I read Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson while waiting for water to boil or TV-time to finish and during blessed moments of unexpected kind sisterly play between the girls that required nothing from me but to keep an ear tuned to the distinction between a giggle and a scream (in other words, not much). I made it accessible – right there in the kitchen, waiting to be picked up whenever I could – encouraging me to nevermind the dishes.
Sometimes I listened. Sometimes I stared at the book while I hastily dried cups and spoons and the coffee pot. The motivation from my head streaming to my hands – if I load the dishwasher faster then I have more time to read. Or, I would keep it as a reward for A+ efforts in housekeeping: “Fold the clothes and then you can read a couple more pages.” It was the parent in me attempting to cajole the willful child in me towards responsibility. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t.
Woodson narrates on the things of a child, through the eyes of a chid, with the understanding of a child, but with the perspective of an adult. She notices differences, distinctions, and nuances as a child with which she, her family, or both, are inescapably drawn. She successfully culls theses moments from all her memories and identifies them as key observations for creating a narrative of her life within the context of an overtly turbulent time.
In downtown Greenville,
they painted over the WHITE ONLY signs,
except on the bathroom doors,
they didn’t use a lot of paint
so you can still see the words, right there
like a ghost standing in front
still keeping you out.
This is a memoir, written in verse, of growing up. It starts in Ohio, spends a few years and summers in South Carolina, and matures in New York. Woodson grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s and her life was laced with the realities of that time. Her tone does not ignore or emphasize how being a brown girl impacted her life and perspectives. She does not need to. She chooses her stories carefully, she writes clearly and without ambitious words. She is approachable in her stories – readers can easily identify the child, the playful one, the writer, the storyteller, the friend, the sister in her. All these threads are woven together with mother, grandfather, grandmother, Maria, Dell, Hope, Roman, her father – with family.
“when i tell my family”
When I tell my family
I want to be a writer, they smile and say,
We see you in the backyard with your writing.
We hear you making up all those stories.
It’s a good hobby, we see how quiet it keeps you.
But maybe you should be a teacher,
I’ll think about it, I say.
And maybe all of us know
this is just another one of my
The title, brown girl dreaming, as a whole paints a lovely picture of a child’s wandering through encounters and experiences at a young age and trying to figure out how they all go together. But reckoned with individually, each word represents the best and strongest drivers of the collection: brown. girl. dreaming. Thus, it skillfully weaves together the universality of individual experience in time and place with the uniqueness of human inquiry and observation.
This was a library rental, but I have put it on my list to purchase in the near future and add to my permanent collection. It is classified somewhere in the middle grade/young adult reading lists depending on who you ask. Powerful and accessible: It is to be read by anyone.