Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming 
by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014
ISBN: 9780399252518
Grades 4 and up
On shelves Aug. 26, 2014

The reviewer received an advanced copy of the book from the publisher.

I read Brown Girl Dreaming on an airplane flying over the midwest on the way home from the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas. I devoured it in one sitting then handed the book to Louise who also read it before we landed. I'm not sure if I can find the words to do justice to this beautifully crafted memoir, but I'll try.

Brown Girl Dreaming is an autobiographical account of Woodson's early life, raised by her mother and grandparents in South Carolina.  Told in verse, Woodson uses the fewest words possible to paint a vivid story of what life was like for her family living in the south in the 1960s. Jackie's point of view is strong, allowing readers to see the story from a child's eyes.

In downtown Greenville,
they painted over the WHITE ONLY signs,
except on the bathroom doors,
they didn't use a lot of paint
so you can still see the words, right there
like a ghost standing in front 
still keeping you out.

When Woodson and her siblings move to New York to live with their mother, the book offers readers a juxtaposition on life in America: north and south, rural and urban, black and white. Throughout the book, it's evident that Woodson had an affinity for writing and telling stories as a child.

How can I explain to anyone that stories are like
air to me,
I breathe them in and let them out over and over 

Louise and I discussed how there are many themes (family, friendship, acceptance and race) from the memoir that appear in Woodson's novels and picture books. Brown Girl Dreaming is a powerful and eloquent memoir that will elicit rich discussions and will serve an inspiration to young writers. I encourage all children's librarians and middle grade teachers to add it to their biography collections. Pair Brown Girl Dreaming with the middle grade novel, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, or Allen Say's memoir Painting from Memory.

Other books by Jacqueline Woodson:
Each Kindness
The Other Side
Coming On Home Soon
Show Way

See Jacqueline Woodson discuss her books in this video from

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