“How can I explain to anyone that stories are like air to me/ I breathe them in and let them out over and over again.”

woodsonBooks on Tap read  Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir-in-verse, Brown Girl Dreaming ,  on March 5th at Champion Brewery as part of JMRL’s community-wide Same Page initiative. Many of our readers were surprised that the National Book Award winning title was aimed at upper elementary and middle schoolers. We were taken by the descriptive, lyrical writing, and Woodson’s keen observations. She gives the reader rich descriptions with the fewest words, allowing us to generate vivid images  of food, gardens, and the homes she shares with her family. Would a lyrical novel, written in verse, have been easier for Woodson to read as a kid? The book works for all age levels: older readers appreciate the references to events of the 60s and 70s while younger readers encounter them for the first or second time. Woodson alludes to some difficulty in school which made one of our readers ask if this book would have been easier for her to read as a child. 

Woodson begins life in Ohio where her parents live close to her father’s family. While still young, her mother moves the children to her parent’s home in South Carolina. The grandparents raise Woodson and her siblings while her mother is in New York City until they are reunited in Brooklyn. Woodson tries to locate home among these places, detailing the love and support from her maternal family, the Jehovah’s Witness church, the friends she makes in Brooklyn, the Black Panthers she meets and even her seldom seen paternal family, who are descended from the Woodsons of Monticello. Change is constant in her young life, but she generously takes the best part of each, in contrast to other memoirs we’ve read lately which are much more cruel to the author’s family. 

A few of us listened to the audio book, which is read by the author, whose accent reflects neither her South Carolina nor Brooklyn accents. It was interesting to hear the emphasis she put on her poems when read out loud. JMRL will  feature poems from Brown Girl Dreaming during Poem In Your Pocket day on April 23rd. 

More Information:

About the author 

About the book 

Interview with the author 

Other works 

Links mentioned: 

Cale School Poster

MiddleLost poetry

 Books on Tap Information:

  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (April 2)
  • There, There by Tommy Orange (May 7)
  • Clock Dance by Anne Tyler (June 4)

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