Thursday, January 1, 2015

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson -- savoring memory, family and dreams (ages 9-14)

I am filled with love and hope as we step foot into the new year. I spent the day going on a beautiful walk in the crisp sunshine and then rereading my favorite book of the past year: Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson.
If you have a thoughtful, contemplative child in your life, seek out this book. If you want savor the richness of memory, family and dreams, seek out this book. If you want to revel in the beauty of language, by all means seek out this book.
Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2014
winner of 2014 National Book Award for Young People
Your local library
ages 9-14
*best new book*
Woodson has long been one of my favorite writers, drawing readers into emotionally powerful stories. Here she digs deep into her own childhood, writing in free verse to capture the images and feelings that come with those memories. Her language is rich in metaphor and imagery, exploring the way memories stay with us.
"My grandmother tells us all this
as we sit at her feet, each story like a photograph
we can look right into." 
As I read Woodson's memoir, I'm filled with the love for my own grandfather. Even though he was so very different than Woodson's grandfather, the strength of her memories evoke my own remembrances. I feel "the weight of our grandparents' love like a blanket with us beneath it, safe and warm."

But most of all, I love reading how Woodson talks about her dream of becoming a writer, her realization that words and stories are her special gift: "songs and stories and whole new worlds tucking themselves into my memory." Woodson excels at conveying her particular memories, but also connecting her life to a universal experience.
"How can I explain to anyone that stories
are like air to me,
I breathe them in and let them out
over and over again."
When I first read Brown Girl Dreaming last spring, I wondered how children would respond to it: Was this more of a book that adults would appreciate? Will children relate to her journey? Throughout the fall, I've watched it light a spark in students. It isn't the book for every child, but it is a truly special book for those it reaches. I just wish you could have seen two fourth graders who read it together and gushed how they see themselves in Woodson's words.

I am excited that my students have nominated Brown Girl Dreaming for our Emerson 2015 Mock Newbery. It will be fascinating to hear our passionate readers talk about what this book meant to them, whether they see Woodson's writing as distinguished and how it compares to other books they've read this year.

Teachers will also love using excerpts to inspire their students' own writing. Here are two of my favorite images:
"The empty swing set reminds us of this--
that what is bad won't be bad forever,
and what is good can sometimes last
a long, long time.

Even Coraandhersisters can only bother us
for a little while before they get called home
to supper."
"When I read, the words twist
twirl across the page.
When they settle, it is too late.
The class has already moved on.

I want to catch words one day. I want to hold them
then blow gently,
watch them float
right out of my hands."
Please share this exceptional book with children who want to savor language, revel in memories and dream of being a writer.

Here are some interviews with Jacqueline Woodson I have especially loved reading, watching and listening to:
The review copy came from my personal library. I have already purchased several copies, although the first review copy was kindly sent by the publisher Nancy Paulsen and Penguin Books for Young Readers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. You reminded me all over how much I loved this book. I want to go back and soak up the language again. So beautiful. So powerful. So evocative.

    1. Dalila, I'm so glad this reminded you of the beauty of Woodson's words -- I loved reading her book again. Just as evocative the second time.

  2. Mary Ann, I JUST read this book last week---and did it one night through 'til 3:30am. I could NOT put it down! The voice and the beauty of the language, and of course the story (memoir) itself was so engaging and moving. Just loved it! :D

    1. Wasn't it compelling? I'm so glad it's reaching so many people. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your love for it.