BookPage Children's Top Pick, September 2014
Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1963, in a “country caught between Black and White.” John F. Kennedy was president, Martin Luther King Jr. was planning the March on Washington, and Malcolm X talked of revolution. But, like her picture book Show Way (2005), Woodson’s new memoir-in-verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, is of the ages—an African-American family’s story traced across the generations to Thomas Jefferson Woodson, perhaps the first son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, and William J. Woodson, who fought for the Union in the Civil War. Her story is “history coming down through time,” narrated as if she is standing right next to us, pointing out family pictures on the wall of her childhood home.
Woodson’s father always said that “there’s never gonna be a Woodson that sits in the back of the bus,” but her mother yearned to move home to Greenville, South Carolina. In beautifully drawn family and community scenes, Woodson shows the warmth of life in the South, even while she learns to sit in the back of the bus, to step off the curb for white people, and not to look white people in the eye. When they move again, Woodson feels a sense of loss and sees New York City as “treeless as a bad dream. Who could love / this place—where / no pine trees grow, no porch swings move / with the weight of / your grandmother on them.” Readers may well find this one of the best books they have ever read, rich with a sense of time and place and glowing with the author’s passion for words.