On my way home from a wedding this weekend, I finished reading Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, one of the most unusual children’s books I’ve ever read. I’m adding it to my list of books that have opened my eyes a little more to the realities of segregation and prejudice in the south, extending into Jacqueline’s childhood in the 60s and 70s. (Others I’ve enjoyed on this topic, although I would not recommend them for younger children, are To Kill a Mockingbird, The Help, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.) She shares her experiences with grace, telling of sitting in the back of the bus, not being allowed in the drugstore, and having to leave town late at night in order to avoid questioning.
The book is unusual because it is written in free verse, and what it lacks in dynamic plot it makes up for in lyrical language. The poetry is written in a way that children can easily understand and appreciate. It is a thoughtful, slow-moving piece, chronicling Jacqueline’s childhood in Ohio, Greenville, South Carolina, and New York City, from her birth until her early elementary years. It deals gently and tastefully with tough subjects including divorce, death, prejudice, going to jail, and Jacqueline’s brother’s lead-poisoning. My favorite themes were Jacqueline’s relationship with her grandfather, Gunnar, her torn feelings as she moves from state to state, never quite knowing where home is, and her emerging identity as a writer.
I recommend this book both to introduce young readers to the beauties of poetry and to grow empathy for any who may be marginalized in society.