In Short: A memoir written in free verse, Woodson looks back on her childhood growing up in Ohio, South Carolina, and New York during the 60s and 70s.
Why I Read/Listened: Brown Girl Dreaming has received so much praise since it’s initial release. I opted for a combination of audio and ebook and was glad to take in both methods. I pushed up my reading of Brown Girl Dreaming for Aarti’s #Diversiverse event.
Thoughts in General: I can’t remember the last time I read a book written in verse, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Brown Girl Dreaming. Don’t worry–while the writing itself is lyrical, this verse is anything but stuffy or difficult to get into. Which I guess makes sense given the target audience of young adults/middle grade.
What will you find in Brown Girl Dreaming? A little bit of everything–Woodson writes a lot about her family, about her experiences growing up in the north and the south–the differences between the two, her faith and childhood involvement as a Jehovah’s Witness, the other kids on her block, her desire to find the words to become a writer.
There are serious chapters–many involving the Civil Rights movement, but there are also chapters that highlight that Woodson was simply a girl–who wanted her hair done a certain way or wanted to listen to fun(ky) music on the radio. There were bits that made me smile and reminisce over my own childhood antics, and there were other bits that made me fume at the way that race is treated (still) in our nation.
Some Bits I Liked: (the / symbolize line breaks, though some might be off due to my ebook)
On being chided for not wanting to share with the other neighborhood children: “But our hearts aren’t bigger than that. / Our hearts are tiny and mad. / If our hearts were hands, they’d hit. / If our hearts were feet, they’d surely kick somebody!”
On finding a library book with brown people: “If someone had taken / that book out of my hand / said, You’re too old for this / maybe / 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.”
On writing her name: “Love the sound of the letter and the promise / that one day this will be connected to a full name, / my own / that I will be able to write / by myself. / Without my sister’s hand over mine, / making it do what I cannot yet do. / How amazing these words are that slowly come to me. / How wonderfully on and on they go. Will the words end, I ask / whenever I remember to. / Nope, my sister says, all of five years old now, / and promising me / infinity.”
Bottom Line: Read it! Listen to it! Share it! It will make you think back to your own childhood but at the same time allow you to envision some of the experiences of a young African American girl growing up in such a volatile moment in history.
Notes on the Audio: While I didn’t love Woodson’s voice as I might other narrators, there was a certain impact that listening to her read her own poems provided to the experience. Normally I can either recommend listening to or reading a book, but in this instance I recommend doing both. It’s short, so why not?
Have you read Brown Girl Dreaming? Have you read other books written in verse that you’d recommend?