Julie Christine's Reviews > Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
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it was amazing
bookshelves: poetry, best-of-2015, bio-autobio-memoir, read-2015, usa-contemporary, young-adult

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.

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Reading Progress

December 11, 2014 – Shelved
December 11, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
January 1, 2015 – Started Reading
January 1, 2015 – Shelved as: poetry
January 2, 2015 –
page 40
11.87% "I don't know if these hands will become \n Malcolm's—raised and fisted\n or Martin's—open and asking\n or James's—curled around a pen.\n I don't know if these hands will be \n Rosa's\n or Ruby's\n gently gloved\n and fiercely folded\n calmly in a lap,\n on a desk,\n around a book,\n ready\n to change the world...\n \n Oh. I love this so much. Please, everyone read this book."
January 4, 2015 –
page 213
63.2% "I don't know how my first composition notebook\n ended up in my hands, long before I could really write\n someone must have known that this\n was all I needed. \n \n My sister thought my standing there\n smiling was crazy\n didn't understand how the smell and feel and sight\n of bright white paper\n could bring me so much joy.\n ____\n \n This may be the book I push into everyone's hands this year. I'm beside myself with wonder."
January 4, 2015 – Shelved as: bio-autobio-memoir
January 4, 2015 – Shelved as: best-of-2015
January 4, 2015 – Shelved as: read-2015
January 4, 2015 – Shelved as: usa-contemporary
January 4, 2015 – Shelved as: young-adult
January 4, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-27 of 27 (27 new)

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Julie Christine My only reading goal this year is to read more poetry. What perfect timing that the library brings me this as my 2015 inaugural read.


Emilia This is on my to-read list. Our school librarian highly recommended this book to me. I love Jacqueline Woodson's work!


Julie Christine Emilia wrote: "This is on my to-read list. Our school librarian highly recommended this book to me. I love Jacqueline Woodson's work!"
Emilia, I loved this so, so much. What else would you recommend of Woodson's (besides, everything :) )?


message 4: by Debbie "DJ" (new) - added it

Debbie "DJ" Just added this myself Julie. Looks like I better stock up on tissue!


message 5: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth i just listened to an interview of Jacqueline Woodson on npr :: http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2...

i loved the interview!


message 6: by Debbie "DJ" (new) - added it

Debbie "DJ" Hey Elizabeth, thanks for posting that. It was great, and I had no idea this book involved her "coming out" as well. I'm so happy I went ahead and bought this book yesterday!


Julie Christine Elizabeth wrote: "i just listened to an interview of Jacqueline Woodson on npr :: http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2...-..."

Elizabeth - it was exactly this interview that made me rush out to read Brown Girl Dreaming! I loved everything Woodson said and how she said it. Swoon. :)


Julie Christine Debbie "DJ" wrote: "Hey Elizabeth, thanks for posting that. It was great, and I had no idea this book involved her "coming out" as well. I'm so happy I went ahead and bought this book yesterday!"
Debbie, I think I might buy a copy of this for my library, as well.


message 9: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Julie wrote: "Elizabeth wrote: "i just listened to an interview of Jacqueline Woodson on npr :: http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2......"

I agree! I listened to the interview twice whilst undertaking a big re-cataloging project at work. I loved everything about the interview.


message 10: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Debbie "DJ" wrote: "Hey Elizabeth, thanks for posting that. It was great, and I had no idea this book involved her "coming out" as well. I'm so happy I went ahead and bought this book yesterday!"

that's wonderful- i look forward to reading it as well. i read a couple of pages before sending it out on its journey to all of our patrons who have it on hold. i really liked what i read.


Emilia Julie, I recommend reading Hush and Coming on Home Soon. Hush is pertinent to current affairs, as an African-American cop is placed under a witness protection program after he testifies against his white co-workers for killing a young African-American boy. His younger daughter narrates the story. Beautifully written!


Julie Christine Emilia wrote: "Julie, I recommend reading Hush and Coming on Home Soon. Hush is pertinent to current affairs, as an African-American cop is placed under a witness protection program after he testifies against his..."
Excellent, Emilia-thank you!


Claire If you're looking for more free verse poetry, I highly recommend Margarita Engle, Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming reminded me of her work. Wonderful.


message 14: by Julie Christine (last edited Jan 09, 2015 06:47AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Julie Christine Claire wrote: "If you're looking for more free verse poetry, I highly recommend Margarita Engle, Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming reminded me of her work. Wonderful."

Perfect, Claire- thank you! Bring on the recommendations!! The Surrender Tree seems perfect, in light of current events.


Claire Good choice Julie! And for a classic, I highly recommend Eugene Onegin if you haven't already read it, it was my surprise read of 2014, having feared it would be inaccessible, and gathered dust for far too many years, I joined a readalong and found it quite brilliant! He's such a cad that Onegin!


Elyse  Walters This was a very highlighted book at the Austin Book festival this year. I read parts of it --but didn't take the time to read it from start to finish -as you did.
Your review is just gorgeous!!!


Julie Christine Claire wrote: "Good choice Julie! And for a classic, I highly recommend Eugene Onegin if you haven't already read it, it was my surprise read of 2014, having feared it would be inaccessible, and gathered dust for..."

I just added it, Claire-more classics, which is also on my Reading To-Do list :) Merci!


Julie Christine Elyse wrote: "This was a very highlighted book at the Austin Book festival this year. I read parts of it --but didn't take the time to read it from start to finish -as you did.
Your review is just gorgeous!!!"

Thank you, Elyse!!


Elyse  Walters Its YOU we are to thank, *Julie* You've made a difference to many! You've made it clear some books just can't be rushed -- The cover is so beautiful --I just had to touch it in the book store --which got me reading --
but I see I need to read the 'entire'.


message 20: by Carol (new)

Carol Flawless review, Julie! You've piqued my interest!


message 21: by Natalie (new)

Natalie Richards This sounds goregeous Julie, just added it :-)


message 22: by iamGamz (new)

iamGamz Julie, I love your review, and am now so excited to read "Brown Girl Dreaming". Like you, I also have the goal of adding more poetry to my reading list. So, thank you for getting me motivated.


Julie Christine Shen wrote: "Julie, I love your review, and am now so excited to read "Brown Girl Dreaming". Like you, I also have the goal of adding more poetry to my reading list. So, thank you for getting me motivated." Oh Shen, thank you! This is such a beautiful book. I'm off to my first poetry workshop in a few weeks and I'm terrified, yet thrilled to learn from one of my favorite poets (Leanne O'Sullivan). What a gift!


Julie Christine Natalie wrote: "This sounds goregeous Julie, just added it :-)" Natalie, I'm so sorry I missed your comment the first time around. I hope you've had a chance to read this lovely book!


Julie Christine Carol wrote: "Flawless review, Julie! You've piqued my interest!" Much belated thank you, Carol!


Julie Christine Elyse wrote: "Its YOU we are to thank, *Julie* You've made a difference to many! You've made it clear some books just can't be rushed -- The cover is so beautiful --I just had to touch it in the book store --w..." And you loved it, Elyse! Makes me so happy!


Angela M Lovely review , Julie.


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