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A New York Times Bestseller and National Book Award Winner
Jacqueline Woodson, one of today's finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing 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.
A Newbery Honor Book
A Coretta Scott King Award Winner
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
About the Author
Jacqueline Woodson (www.jacquelinewoodson.com) is the winner of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults, the recipient of three Newbery Honors for After Tupac and D Foster, Feathers and Show Way, and a two-time finalist for the National Book Award for Locomotion and Hush. Other awards include the Coretta Scott King Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Miracle's Boys. Her most recent books are her novel Beneath a Meth Moon and her picture books Each Kindness and This Is the Rope. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.
Read an Excerpt
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 where my great, great grandparents worked the deep rich land unfree dawn till dusk unpaid drank cool water from scooped out gourds looked up and followed the sky’s mirrored constellation to freedom.
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 keep fighting and marching 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 like rivers 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
William Woodson 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 J
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.
The words 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.
Thick books 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 Childcraft encyclopedia 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 butterflies that don’t even, my brother says,
live that long.
But on paper, things can live forever.
On paper, a butterfly never dies.
Table of Contents
Family Tree 8
Part I I Am Born 13
Part II The Stories of South Carolina Run Like Rivers 59
Part III Followed the Sky's Mirrored Constellation to Freedom 171
Part IV Deep in my Heart, I D Believe 249
Part V Ready to Change the World 345
Author's Note 391
Family Photos 398
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Can I give this more than 5 stars? I fell in love with this book. I teach 8th grade at an all girls' public school and I cannot wait to order 115 copies. This is a book that every brown girl should read. You will LOVE this book. It' inspired me as a woman, teacher and brown girl that's all grown up now.
It’s like a soft blanket, the voice of Morgan Freeman reading out loud to me, the purring of a kitten, Woodson words were warm and heartfelt as I read Brown Girl Dreaming, not wanting to put the book down. The words just flowing along like a babbling brook even though the text itself is not tranquil, it is the way the author strings the words together that brought harmony to its composition. Written in verse, Jacqueline tells her families story. Her father is content and determined to maintain his Northern upbringing while her mother loves the South. There is conflict among the parents but in the end, mother returns to her childhood home with the children. The South, the home is surrounded with love, laughter, restrictions and family. Shared with their grandparents, the privilege of massaging grandmother’s feet after she returns from daywork, put smiles on my face. The children’s anticipation of her stories, the author created this beautiful picture of this loving exchange between the generations. Mother wants to create her own home and heads North, the children staying with the grandparents where they influence the children more as the South engrains more into their minds. Jacqueline honesty and the ability to see the world through her eyes has me laughing and smiling as she sees and says things firsthand. It’s a story only Jacqueline can tell, for if anyone else were to tell the same story, it would not have the same effect. It’s a fantastic book, definitely worth reading once, twice or many times. “Our mama shushes us, says, It’s too late for presents and the like. But we want presents and the like. “ (their Uncle Robert came to see them) “And when we are called by our names my grandmother makes them all one HopeDellJackie but my grandfather takes his own sweet time, saying each as if he has all day long or a whole lifetime.”
Telling the story of Jacqueline Woodson’s childhood, beginning in Ohio, then living in the South in the middle of the Civil Rights movement and ultimately ending up in New York City, the city of dreams and light. Beautifully told in verse, Woodson’s story shares their triumphs of life and love of family. It’s really a love letter to her family, whether it be good or bad, and a snapshot of her childhood life. Woodson doesn’t hold any punches in her writings. She discusses without sugarcoating her religious upbringing in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, her absentee father, her unwed mother and the surprise of a younger half white sibling and what his arrival meant to her family. Jackie’s time in the South is marked by sit-ins, black’s only restrooms, and the trying times her family endures when fighting for their own rights in this controversial period of American history. Gorgeously written, Woodson’s story speaks to the human experience. Covering such taboo topics as religion, race, poverty, education, incarceration, death, sickness, unplanned pregnancies, learning disabilities, absentee parents and growing up. This story is so much more than a coming of age novel, it’s a historical document testifying to our past and giving us hope for our future.
I picked this book up because it met a reading challenge category and I glanced at the first page, curious but not ready to read it since I was already reading another book, and suddenly I'd read the entire book. Beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring, family, friendship, love, child-curiosity... a memoir written in free verse that moves you through Jaqueline's life filling you with every emotion. The second I finished reading it I turned back to the first page wanting to read it again to not miss a single beautiful word.
I liked this better than Another Brooklyn, but I also liked having the knowledge of that book when reading this one. I'm eager to discuss it with the Book Love Summer Book Club. There are a lot of beautiful and heartbreaking poems here. It was also really nice to have the knowledge I gained from hearing Woodson speak at NCTE this year. One of the things she talked about was understanding the culture of the things you read-- listening to the music and looking up the unfamiliar plants or technology or what-have-you. To help really immerse yourself in what you're learning about.
Jacqueline's early childhood told in verse form. Each poem is a vignette is a memory of someone or her as see leaves Greenville and Ohio and moves to New York City. It tells of the changes to her and her family. I enjoyed it. I felt I knew these people.
Beautiful and powerful and heartfelt. This book is just incredible.
Totes should read it i am9 i reckmond this book to any ont E. Totes by call me boy.
I loved everything about this book. The poems cover a wide array of emotions. The historical context adds some richness as well.
A emotional amazing book. You read with your eyes but some how this book finds its way to your heart. You will not put down this book once you pick it up. Nothing is as powerful as a book can make you feel, and in that case this is one of the most powerful books ever. For all ages. A laugh cry book. Out of my Mind.
This book is great if our dedicated i presonally loved the entire thing you shod read this book if your up for some tears or should i say alot
Brown Girl Dreaming is Jacqueline Woodson’s autobiography and she tells it in a poetic prose and free-verse style. I read it in a couple of sittings and could not put it down until I got the whole story. She shares her rich legacy and her life which started in Ohio, moved to the sunny south landscape of South Carolina and later into New York’s Brooklyn. She acknowledges that her timely birth in 1963 put her in the midst of many historic events that affected our country and consequently, her life. She finds her voice through writing as she witnesses the loss of loved ones; separation of parents and moving from state to state. For lovers of Woodson’s works, this book offers great insight into what shaped this prolific writer, whose books span across several genres.
Fascinating life, told in verse. I would love to use this as a read aloud for my students.
This book and the poems within had me go through a myriad of emotions. I laughed, cried, I was hopeful and saddened...at the end, I wanted more.
This book is simply exquisite! I've read many books that have won awards and have scratched my head and wondered "why?. This book deserves every literary award there is.
This is such a good book.i loved it it is such a embracing book.it really is such a open poetry book.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I just enjoyed this book! Niclely written, really put me right within the pages.
The book was not was I expected. However, I think this would be excellent for a young reader. Overall I greatly enjoyed her story and way of writing.
I believe this book is more for teens than anyone under the age of 12. I had to read this for school and stopped reading it because there were things in this book that I did not feel comfortable reading. A girl was being raped and they talked about sex.
I struggled to finish this book! Can't imagine why it would appeal to the age group it was intended for. I finished reading it only because of book club!
Kiss your hand and post this on three other books and an iphone five wio