Jacqueline Woodson''s National Book Award and Newbery Honor winner is a powerful memoir that tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.
A President Obama "O" Book Club pick
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.
Includes 7 additional poems, including "Brown Girl Dreaming."
Praise for Jacqueline Woodson:
"Ms. Woodson writes with a sure understanding of the thoughts of young people, offering a poetic, eloquent narrative that is not simply a story . . . but a mature exploration of grown-up issues and self-discovery.”—
The New York Times Book Review
A National Book Award Winner
A Coretta Scott King Award Winner
A Newbery Honor Book
One of TIME MAGAZINE’s 100 Best YA Books of All Time
Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson’s highly lauded collection of free-verse poems about her childhood in New York and South Carolina, has language simple enough to be accessible to tweens and young teenagers and more than enough complexity to engage older readers. The winner of a Newbery Honor, NAACP Image Award, National Book Award and Coretta Scott King Award,
Brown Girl Dreaming presents the story of Woodson’s experiences living with the remnants of Jim Crow during the 1960s and 1970s. The author confronts issues like faith, racism and sexual abuse using the elegant, spare language and powerful imagery she has come to be known for." —
“A radiantly warm memoir.”—
The Washington Post
“Moving and resonant . . . captivating.”—
The Wall Street Journal
“This is a book full of poems that cry out to be learned by heart. These are poems that will, for years to come, be stored in our bloodstream.”—
The New York Times Book Review
“A profoundly moving memoir.”—
San Francisco Chronicle
* “The writer’s passion for stories and storytelling permeates the memoir, explicitly addressed in her early attempts to write books and implicitly conveyed through her sharp images and poignant observations seen through the eyes of a child. Woodson’s ability to listen and glean meaning from what she hears lead to an astute understanding of her surroundings, friends, and family.”—
Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
* “Mesmerizing journey through [Woodson’s] early years. . . . Her perspective on the volatile era in which she grew up is thoughtfully expressed in powerfully effective verse. . . . With exquisite metaphorical verse Woodson weaves a patchwork of her life experience . . . that covers readers with a warmth and sensitivity no child should miss. This should be on every library shelf.”—
School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW
* “Woodson cherishes her memories and shares them with a graceful lyricism; her lovingly wrought vignettes of country and city streets will linger long after the page is turned. For every dreaming girl (and boy) with a pencil in hand (or keyboard) and a story to share.”—
Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW
* “[Woodson’s] memoir in verse is a marvel, as it turns deeply felt remembrances of Woodson’s preadolescent life into art. . . . Her mother cautions her not to write about her family but, happily, many years later, she has and the result is both elegant and eloquent, a haunting book about memory that is itself altogether memorable."—
Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
* “A memoir-in-verse so immediate that readers will feel they are experiencing the author’s childhood right along with her. . . . Most notably of all, perhaps, we trace her development as a nascent writer, from her early, overarching love of stories through her struggles to learn to read through the thrill of her first blank composition book to her realization that ‘words are [her] brilliance.’ The poetry here sings: specific, lyrical, and full of imagery. An extraordinary—indeed brilliant—portrait of a writer as a young girl.”—
The Horn Book, STARRED REVIEW
* “The effect of this confiding and rhythmic memoir is cumulative, as casual references blossom into motifs and characters evolve from quick references to main players. . . . Revealing slices of life, redolent in sight, sound, and emotion. . . . Woodson subtly layers her focus, with history and geography the background, family the middle distance, and her younger self the foreground. . . . Eager readers and budding writers will particularly see themselves in the young protagonist and recognize her reveling in the luxury of the library and unfettered delight in words. . . . A story of the ongoing weaving of a family tapestry, the following of an individual thread through a gorgeous larger fabric, with the tacit implication that we’re all traversing such rich landscapes. It will make young readers consider where their own threads are taking them.”—
The Bulletin of the Center for Children''s Books, STARRED REVIEW
* “Woodson uses clear, evocative language. . . . A beautifully crafted work.”—
Library Media Connection, STARRED REVIEW
Jacqueline Woodson (www.jacquelinewoodson.com) is the recipient of a 2020 MacArthur Fellowship, the 2020 Hans Christian Andersen Award, the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and the 2018 Children’s Literature Legacy Award. She was the 2018–2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and in 2015, she was named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. She received the 2014 National Book Award for her
New York Times bestselling memoir
Brown Girl Dreaming, which was also a recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor, the NAACP Image Award, and a Sibert Honor. She wrote the adult books
Red at the Bone, a
New York Times bestseller, and
Another Brooklyn, a 2016 National Book Award finalist. Born in Columbus, Ohio, Jacqueline grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York, and graduated from college with a B.A. in English. She is the author of dozens of award-winning books for young adults, middle graders, and children; among her many accolades, she is a four-time Newbery Honor winner, a four-time National Book Award finalist, and a three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner. Her books include Coretta Scott King Award winner
Before the Ever After;
New York Times bestsellers
The Day You Begin and
The Other Side,
Each Kindness, Caldecott Honor book
Coming On Home Soon; Newbery Honor winners
Show Way, and
After Tupac and D Foster; and
Miracle''s Boys, which received the
LA Times Book Prize and the Coretta Scott King Award. Jacqueline is also a recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement for her contributions to young adult literature and a two-time winner of the Jane Addams Children''s Book Award. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.
february 12, 1963
I am born on a Tuesday at the University Hospital
a country caught
between Black and White.
