‘brown girl dreaming’ by Jacqueline Woodson: Brilliant and memorable memoir


Rating: 5 stars

“brown girl dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson is her memoir about growing up during the time of the Civil Rights movement. She began life in Ohio but moved with her siblings and mom to her grandparents’ home in South Carolina for a large part of her childhood. Then her mother moved them all to New York.

The narrative technique is free verse, and while the limited text on each page makes the story seem, at first, like easy reading, the continual (and beautiful) use of metaphor makes this a very sophisticated read. For example:

“I am born in Ohio but
the stories of South Carolina already run
like rivers through my veins.”

Just like life, there is happiness and sorrow, birth and death in her story. Children are cruel to each other, but she makes a best friend in New York, and that friendship has lasted almost 50 years. Readers will meet her siblings, including her little brother Roman, who gets sick from eating lead-based paint, and her Uncle Robert, who ended up in prison.

Most of all, readers will learn about Woodson. She was a child for whom reading did not come easily. But writing did. She began writing stories almost before she could really write. It’s apparent that the skill — and the art — are truly in Woodson’s blood.

This memoir comes at a perfect time. With Common Core State Standards, well-written nonfiction material is being sought by teachers for use in the classroom. Woodson’s memories of history and historical figures, including Jesse Jackson (who went to high school with her mother), can be used for comparing and contrasting with other nonfiction and fiction books about that time period.

Every middle grade classroom — from fifth grade through middle school — should have a copy of this book in the classroom library.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen Books, for review purposes.