Jacqueline Woodson is the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature
View our feature on Jacqueline Woodson's Feathers.
“Hope is the thing with feathers” starts the poem Frannie is reading in school. Frannie hasn’t thought much about hope. There are so many other things to think about. Each day, her friend Samantha seems a bit more “holy.” There is a new boy in class everyone is calling the Jesus Boy. And although the new boy looks like a white kid, he says he’s not white. Who is he?
During a winter full of surprises, good and bad, Frannie starts seeing a lot of things in a new light—her brother Sean’s deafness, her mother’s fear, the class bully’s anger, her best friend’s faith and her own desire for “the thing with feathers.”
Jacqueline Woodson once again takes readers on a journey into a young girl’s heart and reveals the pain and the joy of learning to look beneath the surface.
About the Author
Jacqueline Woodson (www.jacquelinewoodson.com) is the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and she received the 2018 Children's Literature Legacy Award. She is the 2014 National Book Award Winner for her New York Times bestselling memoir BROWN GIRL DREAMING, which was also a recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor Award, the NAACP Image Award and the Sibert Honor Award. Woodson was recently named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. Her recent adult book, Another Brooklyn, was a National Book Award finalist. Born on February 12th in Columbus, Ohio, Jacqueline Woodson 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 more than two dozen 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 two-time Coretta Scott King Award winner. Her books include THE OTHER SIDE, EACH KINDNESS, Caldecott Honor Book COMING ON HOME SOON; Newbery Honor winners FEATHERS, 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 and was adapted into a miniseries directed by Spike Lee. Jacqueline is also the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement for her contributions to young adult literature, the winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and was the 2013 United States nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.
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An Exciting Preview of: Brown Girl Dreaming
An Exciting Preview of: Peace, Locomotion
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Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul,
His coming into our classroom that morning was the only new thing. Everything else was the same way it’d always been. The snow coming down. Ms. Johnson looking out the window, then after a moment, nodding. The class cheering because she was going to let us go out into the school yard at lunchtime.
It had been that way for days and days.
And then, just before the lunch bell rang, he walked into our classroom.
Stepped through that door white and softly as the snow.
The class got quiet and the boy reached into his pocket and pulled something out. A note for you, Ms. Johnson, the boy said. And the way his voice sounded, all new and soft in the room, made most of the class laugh out loud.
But Ms. Johnson gave us a look and the class got quiet.
Now isn’t this the strangest thing, I thought, watching the boy.
Just that morning I’d been thinking about the year I’d missed a whole month of school, showing up in late October after everybody had already buddied up. I’d woken up with that thought and, all morning long, hadn’t been able to shake it.
The boy was pale and his hair was long—almost to his back. And curly—like my own brother’s hair but Mama would never let Sean’s hair grow that long. I sat at my desk, staring at his hair, wondering what a kid like that was doing in our school—with that long, curly hair and white skin and all.
And he was skinny too. Tall and skinny with white, white hands hanging down below his coat sleeves. Skinny white neck showing above his collar. Brown corduroy bell-bottoms like the ones I was wearing. Not a pair of gloves in sight, just a beat-up dark green book bag that looked like it had a million things in it hanging heavy from his shoulder.
Ms. Johnson said, “Welcome to our sixth-grade classroom,” and the boy looked up at her and smiled.
Trevor was sitting in the row in front of me, and when the boy smiled, he coughed but the cough was trying to cover up a word that we weren’t allowed to say. Ms. Johnson shot him a look and Trevor just shrugged and tapped his pencil on his desk like he was tapping out a beat in his head. The boy looked at Trevor and Trevor coughed the word again but softer this time. Still, Ms. Johnson heard it.