I am born not long from the time
or far from the place
my great, great grandparents
worked the deep rich land
dawn till dusk
drank cool water from scooped out gourds
looked up and followed
the sky’s mirrored constellation
I am born as the south explodes,
too many people too many years
enslaved then emancipated
but not free, the people
who look like me
and getting killed
so that today—
February 12, 1963
and every day from this moment on,
brown children, like me, can grow up
free. Can grow up
learning and voting and walking and riding
wherever we want.
I am born in Ohio but
the stories of South Carolina already run
through my veins.
second daughter’s second day on earth
My birth certificate says: Female Negro
Mother: Mary Anne Irby, 22, Negro
Father: Jack Austin Woodson, 25, Negro
In Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr.
is planning a march on Washington, where
John F. Kennedy is president.
In Harlem, Malcolm X is standing on a soapbox
talking about a revolution.
Outside the window of University Hospital,
snow is slowly falling. So much already
covers this vast Ohio ground.
In Montgomery, only seven years have passed
since Rosa Parks refused
to give up
her seat on a city bus.
I am born brown-skinned, black-haired
I am born Negro here and Colored there
and somewhere else,
the Freedom Singers have linked arms,
their protests rising into song:
Deep in my heart, I do believe
that we shall overcome someday.
and somewhere else, James Baldwin
is writing about injustice, each novel,
each essay, changing the world.
I do not yet know who I’ll be
what I’ll say
how I’ll say it . . .
Not even three years have passed since a brown girl
named Ruby Bridges
walked into an all-white school.
Armed guards surrounded her while hundreds
of white people spat and called her names.
She was six years old.
I do not know if I’ll be strong like Ruby.
I do not know what the world will look like
when I am finally able to walk, speak, write . . .
the nurse says to my mother.
Already, I am being named for this place.
Ohio. The Buckeye State.
My fingers curl into fists, automatically
This is the way,
my mother said,
of every baby’s hand.
I do not know if these hands will become
Malcolm’s—raised and fisted
or Martin’s—open and asking
or James’s—curled around a pen.
I do not know if these hands will be
and fiercely folded
calmly in a lap,
on a desk,
around a book,
to change the world . . .
it’ll be scary sometimes
My great-great-grandfather on my father’s side
was born free in Ohio,
Built his home and farmed his land,
then dug for coal when the farming
wasn’t enough. Fought hard
in the war. His name in stone now
on the Civil War Memorial:
William J. Woodson
United States Colored Troops,
Union, Company B 5th Regt.
A long time dead but living still
among the other soldiers
on that monument in Washington, D.C.
His son was sent to Nelsonville
lived with an aunt
the only brown boy in an all-white school.
You’ll face this in your life someday,
my mother will tell us
over and over again.
A moment when you walk into a room and
no one there is like you.
It’ll be scary sometimes. But think of William Woodson
and you’ll be all right.
I cannot write a word yet but at three,
I now know the letter
love the way it curves into a hook
that I carefully top with a straight hat
the way my sister has taught me to do. Love
the sound of the letter and the promise
that one day this will be connected to a full name,
that I will be able to write
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
Saturday night smells of biscuits and burning hair.
Supper done and my grandmother has transformed
the kitchen into a beauty shop. Laid across the table
is the hot comb, Dixie Peach hair grease,
horsehair brush, parting stick
and one girl at a time.
Jackie first, my sister says,
our freshly washed hair damp
and spiraling over toweled shoulders
and pale cotton nightgowns.
She opens her book to the marked page,
curls up in a chair pulled close
to the wood-burning stove, bowl of peanuts in her lap.
in her books are so small, I have to squint
to see the letters.
Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates.
The House at Pooh Corner. Swiss Family Robinson.
dog-eared from the handing down from neighbor
to neighbor. My sister handles them gently,
marks the pages with torn brown pieces
of paper bag, wipes her hands before going
beyond the hardbound covers.
Read to me, I say, my eyes and scalp already stinging
from the tug of the brush through my hair.
And while my grandmother sets the hot comb
on the flame, heats it just enough to pull
my tight curls straighter, my sister’s voice
wafts over the kitchen,
past the smell of hair and oil and flame, settles
like a hand on my shoulder and holds me there.
I want silver skates like Hans’s, a place
on a desert island. I have never seen the ocean
but this, too, I can imagine—blue water pouring
over red dirt.
As my sister reads, the pictures begin forming
as though someone has turned on a television,
lowered the sound,
pulled it up close.
Grainy black-and-white pictures come slowly at me
Deep. Infinite. Remembered
On a bright December morning long ago . . .
My sister’s clear soft voice opens up the world to me.
I lean in
so hungry for it.
Hold still now, my grandmother warns.
So I sit on my hands to keep my mind
off my hurting head, and my whole body still.
But the rest of me is already leaving,
the rest of me is already gone.
the butterfly poems
No one believes me when I tell them
I am writing a book about butterflies,
even though they see me with the
heavy on my lap opened to the pages where
the monarch, painted lady, giant swallowtail and
queen butterflies live. Even one called a buckeye.
When I write the first words
Wings of a butterfly whisper . . .
no one believes a whole book could ever come
from something as simple as
don’t even, my brother says,
live that long.
But on paper, things can live forever.
On paper, a butterfly