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.
I picked up this book because I fell in love with Woodson’s story in Flying Lessons and Other Stories called Main Street. The narrative in Main Street was achingly beautiful, nostalgic, and poignant, and so on a whim, I picked up Brown Girl Dreaming at my library without so much as a glance at what it was about – just in time for Black History Month too.
Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir told in verse. Not only is this narrative style unique, it was utterly spectacular. In a series of poems, Woodson interweaves emotion with words thus creating a powerful but down-to-earth story of Woodson’s life of growing up between South Carolina and New York. Though some poems moved me more than others, it was an wondrous feeling to be so immersed in Woodson’s life. The senses come alive while reading Brown Girl Dreaming – I haven’t read poetry so compelling before.
I didn’t just appear one day.
I didn’t just wake up and know how to write my name.
I keep writing, knowing now
that I was a long time coming.
Over the course of the memoir, Woodson’s vivid poems draw attention to a variety of themes, specifically family, race, religion, and the Civil Rights movement that crescendos in her youth. Though the contents of this exploration were wonderful – and best discovered and read first-hand – what truly stands out is Woodson’s outstanding ability to capture memory and moments in time. There was a dreamlike quality to her writing, without it being fantastical or detached. Above all, however, is that Brown Girl Dreaming is told in such a way that everything felt so raw, bearing the significance of each moment (even if it’s told in retrospect) and making each turning point in Woodson’s life feel almost tangible.
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.
However, the thing I really connected to in Brown Girl Dreaming was how Woodson masterfully captured the perspective of a child growing up. A particularly memorable part is when Woodson contemplates the conflict about religion within her family, finding her passion in writing, and also the Civil Rights movement. Though the narrative explores these through the eyes of the child, such explorations were not diminished or simplified in any way. Woodson perfectly demonstrates the wisdom of children, and how the worlds of adults and perceptions of a younger mind can have the power to shape an individual and how they find their place in this world. More so, as readers we come to understand how Woodson understood the movement, how she grows to understand it, and what it would later mean to her.
Brown Girl Dreaming is a powerful and important contribution to children’s books, perfect for everyone of all ages – even adults! – and especially for younger kids. With stunning imagery and emotionally charged poems, Woodson has crafted a stunning book that is brimming with personal history, feeling, and memory.
Book Name: Brown Girl Dreaming
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
I don’t often read poetry, but this was such a delight! If you’re able to read this via audiobook, I highly recommend it! It is read by Woodson herself, and it just felt so… much more powerful, you know?
- Have you read Brown Girl Dreaming? If so, what are your thoughts on the book?
- Have you read a book that was a memoir told in verse or through poetry?
- What did you read for Black History Month?