In Brown Girl Dreaming award-winning author Jaqueline Woodson shares her experiences of growing up in South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York, during the 1960s and 1970s though free verse. Woodson explores what it is to feel at home and like an outsider at the same time, while describing her growing awareness of the civil rights movement and her love of creating stories. Though her northern ways set her apart in the South, and being a Jehovah’s Witness made her feel different in the North, Woodson’s childhood was filled with deep pride and family love, which gave her strength in all her journeys.
I’ve had this book on my TBR list since I found out that Woodson would be attending Bookcon last year, so when I got it for Christmas I was excited for the opportunity to cross it off finally. So I read it on my flights to and from Timmins (poetry is good for when you have a limited amounts of time). And, guess what, there’s a reason it’s cover is now decked out with awards (Brown Girl Dreaming is a Newbery Honour Book, a National Book Award winner, Coretta Scott King Award winner); Woodson’s poignant poems are accessible, emotionally charged, touching, funny, and profound.
Woodson’s recollections of her family could inspire anyone to think fondly of their own loved ones. With a touch of nostalgia, she captures her admiration of her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even siblings, despite their imperfections and differences. The collection as a whole perfectly captures the strength and power of familial love.
In addition to the portrayal of family, Woodson describes her early experiments with writing. She clearly realized the joy of writing and creating her own stories at a young age. The dialogue around storytelling adds humour to the narrative, as the young Woodson had few qualms about creating a line between fact and fiction, causing some to accuse her of lying.
Above all, Woodson’s story is strong for its portrayal of childhood and the struggle to find friends and a place that truly feels like home – especially in times of change. While the civil rights movement only comes to the forefront in a handful of poems, her growing understanding of the movement and what it means to be a “brown girl” certainly inform every part of the narrative.
Final verdict: Woodson’s poems contain beautiful language and images of childhood and love. Her writing is descriptive and easy to read. Brown Girl Dreaming is worthy of the awards it’s won and worth reading for sure.