Brown Girl Dreaming: Storytelling, Racial Inequality and The Importance Of Memory

Jaqueline Woodson vividly tells the story of her childhood as she recalls it using her memory and the art of storytelling to give the readers a very palpable rendition of the north and the south during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Her story is told entirely using verse. Jacqueline begins the early part of her childhood in a house with both her parents and her two siblings in Coumbus, Ohio. Her grandparents live in Greenville, South Carolina and during the summers Jacqueline, her parents and siblings would often take a bus down to visit and spend some time together. With racial tensions at a high, Jackie’s parents often fought over her mothers love for the south, an argument that would end with Jackie’s mother leaving taking Jackie’s sister Odell and brother Hope down to live with her parents in her childhood home.

Jackie begins to form her own love of the south, she enjoys being able to live with her grandparents and become so close that they being referring to their grandfather as “daddy”. While this transition is simple for Jacqueline they youngest of the three and her sister the oldest of them all, it isn’t as easy on Hope the only boy of the family.

With slavery coming to an abrupt end not long ago, not everything has changed, the Civil Rights Movement is underway and peaceful protest are being organized and orchestrated daily. Taking the bus and following their grandmother past all the available seats in the front confuses them as children but quickly becomes routine.

With many of the friends and family Jacqueline’s mom grew up with leaving the south to start their families in the north, it isn’t long before her mom takes a trip on her own to New York City to find a place for her and her family. She is gone for quite some time but calls to talk to the children and keep them updated while she is away, promising to return for them. Having grown a special love for the south, the children aren’t as excited about the move as their mom but have no say in where they will live. One day a letter comes for the children explaining “Mama” has found a place for them in New York and will be returning to bring them back to New York City with her and how soon they will have a little brother to play with.

While their mom had been away, Maryann their grandmother had been raising them and introducing them to the principles and disciplines of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Each weekday with the exception of Friday was reserved for Jehovah’s Witness activities. Gunnar their grandfather was the only one allowed to stay home and do as he pleased. Gunnar is a heavy smoker who is developing a severe cough as the days go by. When their mom returns from New York to pick them up they introduced to their baby brother Roman.

The transition from schooling in the south to the north proves to be harder than Jacqueline had anticipated, while her older sister excels in school, Jacqueline struggles. Jacqueline develops a love for poetry after reading a poem by Langston Hughes, she starts writing and develops her knack for storytelling. Jacqueline makes a friend in her neighborhood and begins to feel more at home in New York. The next summer the children return to Greenville to stay with their grandparents after Roman develops lead poisoning. Upon their return they discover how sick their grandfather really is, the man who walked miles to and from work and tending to the fields is now too tired to leave the bed most days. The next spring Maryann calls up to New York and tells them to come back down and visit and that their grandfather only had a short time left. The children fly back home, Jacqueline reluctant to leave her grandfathers bedside. She sits and tells him stories of her adventures in New York and all about her new friends. Jacqueline’s art for storytelling is what makes her story so detailed and clear for her readers to feel a part of.

Brown Girl Dreaming examines the racial injustices during the Civil War, the significance of memory and the art of storytelling. While reading a book of poetry may not excite many this is not a book you will put down without finishing. I recommend this book for not only adults but young adults as well. For $11 you can own a paperback version, which is well worth every cent.

As of today Jacqueline has 7 books under her belt, Another Brooklyn, The Autobiography of A Family Photo, Miracle’s Boys, Show Way, Feathers, After Tupac and D Foster and Brown Girl Dreaming. She has received several awards including the Corretta Scott King Aware and National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

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