“You have one more chance, Mr. Trevor,” Ms. Johnson said, opening her attendance book and writing something in it with her red pen. Trevor glared at the boy but didn’t say the word again. The boy stared back at him—his face pale and calm and quiet. I had never seen such a calm look on a kid. Grown-ups could look that way sometimes, but not the kids I knew. The boy’s eyes moved slowly around the classroom but his head stayed still. It felt like he was seeing all of us, taking us in and figuring us out. When his eyes got to me, I made a face, but he just smiled a tiny, calm smile and then his eyes moved on.
I looked down at my notebook. Beneath my name, I had written the date—Wednesday, January 6, 1971. The day before, Ms. Johnson had read us a poem about hope getting inside you and never stopping. I had written that part of the poem down—Hope is the thing with feathers—because I had loved the sound of it. Loved the way the words seemed to float across my notebook.
When I told Mama about the poem, she’d said, Welcome to the seventies, Frannie. Sounds like Ms. Johnson’s trying to tell you all something about looking forward instead of back all the time. I just stared at Mama. The poem was about hope and how hope had these feathers on it. It didn’t have a single thing to do with looking forward or back or even sideways. But then Sean came home and I told him about the poem and the crazy thing Mama had said. Sean smiled and shook his head. You’re a fool, he signed to me. The word doesn’t have feathers. It’s a metaphor. Don’t you learn anything at Price?
So maybe the seventies is the thing with feathers. Maybe it was about hope and moving forward and not looking behind you. Some days, I tried to understand all that grown-up stuff. But a lot of it still didn’t make any sense to me.
When I looked up from my notebook, Ms. Johnson had assigned the boy a seat close to the front of the room, and when he sat down, I heard him let out a sigh.
Something about the way the new boy sat there, with his shoulders all slumped and his head bent down, made me blink hard. The sadness came on fast. I tried to think of something different, the Christmas that had just passed and the presents I’d gotten. Mama’s face when Daddy leaned across the couch to hug her tight. My older brother, Sean, holding up a basketball jersey and signing, I forgot I told you I wanted this! His face all broken out into a grin, his hands flying through the air. I put the picture of the sign for forgot in my head—four fingers sliding across the forehead like they’re wiping away a thought. Sometimes the signs took me to a different thinking place.
The bell rang and Ms. Johnson said, “I’ll do a formal introduction after lunch.”
All of us got up at the same time and stood in two straight lines, girls on one side, boys on the other. Ms. Johnson led us out of the classroom and down the hall toward the cafeteria. As usual, Rayray acted the fool, doing some crazy dance steps and a quick half-split when Ms. Johnson wasn’t looking.
Trevor turned to the boy and whispered, “Don’t no pale-faces go to this school. You need to get your white butt back across the highway.”
“I know I don’t hear anyone talking behind me,” Ms. Johnson said before the boy could say anything back. But the boy just stared at Trevor as we walked. Even after, when Trevor turned back around, the boy continued looking.
“Face forward, Frannie,” Ms. Johnson said. I turned forward.
“You’re just as pale as I am . . . my brother,” I heard the boy say.
When I turned around again, the boy was looking at Trevor, his face still calm even though the words he’d just spoken were hanging in the air.
Trevor took a deep breath, but before he could turn around again, Ms. Johnson did. She looked at the boy and raised her eyebrows.
“We don’t talk while we’re on line,” she said. “Do we?”
“No, Ms. Johnson,” the whole class said.
When Rayray saw how mad Trevor was getting, he looked scared. When he saw me watching him, he pointed to the boy and pulled his finger across his neck.
“If I have to ask you to turn around again, Frannie, I’m pulling you up here with me.”
I faced forward again.
Trevor was light, lighter than most of the other kids who went to our school, and blue-eyed. On the first day of school, Rayray made the mistake of asking him if he was part white and Trevor hit him. Hard. After that, nobody asked that question anymore. But I had heard Mama and a neighbor talking about Trevor’s daddy, how he was a white man who lived across the highway. And for a while, there were lots of kids at school whispering. But nobody said anything to Trevor. As the months passed and he kept getting in trouble for hitting people, we figured out that he had a mean streak in him—one minute he’d be smiling, the next his blue eyes would get all small and he’d be ramming himself into somebody who’d said the wrong thing or given him the wrong look. Sometimes, he’d just sneak up behind a person and slap the back of their head—for no reason. The whole class was a little bit afraid of him, but Rayray was a lot afraid.
As we walked down the hall, I stared at Trevor’s back, wondering how long the boy would have to wait before he got his head slapped.
I could smell burgers and French fries in the cafeteria. Mr. Hungry was hollering loud in my stomach, so I didn’t think anything else about the boy until he showed up on the lunch line in front of me. I watched him take a fish sandwich, French fries and chocolate pudding. The fish sandwiches were for the kids that didn’t like burgers and usually, at the end of lunch period, there were a whole lot of fish sandwiches left. I wrinkled my nose at his tray and tried to grab two burgers.
“You know the rules, Frannie,” Miss Costa, the lunch lady, said. “Come back when you’re done with the first one.”
“I was just trying to save myself a trip,” I said, putting a burger back.
The boy looked over his shoulder and smiled at me again. Then he went and sat over in the corner, under the loudspeaker.
I sat down across from Maribel Tanks only because it was right next to Samantha.
“Have you lost your mind,” I whispered to Samantha.
Samantha just looked at me with one of her eyebrows raised and I knew she was thinking what she was always saying, which was I’m not the one that doesn’t like Maribel—that’s you.
Me and Samantha went back to first grade together. One day, I was just this little kid alone in the first grade, coming into class a month after everyone. For a whole week, I didn’t have a single friend. And then, the next week, there was Samantha walking over to me, saying, “Do you want to play?” Even though we weren’t the kind of friends that always spent every single second together and dressed alike and stuff like that, we hung real tight at school.
Me and Maribel never played. We hardly even talked. She had gone to private school and then, in fourth grade, that school closed, and since her parents didn’t want to send her across the highway for private school, she came to Price. But, to hear her tell it, you’d think she was still in some high and mighty private school—always finding some kind of way to drop it into a conversation, always wrinkling her nose at me like she couldn’t even believe we had to share the same air.
I looked over at the boy. He had his head bent over his food like he was praying.
Excerpted from "Feathers"
Copyright © 2010 Jacqueline Woodson.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
It’s been a long and snowy winter for Frannie and her classmates, and studying poetry can make it seem endless. “Hope is the thing with feathers ...” That’s how one poem begins, but Frannie is not really sure what to make of it until a boy as white and quiet as the falling snow steps into her world. After a winter like this one, nothing will ever be the same again . . .
ABOUT JACQUELINE WOODSON
Born on February 12th in Columbus, Ohio, Jacqueline Woodson grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York and graduated from college with a B.A. in English. She now writes full-time and has recently received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. Her other awards include a Newbery Honor, a Coretta Scott King award, 2 National Book Award finalists, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Although she spends most of her time writing, Woodson also enjoys reading the works of emerging writers and encouraging young people to write, spending time with her friends and her family, and sewing. Jacqueline Woodson currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.
Feathers is set in the 1970s. Although the civil rights movement has already happened, there still seems to be a deep divide between black and white in the story.
“There weren’t white people on this side of the highway. You didn’t notice until one appeared. And then you saw all the brown everywhere. And then you started to wonder.” (p. 16)
At one point when thinking about her neighborhood, Frannie says, “We have everything we need here.” Yet she also points out that it is an all-black community.
Frannie doesn’t seem to mind living the way she does, but her brother thinks about building bridges that would cross the gap between their neighborhood and the white neighborhood.
Trevor is the meanest kid in Frannie’s class, but she is also able to see glimpses of another side of him. She says, “I saw that, even though he was mean all the time, the sun still stopped and colored him and warmed him—like it did to everyone else.” (p 21)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Frannie, the protagonist in the story, is searching for the meaning of poem she has heard in school. The poem is by Emily Dickinson and says "hope is the thing with feathers." Frannie doesn't know what that means, but she likes it. Frannie is so occupied with other events in her life that she doesn't have much time to think about hope. Her mother has a constant fear of losing another child, her brother is deaf, there is a bully at her school, a strange boy suddenly appears at the new school who people refer to as the Jesus boy, and her friend Samantha, seems a little more holy than usual. Frannie comes to see and experience things in a new light during the book. She begins to accept and understand things with a new outlook. Maybe she is learning the meaning to that thing with feathers. Personally, I felt the book was okay but not terrific. I had trouble staying focused while I was reading. I feel like it is a slow read. There was not a lot of action and really no plot. I don't understand what the "point" of the book was. There were good messages conveyed in the book like accepting people for who they are, family values, overcoming fear, and standing up to bullies.
I lpve feathers best book ever
This book is amazing. It is touching and really explainded a lot about racism. I felt sorry for Jesus Boy. He was descriminated against because of the color of his skin. Just like some of us lighter skinned people do to darker skinned people sometimes. It is very very wrong. Boooo racism!!!
Read this book for a graduate level master's class. Woodson is a remarkable, thoughtful, and extremely talented writer and this book certainly shows it. Told from a young girl's persepctive. Her brother is deaf and a new white boy comes to their school (they live in the black neighborhood - set in the late 1960s, early 1970s). The story focuses on seeing beyond people's differences to see how we are all the same while weaving in a message of hope. Quick and easy read but will certainly make you think about it for a long time after reading it. Children in 5th or 6th grade could read it and I recommend it for all ages, even adults.
This book, about sixth grader Frannie, who leads a normal life, brought me to realize so many important things. This story portrays how difference (her brother's deafness, "Jesus-Boy"'s skin color) can be celebrated, and can bring good. It also shows that life is a gift and hope is something that shouldn't be taken for granted. I learned a lot from this book, it has really implanted some important things in my heart and mind. Thank you, Jacqueline Woodson for turning everything that seems important in life into a heart-warming story.
Frannie a spunky sixth grader frequently reminds herself of the poem Ms. Johnson read in class. Hope is a thing that should have feathers becomes the characters strong hold throughout the entire story. Living on that side of the highway she faces reality issues such as dealing with segregation, poverty, friendship, a hearing impaired brother, sickness of her mother, and she is beginning to question religion in her own life. The character reflects deeply on the simple everyday occurrences that she encounters which all begins when the new kid named ¿Jesus¿ arrives. Like Frannie herself the mysterious ¿Jesus¿ finds himself against insurmountable odds. Can this be the real ¿Jesus¿? The students in Ms. Johnson¿s class including the bully Trevor and his side kick Rayray intend on finding out. In the process the characters begin to examine themselves and their circumstances looking for hope.
Frannie, the main character, comes from what seems like a typical 1970's African American family, two parents and a brother. Very middle class if it weren¿t for the segregation she faced. She seems like a fairly average sixth grader. However, she has come to the point in her life where she is examining things more closely, her brother, her long time best friend, her mother¿s pregnancy, and the new 'Jesus' kid in class. This book's central conflict is not a major crisis it shows how to deal with every day situations that kids Frannie's age are still dealing with today. This ¿normalcy¿ is what makes this book so magical, there is no one that comes to save the day. It¿s how they (all of the characters) handle the situations life throws at them. I realize Frannie was living in a very segregated situation, but the issues she faces are very timely. Most students will be able to relate to the moral dilemma of how to handle a disagreement with a friend or the threat of a bully. The Dickenson poem is brought up throughout the story, reminding readers to keep hope alive. Sometimes perception is everything, it clearly shows how to look for hope in the midst of 6th grade. I really enjoyed this book.
Feathers would make an excellent companion read to my summer favorite, Firegirl. Like in Firegirl, the main character is confronted with a person in her class who is different. Like in Firegirl, others in the class automatically reject the person who is different. And like in Firegirl, the main character struggles to figure out a way to deal with the person who is different.
