brown girl dreaming
"Name a girl Jack
And people will look at her twice, my father said.
For no good reason but to ask if her parents,
Were crazy, my mother said."
I adore works by Jacqueline Woodson--both her poignant picture
books and her offerings for older readers. She combines settings many
young readers would have no access to with the most universal of
feelings to bring readers to walk in the shoes of children many would
not be allowed to play or hang out with in real life. Through her
words they can visit a parent in prison or be separated from a beloved
sibling through separate foster care placements. So when I saw her
autobiography told in free verse on a shelf in Orono Public Library I
snapped it up faster that I grabbed my candy bag at the volunteer
Not surprisingly Woodson's life was anything but orthodox from
the very beginning as evidenced in the above quote where her parents
quarrel about what to write on her birth certificate. Her mother
agreed on Jackie but wrote Jacqueline after her father left the
hospital. The family was living in Ohio then, a place where her
father's family had worked their way into prosperity. Her mother's
roots remained attached in the Southern soil of Greenville a place she
returned to yearly with her children, a place she took them to settle
in after her final fight with her husband.
South Carolina was at that time a place where Jim Crow laws and
attitudes hung on to the bitter end and black women bussed cross town
to be maids for white families. For a young child, though, it was a
place of belonging, of roots and extended family, of a grandmother's
Bible stories, of trips with a grandmother to a candy lady's house, of
garden seeds planted carefully by loving hands. It was a place where,
ironically, her mother switched her children when they lapsed into
It was not where Woodson would spend her whole life forever.
Just before she was about to start school her mother moved the family
including a new baby brother to New York. It was a place where the
children would stand out as different, not only for their newness to
the North, but for their strict adherence to their Jehovah's Witness
ways. It was a place where Woodson struggled with school and dreamed
of becoming a writer.
Just as she does with her fiction, Woodson picks the perfect
details to create a tangible sense of time and place. Whether you are
a fan of hers or just want a most excellent coming of age story, you
will not be able to put down brown girl dreaming. Anyone like me who
has struggled to find her place in the world will discover in Woodson
a kindred spirit.
On a personal note, I so enjoyed the dear carnival that was up to the
University last week. It was the second year. There were all kinds
of games including my favorite, the tricycle races. There was a place
to make stress bags out of cloth and rice. And there was all kinds of
food: fruit, cupcakes, popcorn, cotton candy. Just so much fun. It
was a great stress buster for students heading into the final stretch
of school semester.
A great big shout out goes out to all who worked dilligently to make
this special event happen.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod