Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir of Jacqueline Woodson’s life growing up between the North and the South during a time of racial segregation and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Written entirely in poems, Woodson begins with the day she was born and takes the reader through the trials and tribulations that she endured as an African American child. A beautiful story that’s written in a unique style, Brown Girl Dreaming is perfect as a read aloud, small group text, or to use in a poetry unit.
Jacqueline Woodson was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1963, and named after her father, Jack. She is the youngest of three, with a brother named Hope, and a sister named Odella. Jackie’s mother is from South Carolina, and has always felt more at home there than up North, even though racism and segregation is still very much alive in the South. Eventually after a lot of disagreement and arguing, Jackie’s mom, Mary Ann, leaves their father and moves to South Carolina to live with her parents Gunnar and Georgiana Irby.
Jackie comes to absolutely love the South. The land, the quiet, and the general way of life. She becomes very close to her grandparents, and the kids call their grandfather “daddy”. Jackie hears about the Civil Rights Movement and the peaceful protests all around her, and her family has faith the good things will happen, but her mother decides the North is what’s best for her family. When Mary Ann goes to New York to find a place and get settled in, the kids spend time with their grandparents, growing closer and more in love with the South. Mary Ann returns to get the kids and they learn that they have a new baby brother named Roman. Jackie is sad not to be the baby in the family, but excited to have a new addition.
In the new city, Jackie becomes friends with a Puerto Rican girl named Maria. They spend all of their time together and learn all about each other’s cultures. One of their favorite things to do is bring each other home cooked meals and enjoy the different kinds of foods and cooking. Mary Ann’s brother Robert lives with them for a while. He gets in trouble with the police and is sent to jail. While in jail, he became a Muslim, and is now a radical member of Islam. Meanwhile, Jackie and Maria have learned all about Angela Davis, who is an integral part of the Black Panthers. She becomes an inspiration to the girls, even though they don’t truly understand what she and the Black Panthers stand for. As Jackie gets older, Daddy Gunnar gets sicker and sicker, and eventually passes away from lung cancer caused by the many years of smoking. Grandma Georgiana moves to New York to live with them. In school, Jackie’s teacher has a great deal of faith in her writing ability, and she finally feels like she has found her calling and her place in the world.
Brown Girl Dreaming is a beautifully written book about the life of a truly inspirational writer. Written entirely in poetry format, the reader will enjoy a unique style of words, filled with rich history and point of view. Teachers may want to use this book in a poetry unit, reading unit, or writing unit; the possibilities are endless. Readers of all ages will fall in love with the story of young Jacqueline and her quest to find herself and become what she always believed she could be - a writer.