Review of "Brown Girl Dreaming"

Brown Girl Dreaming Review by Catherine Baty

Woodson, Jacqueline. 2015. Brown girl dreaming. [Audiobook]

Jacqueline Woodson walks the reader through her childhood in poetry. From the moment she was “…born in the morning.” to her parents separation when she was only one year old and further to her life in South Carolina. Then her move to New York, making new friends and spending summers with her grandparents. Early on, in South Carolina, she speaks of going to see “the Candy Lady” with her grandfather they call “Daddy”, getting her hair set by her grandmother in the kitchen while her sister reads to her as a distraction, all through the end of the Civil Rights era. The reader is told about the beauty that is found in a fabric store in which Jacqueline and her family are “just people”. Every page is filled with the warmth of family and the sting of heavy warnings from a past not too long ago. She shares those warnings from her grandmother, “Don’t any of you ever do daywork…” and from her mother who used a switch to make sure that the children will speak right. Both mother and grandmother with the same goal, that the children will not see themselves as lesser than those around them, nor give others reasons to think of them as such. Her siblings and their interests are spoken of thoughtfully, her sister the academic and her brother the lover of comics and chemistry. She describes growing up Jehovah’s Witness and her feelings going along with that, how though her mother was not of the faith, she still made them go to the Kingdom Hall and participate even after moving to New York, where her grandmother was not around to take them. She goes into detail about her baby brother’s time in the hospital with lead poisoning from eating the leaded paint off his bedroom wall and of his recovery. She meets a friend, Maria, and learns to speak Spanish. Woodson’s love for words and writing grow as she does, until she completes her first book. Life goes on, even after the death of “Daddy” and her grandmother moves in with them. Woodson creates more stories and shares them at school after her summer trips to the South come stop. Close to the end this child version of Jacqueline Woodson wishes to be a writer and her wish comes true.

This unabridged audiobook of the verse novel was in electronic format and listened to through the use of the phone app, “Libby”. Poetry is often meant to be read aloud, and there is no better reader than the original writer. Thus, in this rendition, the listener is gifted with the opportunity to hear the words as Jacqualine Woodson wished them to be heard because she, herself, is reading them. The quality of the recording was perfect, and I never had to adjust my volume even while Woodson adjusted hers, adding emphasis to words as she deemed necessary. This production did not have any background effects and I believe that their addition would have taken away from the understanding of the prose. I did not recognize any separate voices for characters, but Woodson’s tone and cadence could change slightly as she read, which added depth. The audiobook closes with an author’s note and thanks, both of which give the listener more understanding of the work she put into creating this book. I found the listening to be highly engaging, as if I were being told a story by a family member. I could almost feel myself, as a child again, sitting crosslegged on the floor in front of a fire and looking up at the storyteller. As is a habit for me, I had the book out while I was listening. The only thing that I have to note is that the printed version shows more of the emphasis Woodson wanted in her pieces because she used spacing elements that do not translate to spoken word, however I do not feel as if anything was lost between the two. I would suggest that the audiobook be used in conjunction with the printed book because both have value, this would also give older students a chance to discuss differences between printed and audio formats. Though this book is suggested for 5 – 8, I think that it could have expanded use in a high school setting if used to deepen discussions of literature formats or of historical perspective.

Coretta Scott King Author Award, 2015
Newbery Honor, 2015
Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honor, 2015

“Never calling attention to itself, Woodson’s honest reading, with nuanced pauses, inflections, and occasional whispers, invests the emotional impact in service to the poetry, where it belongs.” – Thom Barthelmess, Horn Book Magazine on November 1st 2014

“The sounds of the words and the rhythm expressed by her thoughtful intonation, careful pacing, and deliberate emphasis make clear the poetic form…A personal memoir and a child’s eye view of the nascent civil rights movement, this work confirms Woodson’s brilliance as a writer for children and for adults, too.” – Toby Rajput, School Library Journal on December 1st 2014

When reading the book in a classroom setting, the audiobook can be used to supplement the lesson. Choose some key poems and have the class listen to them in Woodson’s own voice and have the students discuss the poem.

Combine with information on the Little Rock Nine, such as:

Combine with other books taking place during the Civil Rights Era

  • Bridges, Ruby and Margo Lundell, Through My Eyes ISBN 9780590546300
  • Bolden, Tonya, Tell All the Children Our Story Memories & Mementos of Being Young & Black in America, ISBN 9780810944961

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