Despite the title, Brown Girl Dreaming is most certainly not just a book for brown girls or girls. Jacqueline Woodson's memoir-in-verse relates her journey to discover her passion for writing. Her story is framed by her large, loving family within the confines of the turbulent Civil Rights Era.
Sometimes a book is so well-received, so popular, that it seems that enough has been said (and said well); anything else would just be noise. Rather than add another Brown Girl Dreaming review to the hundreds of glowing ones already in print and cyberspace, I offer you links to other sites, interviews and reviews related to Brown Girl Dreaming. And, I'll pose a question on memoirs in children's literature.
First, the links:
- Brown Girl Dreaming is a National Book Award Finalist in the Young People's Literature category.
- Jacqueline Woodson was interviewed on NPR regarding Brown Girl Dreaming.
- Read an excerpt from Brown Girl Dreaming here.
- Even the prestigious Christian Science Monitor carried a review of Brown Girl Dreaming - the review written by award-winning author, Augusta Scattergood.
- Elizabeth Bird's "Fuse 8" review of Brown Girl Dreaming - thoughtful and insightful, as always
- AudioFile Magazine's review of Brown Girl Dreaming and an excerpt - read by Jacqueline Woodson herself
- New York Times Sunday Book Review of Brown Girl Dreaming
As a librarian who often helps students in choosing books for school assignments, I have written many times about the dreaded biography assignment - excessive page requirements, narrow specifications, etc.
Obviously, a best choice for a children's book is one written by a noted children's author. Sadly, many (by no means all!) biographies are formula-driven, series-type books that are not nearly as engaging as ones written by the best authors. Rare is the author of young people's literature who writes an autobiography for children as Ms. Woodson has done. When such books exist, they are usually memoirs focusing only on the author's childhood years. This is perfectly appropriate because the reader can relate to that specified period of a person's lifetime. Jon Sciezska wrote one of my favorite memoirs for children, Knucklehead, and Gary Paulsen's, How Angel Peterson Got his Name also comes to mind as a stellar example. These books, however, don't often fit the formula required to answer common student assignment questions, i.e., birth, schooling, employment, marriages, accomplishments, children, death. Students are reluctant to choose a book that will leave them with a blank space(s) on an assignment.
I wonder what teachers, other librarians and parents think about this. Must the biography assignment be a traditional biography, or can a memoir (be it in verse, prose, or graphic format) be just as acceptable? I hate to see students turn away from a great book because it doesn't fit the mold. If we want students to be critical thinkers, it's time to think outside the box and make room for a more varied, more diverse selection of books.