

For ages 9-12.
Profile Image for Dianne.
549 reviews883 followers
January 20, 2015
Really lovely. Woodson looks back at her childhood in a collection of free form "poems," in a stream of consciousness format. This may sound odd, but it is actually very astute. Don't we all remember our childhoods in bits and pieces; a mash-up of scattered events, snatches of conversations, impressions, feelings, scents and sounds? Woodson grows up partly in the south at a time of great social change, which makes this memoir all the more compelling.

A 4.5 for me.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews96k followers
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July 11, 2017
Last year I read Another Brooklyn and was bummed out that I couldn’t really get into it. The writing was amazing but the characters felt distant. Still, I had heard only good things about Brown Girl Dreaming, so I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did! Whatever prevented me from connecting Another Brooklyn was clearly not present in Brown Girl Dreaming. The writing is elegantly simple, making it accessible to readers of every age. Woodson’s vignettes of her childhood growing up during the Civil Rights Movement in New York and South Carolina are powerful and heartfelt. I highly recommend the audiobook, which is narrated by the author.

— Kate Scott


from The Best Books We Read In April 2017: http://bookriot.com/2017/05/01/riot-r...
____________________


This book is getting a lot of attention recently due to some less than favorable situations that occurred at the National Book Awards. However, the one plus side to that has been the fact that so many more people have been exposed to Brown Girl Dreaming. I was not prepared at all for what this book was. I went into it with slight hesitation. I don’t read a lot of middle grade books. I am not extremely comfortable with books written in verse. But everything about this book was perfection. Jacqueline Woodson’s experiences are so real and honest and provide such insight into the life of a young black girl growing up in the South in the 1960s. I have been shoving this book into people’s hands since I’ve read it and I can see myself continuing to do so for a long, long time. -Rincey Abraham

From Best Books of 2014: http://bookriot.com/2014/12/02/riot-r...
Profile Image for Beth.
1,134 reviews109 followers
January 25, 2022
I should start by saying that in the general sense, I'm not a fan of novels written in verse. In this particular case, I think the format doesn't serve the story.

Re: the format - I don't know why this book says what it says in verse. I tend to be picky with free verse. I want conciseness. I want lyricism. I want every word examined, and every line, and every paragraph. And so I kept nitpicking each poem, wondering why it was written the way it was, and if it built on the overall narrative, and whether the story would be better told in prose - perhaps with breaks for the really powerful poetry moments.

Re: the story - brown girl dreaming doesn't strike me as a story. There's no conventional story format, no clear middle or end. And while I don't need an ending tied in a pretty bow, I would like to understand why the book ends where it does. It doesn't seem to be a memoir, either, but rather a series of snapshots taken from childhood. And it seems haphazard because there's no sense of time or of closure.

There is a strong sense of place and purpose. But that's not story.

I don't know that I'm expressing this very well, but I wanted brown girl dreaming to work for me. And it didn't.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,851 reviews34.9k followers
March 10, 2015
A book for All Ages! ....

There is so much more to this 'coming-of-age' memoir .... Its also an historical story which begins in the south during the Civil Rights Movement...
Racial issues were still evident even though the Jim Crow laws had been banished. ...
The story will end in New York City....(the city of dreams and lights)....

Told in verse --The storytelling is beautiful. I didn't think of this book as poetry ....(not in any ordinary sense).
As the author told her story about growing up --carefully constructing the verses -- it read with the same 'page-turning' engagement as a great novel to me.
I soon 'forgot' about her style of writing (I noticed it --it fit --supported the passages she told), but I was most engaged in the actual nitty-gritty of everything she had to 'say'!
I was a little surprised about her religion: Jevhovah Witness (just surprised).

The author does not hold back anything. She seems to spill 'all' about her family life. Her absentee parents -race issues -poverty- sickness- death -incarceration - unplanned pregnancies -learning disabilities
...and my favorite: the authors love for writing.
Even with her own struggles to learn as a child --the author knew she wanted to write!
And...aren't we blessed that she did!

Even though this book *is* for all ages (I enjoyed it very much), I think it 'is' especially an important book for middle school children. This could become a 'classic' read for school children. It covers topics to be discussed -- written with dignity.

and...... Lovely!

Profile Image for Duane.
828 reviews388 followers
September 8, 2015
2014 National Book Award Winner, Young People's Literature.

This is an absolute magnificent piece of writing. But I had doubts when I started it; written in free verse, not necessarily my favorite type of reading, and it's aimed at a very narrow audience, middle grade girls. Don't let any of that stop you, this book can (and should) be read by everyone. The New York Times book reviewer, Veronica Chambers said, "Woodson pitched a big tent when she wrote this". This is a history lesson, told through the eyes of a young girl, what she experienced, what she thought, and how it shaped her life.
Free verse was the perfect way to tell this story. All the poems are short and beautifully written. It was such an easy read and I didn't want it to end. It's hard to find any fault with Brown Girl Dreaming, it's easily the best new book I've read in awhile. Read it, you will love it.
Profile Image for Mari.
698 reviews4,318 followers
February 21, 2020

“The empty swing set reminds us of this--
that bad won't be bad forever,
and what is good can sometimes last
a long, long time.”


This was lovely. It worked as an early childhood memoir and it worked as a memoir told in verse. Somehow, Woodson created something that captured a childlike point of view and simplicity of language that was also beautiful and insightful.

I got pretty emotional a few times while reading this. Anytime you get a reminder of how near in our history the Jim Crow-era was, it's a gut punch. Reading about the moment into which Woodson, currently 57, was born and seeing how it shaped her growing up was fascinating. I also felt a lot for her relationship with her grandfather, for her feeling split between two homes, for her forming a lifelong friendship, and for navigating early schooling and finding her way of learning and her talent.
Profile Image for Trina (Between Chapters).
852 reviews3,761 followers
February 13, 2017
It feels weird to rate the true story of someone's life. This isn't a genre or a format that I'm used to or really enjoy, but it's a great story worth being told. There were many powerful moments about family, race, faith, and discovering her passion for writing. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a memoir told in verse.
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