Monday, May 12, 2008

Locomotion

Woodson, Jacqueline. 2003. Locomotion. New York: Penguin.

I got to know this book better than I had planned. I was going to assist in a book discussion group for teens and young adults with varying and diverse abilities. They had chosen this book for their discussion and we were initially unable to secure enough copies. I showed up for the meeting without having ever read the book - as the group leader had our only copy.

Having read Jacqueline Woodson before, and being familiar with other books in verse gave me the confidence to proceed. I printed out some discussion questions from the author’s website and headed off to the meeting. It was decided that I would read the book aloud for the first week until we were able to procure enough copies. I read each poem slowly and deliberately, in what I hoped was the spirit of eleven-year-old, Lonnie Collins Motion, a young boy who has lost his parents in a fire and been separated from his younger sister – each sent to a different foster home. The book is written in verse, but is different that other free verse novels. Because of his fondness for poetry and his teacher, Miss Marcus, Lonnie tells his story in many types of verse – from haikus to sonnets. In addition to being an excellent YA novel, Locomotion is a study in verse and an introduction to the poet, Langston Hughes.

We read as far as the poem “How I Got My Name,” stopping to discuss each poem. I can’t say enough about what a perfect choice this book is for this type of group discussion! The teens were open and expressive and very receptive. Locomotion clearly speaks to young people. I had a vague idea that at a future meeting it might be fun to play the Little Eva song from which Lonnie, Locomotion, got his name. Surprisingly, the kids thought of the idea before I even mentioned it! By the end of the meeting, we were all singing the song together. It was a great evening!

I read the rest of the book at home, alone – and I missed the teens and young adults. Their insights and comments added to Woodson’s story in a way that was touching and uplifting. Later in the book, the story becomes more than just a boy struggling to overcome the loss of his parents. It becomes a story of the war, of Miss Edna’s true sons, of the new boy in Lonnie’s school struggling to fit in, of Eric’s sickle-cell anemia, of Lili’s search for God, of LaTenya’s disability, and on and on. At first, I resented the turn away from Lonnie’s story and introduction of so many tangential subplots; and then I realized that that is what makes Locomotion so real, so compelling. Life is not just about us, and it doesn’t go as planned, it just goes. And Lonnie goes along with it, spilling out his story in verse,

“and making the lines into pictures in your mind
And in the picture the people are
laughing and frowning and
eating and reading and
playing ball and skipping along and

spinning themselves into poetry.

This book was a National Book Award finalist, an ALA Notable Book, a Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book, and a Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book.

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