Brown Girl Dreaming
written by Jacqueline Woodson
young adult

Brown Girl Dreaming is a marvel of personal history. Ms. Woodson takes chances by the use of free verse. I started the book with some trepidation because of this, questioning whether it was the correct approach for a memoir, a book for young adults. I was wrong.

I was captivated by the first page and moved quickly through each succeeding one. Then I slowed down to savour the language. The ’60s and ’70s took on new and personal meaning. Strange, but I relived my own childhood while turning each page. This brown girl from South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York had something in common with a white, first generation immigrant from southwestern Ontario, Canada.

Ms. Woodson had somehow managed to capture the universality of childhood by the re-telling of her own. A whole world shifts, groans and dances under the seeming slightness of her words.

She’s encased in the security of familial love while the larger world heaves with social unrest and change.

I am born as the south explodes
too many people too many years
enslaved, then emancipated
but not free, the people
who look like me
keep fighting
and marching…

Ms. Woodson explains the relationship between her mother and grandmother, thus:
Both know that southern way of talking

without words, remember when
the heat of summer
could melt the mouth,
so southerners stayed quiet
looked out over the land,
nodded at what seemed like nothing
but that silent nod said everything
anyone needed to hear.

Brown Girl Dreaming
  • author: Jacqueline Woodson
  • grade level: 5 and up
  • Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books; First Edition edition (August 28, 2014)
  • Binding: Hardcover, 352 pp.
  • ISBN-10: 0399252517
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399252518

The kind of silence, indicated by the blank spaces on the page, allow the readers’ imaginations to blossom, making them willing participants in a childhood revealed. Ms. Woodson words point us to paths that are familiar and strange, at the same time, accompanying us along the way.

Ms. Woodson has received numerous awards including the Coretta Scott King, Margaret E. A. Edwards and Newbery honours for her past work for young people’s literature. But, this is her first National Book Award.

Ann Towell

Ann is the author of The Hollow Locust Trees published by Black Moss Press. Her novel Grease Town (Tundra) received a Nautilus award in 2010 and was short-listed for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz award. Her love of history is apparent in her books.

Learn more about Ann!