Frannie realizes that she is no longer the baby of the family, her mother is expecting another child. Then a white boy moves into Frannie¿s school which is an all back school and the kids name him Jesus. Jesus become Frannie¿s friend and stops the school bully from bulling him. While all of this is going on Frannie is trying to decide what Ms. Johnson, the teacher, is trying to get her students to understand about a poem she read to them. Finally Frannie realizes that hope is like a feather you have it for a while and then it is gone.I enjoyed the book but it was a slow reading book. It did not keep your attention as well as I thought it would. You could understand Frannie¿s problem with the poem. But in the same instance even though Jesus Boy seemed to be an important part of the story he seemed to be left out of the story and came back in at odd times.I would use this book so that students so can get the understanding of what if feels like to move into a new school that is different from where you came. It could show them that not everyone has to be the same each person is different and even though it has always been this or that way things can change. And most important of all to hold on to hope but really the moment is like a feather and it will float away.
How a young girl sees things differently than others.
This is a short nice read about a young black girl. You go inside her head as she meets a new white boy, Jesus,at school, deals with her deaf brother and tries to understand her loss of a baby sister and her mother's miscarriages. This is a great and well written book. Mrs. Woodson does it again!! Creates a work of beauty!As a student i loved reading this book. It was a very fast read. I found myself in golfed in the details of the book and thoughts of Frannie. I recommend this book to all ages.As a teacher this is a great book to do a guided reading lesson with. This book as many controversial topics in it that would intrigue and student. Because it will interest my students they will/can have engaged discussions about those topics and the book in general. Great book
I'm a big Woodson fan, but this one left me a bit cold. It's 1971 and Frannie is a 6th-grader in an all-black (or at least all brown and black) school - until Jesus Boy (so-called because he's white and has longish hair) enrolls. Frannie's rather religious best friend rather oddly thinks he might even be Jesus - a hope that is dashed when J.B. finally refuses to turn the other cheek and decks the local bully. This is about hope, family, change, racial identity, deafness, and so on, all good stuff - and Frannie is a terrific character - but somehow the tone felt distant or unreal to me, almost allegorical.
Jacqueline Woodson, in Feathers, touches eloquently on that which we all struggle with deep within. She looks at the question of how we find hope in our lives amid the pain, loss, and anger we encounter. Woodson beautifully uses Emily Dickinson's lovely poem about a feather to illustrate what hope is and where it, and goodness, can be found in life. This is what the best children's and young adult authors do and, without a doubt, Jacqueline Woodson qualifies.
"Feathers" by Jacqueline Woodson is about a young girl that changes very much after her encounter with the "new kid" Jesus Boy. She begins the story somewhat snobby and afraid. By the end of the story she lets her guard down, asks a lot of intelligent questions, and is generally more accepting of herself and the world around her. The book examines many themes such as school life, descrimination, race and class issues.
A girl grows up in an all black neighborhood and goes to an all black school, when one day a new boy comes in that looks different from everyone else. She goes through a journey of trying to understand where he came from and why he is there and also becoming friends with him at the same time. At home she has to deal with her deaf brother Sean and her mom becoming pregnant after losing several babies before. During the book she starts to grow and develop in her faith and understanding of people. It is great to be able to go in this journey with her.
Jacqueline Woodson's Feathers quietly touches on the issues of racism, spirituality and self discovery in this story with 6th grader Frannie as the main character. Frannie finds difficulty in believing in a world where her brother is looked down upon because of his deafness and her mother has lost three babies. Frannie's character will speak to readers who are looking to find a place in their own life, even though the setting is 1971 in the story. Woodson is able to portray relevant themes and issues that cross years of generations with readers. Her writing is soft and gently as readers learn about Frannie's courage and determination to find her place in the world. For 4th graders and up.
