Saturday, January 10, 2015

Brown Girl Dreaming (Jacqueline Woodson)

I learned about this book from a Nerdy Book Club post by Donalyn Miller. I've seen a lot of tweets about it as well. It seemed like a book that I needed to carve out some special time for. I was fascinated that the entire book is written in verse. How weird could that be? It wasn't weird. It was beautiful and had magic. As Donalyn Miller said, "Jackie catches words, blows on them, and floats them on to me." 

I wanted this book to go on forever. I tend to be a fast reader. This book made me want to slow down and savor every word. Seriously.

Goodreads Summary:

Jacqueline Woodson, one of today's finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.  A novel in verse. 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 got this book from the library and must apologize to the librarian for all the pages I had to turn down. They were the pages I just couldn't quite let go of yet.

I loved the image this stirs.
p. 131 sometimes, no words are needed
Deep winter and the night air is cold. So still,
it feels like the world goes on forever in the darkness
until you look up and the earth stops
in a ceiling of stars. My head against
my grandfather's arm,
is a blanket around us as we sit on the front porch swing.
Its whine like a song.

You don't need words 
on a night like this. Just the warmth
of your grandfather's arm. Just the silent promise
That the world as we know it
will always be here.

I hope I can help all my students feel like this about school:
p. 158 first grade
My hand inside my sister's hand,
We walk the two blocks fo P.s. 106 - 
I am six years old and
my sister tells me our school was once a castle.
I believe her. The school stretches for a full city block.
marble stairs wind their way to classrooms filled
with dark wood desks
nailed down to dark wood floors polished to a high
and beautiful shine.

I am in love with everything around me,
the dotted white lines moving
across my teacher's blackboard, the smell of chalk,
the flag jutting out from the wall and slowly swaying 
above me.

There is nothing more beautiful than P.s. 106.
Nothing more perfect than my first-grade classroom.
No one more kind than Ms. Feidler, who meets me
at the door each morning,
takes my hand from my sister's, smiles down and says,
Now that Jacqueline is here, the day can finally begin.

And I believe her.
Yes. I truly believe her.

Jacqueline Woodson is a Jehovah's Witness and that plays a role in the story. It was a unique view into a religion I really don't understand.
p. 162 flag
When the kids in my class ask why
I am not allowed to pledge to the flag
I tell them It's against my religion but I don't say,
I am in the world but not of the world. This,
they would not understand.
Even though my mother's not a Jehovah's Witness,
she makes us follow their rules and
leave the classroom when the pledge is being said.

Every morning, I walk out with Gina and Alina
the two other Witnesses in my class.
Sometimes, Gina says,
Maybe we should pray for the kids inside
who don't know that God said
"No other idols before me." That our God
is a jealous God.
Gina is a true believer. Her Bible open
during reading time. But Alina and I walk through
our roles as Witnesses as though this is the part
we've been given in a play
and once offstage, we run free, sing
"America the Beautiful" and "The Star-Spangled Banner"
far away from our families - knowing every word.

Alina and I want
more than anything to walk back into our classroom
press our hands against our hearts, Say,
"I pledge allegiance..." loud
without our jealous God looking down on us.
  Without our parents finding out.
Without our mothers' voices
in our heads saying, You are different.

When the pledge is over, we walk single file
back into the classroom, take our separate seats
Alina and I far away from Gina. But Gina
always looks back at us - as if to say,
I'm watching you. As if to say,
I know.

Jacqueline also struggles with comparing herself to her brilliant sister:
p. 169 gifted
Everyone knows my sister
is brilliant. The letters come home folded neatly
inside official-looking envelopes that my sister proudly
hands over to my mother.
Odella has achieved
Odella has excelled at
Odella has been recommended to
Odella's outstanding performance in

She is gifted
we are told
And I imagine presents surrounding her.

I am not gifted. 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.

I was really taken by her ability to describe her difficulties with reading.
p. 226 reading
I am not my sister.
Words from the books curl around each other
make little sense
I read them again
and again, the story
settling into memory. Too slow
the 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.

I know this story! It's called Stevie. 
p. 227 stevie and me
Every Monday my mother takes us
to the library around the corner. We are allowed
to take out seven books each. One those days,
no one complains
that all I want are picture books.

These days no one tells me to read faster
to read harder books
to read like Dell

No one is there to say, Not that book,
when I stop in front of the small paperback 
with a brown boy on the cover.

I read:
One day my momma told me,
"You know you're gonna have
a little friend come stay with you."
And I said, "Who is it?"

If someone had been fussing with me
to read like my sister, I might have missed
the picture book filled with brown people, more
brown people than I'd ever seen
In a book before.

The little boy's name was Steven but 
his mother kept calling him Stevie.
My name is Robert but my momma don't

call me Robertie.

If someone had taken
that book out of my hand
said, You're too old for this
I'd never have believed
that someone who looked like me
could be in the pages of the book
that someone who looked like me
had a story.

One fascinating part of the story was the aftermath of segregation. During her time as a child there wasn't segregation, well, sort of. I wish I was more like Jacqueline Woodson when it comes to change. I'm a little more like the grandma sometimes though, a little afraid to step out. And when I do step out, I do it pretty quietly. I don't like that about myself.
p. 237 what everybody knows now

Even though the laws have changed
my grandmother still takes us
to the back of the bus when we go downtown
in the rain. It's easier, my grandmother says,
than having white folks look at me like I'm dirt.

But we aren't dirt. We are people
paying the same fare as other people.
When I say this to my grandmother,
she nods, says, Easier to stay where you belong.

I look around and see the ones
who walk straight to the back. See
the ones who take a seat up front, daring
anyone to make them move. And know
this is who I want to be. Not scared
like that. Brave
like that.

Still, my grandmother takes my hand downtown
pulls me right past the restaurants that have to let us sit
wherever we want now. No need in making trouble
she says.  You'll all go back to New York City but
I have to live here.

We walk straight past Woolworth's
without even looking in the windows
because the one time my grandmother went inside
they made her wait and wait. Acted like
I wasn't even there. It's hard not to see the moment - 
my grandmother in her Sunday clothes, a hat
with a flower pinned to it
neatly on her head, her patent-leather purse,
perfectly clasped
between her gloved hands - waiting quietly
long past her turn.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a beautiful, beautiful book. I'll look for that one. :)