Brown Girl Dreaming is the autobiographical memoir of Jacqueline Woodson’s childhood. It has racked up an astounding four awards!!! National Book Award, Coretta Scott King Award, Newbery Honor Book, and Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award. Not too shabby! This review, unfortunately, does put a few smudges on all those beautiful accolades.
Written in verse, we travel with Jackie from her early childhood in Columbus, Ohio, to live with her grandparents in the Nicholtown neighborhood in Greenville, South Carolina, to her final home in Brooklyn, New York. Young Jacqueline is keenly aware that she is unlike others in her family and searches for the thing that fits her just right.
What children will like about it:
This is a story that young girls will be drawn to. They will identify with Jackie as she struggles with knowing her place in her family and overcoming the challenges she faced with reading. Though the book is thick, there is a lot of white space on the pages making it friendly to reluctant readers. Jackie also faces very difficult events in her life that children will either relate to from their own histories, or draw closer to Jackie as they sympathize with her. The historical backdrop is a character in itself. While set against intense civil right battles, the personal perspective was a safe distance from some of the pivotal events, but the reader sits on edge knowing that something could happen. The young reader will feel anger, sadness, satisfaction, worry, pride, and strength while turning these pages.
Through a writer’s eyes
The language was a cozy blanket on a rainy day. Vivid word pictures, deep emotion, tight and succinct, only wordy on purpose and on occasion. The house in Nicholtown felt like home to me and I melted into Grandma Georgiana’s kitchen. Daddy’s song as he sauntered home and his breath being squeezed away by emphysema, or the like, made him the most concrete character to me. It made me want to be a child sitting on the porch with him, listening to him sing.
The story is subtle. Jackie’s journey as she finds her way through her struggle as a reader to grow into a writer is very relatable. However, the story took a back seat to the poetry. Keeping in mind this is a memoir, the plot was not thick with turns and twists, but it was deeply personal. The voice sounds like an adult remembering her youth, which is what it is, but it would be stronger if it sounded like a young girl. This is tricky when writing in verse. Poetry is inherently more mature, to turn the voice youthful is challenging.
Nonetheless, I was mesmerized by this story and glad it was one that was written. I will leave you with one of my favorite parts of the book, it comes from the poem “The Ghosts of the Nelsonville House.”
Look closely. There I am
in the furrow of Jack’s brow,
in the slyness of Alicia’s smile,
in the bend of Grace’s hand . . .
There I am . . .
Visit Ms. Woodson here to learn more about her.