While first reading "Feathers" I was a bit confused and couldn't really remember what it was about so I reread the entire book. My second attempt at reading I was more aware of little things that they were saying and I began to look it. "Feathers" is a book about a little girl named Frannie and her "side of the highway." She is African American and can not cross to the other side. Her older brother is deaf. While at school the "Jesus Boy" shows up one day and everyone is mean to him. He then stands up for himself and tells everyone that he is not white and he can not be on the other side of the highway. He brings a sense of "hope" to Samantha that Jesus might have risen from the dead. This made Frannie want to learn more about the religion. She is trying to find hope in her life but it is hard for her because her mother has had two miscarriages and she thinks of the worse. A great book to read to children or have them read so they can be aware of how it use to be in the 70's with segregation. Also, you could use it to teach a signing lesson.
The title "Feathers" came the main character's(Frannie) fascination with an Emily Dickinson poem, "Hope is the thing with feathers." Frannie has the struggles of having a deaf brother, a mother who has miscarriages, and a time where there was segregation between white and black people. A new student arrives to the school and he gets the nickname "Jesus boy." Frannie overcomes her stuggles and learns some big life lessons with this "Jesus boy."
Feathers is used as a metaphor for hope in this book. It is light and can pretty much float around anywhere. Frannie has an older brother that is deaf and a mother that suffers from continuous miscarriages. She meets a new kid that comes into her school that helped her gain a new perspective on life.
This is a story about segregation, racism and friendship. It also touches on certain themes, such as, religion, skin color and the variations of it, and maturing. It shows a little girl's home and school life going through change. At home her mother is trying to keep herself well to have a baby, since in the past she has lost some children and at school a new boy with a mysterious race shakes up the class. In the end she realizes that his race really doesn't matter despite all the fuss her classmates have cause about it. She also learns to be a little more mature in her life and her way of thinking. Ultimately, race shouldn't matter and at the end of the book it shows you that friendship is colorblind.
This is a book about a girl named Frannie. She deal with a lot in her life, and has to grow and mature while deciding what is right and what is wrong. this book is all about hope, and acceptance.
Ms. Johnson, a sixth-grade teacher at read a poem by Emily Dickinson callled "Hope is a thing with feathers." This poem really got sixth-grader, Frannie thinking. Frannie is African American and lives in a town where the whites live on the other side of the highway and the blacks on the other side. A new kid comes to Frannie's school and all the kids call him Jesus Boy. They think Jesus Boy is white but Jesus Boy says he's not. The kids have a hard time accepting the new kids differences. Frannie is used to differences because her brother Sean is deaf. Frannie often thinks about the poem that Ms. Johnson read about hope. Through out the story she begins to accept differences and finds hope is the Jesus Boy, her brother, her sick and pregnant mother, and her friends.
Frannie comes to a realization about herself in the world, race, religion, love, and hope. It all starts when a mysterious new boy that everyone is calling JesusBoy comes to school. He is obviously different being white in a all black school. This starts Frannie's deeper thinking process.
Frannie is a young girl in the '70s, growing up in a world divided among blacks and whites. One day, a new boy joins Frannie's 6th grade class and she is instanly intrigued by his demeanor and curious about who the boy really is. The boy, nicknamed Jesus for his looks, is the only white kid at the school and gets much grief from the class bully, Trevor. Although he is different, Frannie befriends the boy and tries to figure him out, so to speak. Her best friend, Samantha, is almost positive that the boy is Jesus and has come to them at time when they need him most. Frannie learns much about herself and the meaning of hope, and even though she knows that the boy is not Jesus, himself, she begins to see that maybe there is a little bit of Jesus in everyone.
At Frannie's school a new boy has started school. From an outside perspective she talks about him and what he may be going through. She can related becuase she was a new girl as well starting a month after school started because she had chicken pox. Frannie's brother is deaf and the family has adjusted to being bilingual and learned sign language. Her mother lost a child, Lila, and her troubles of having children. Her mother is pregnant again and soon Frannie won't be the baby of the family.This would be great book for children to read around Black History Month to understand the meaning of segregation and the hardships that children of the 70's had to deal with.