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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


Brown Girl Dreaming is Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir told in poetry. BrownGirlDreamingThis book is ideal for upper elementary and middle school. And in a word, it will leave you breathless.

Not surprisingly, Brown Girl Dreaming was awarded the National Book Award and you will find this book on numerous lists of “top children’s books of 2014.” If you haven’t read Jacqueline Woodson before, this is the perfect introduction. And then you should start reading her other books — and with 3 Newbery Awards, 2 National Book Awards, a Coretta Scott King Award, 3 Coretta Scott King Honors, among other awards, she has many books that you simply MUST read.

Teaching this book includes so many possibilities. And today is Martin Luther King Jr Day. Perfect. This is what comes to mind after finishing the book….

Thematic Topics for Exploration

1963 and the Civil Rights Movement. Woodson was born in 1963 and throughout the book you will find mentions of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., peaceful protests, sit-ins, Ruby Bridges. The events of the Civil Rights Movement are very much a part of this book, which is an excellent opportunity for students to explore these moments in history. The possibilities are endless for learning and discussing Civil Rights as your students read Brown Girl Dreaming.

Setting. Ohio, South Carolina and New York. The author’s childhood, taking place in both the South and the North, is profoundly affected by place. The smell of her grandmother’s cooking, the dirt, the Southern small town where she walked with her siblings…and the North, the New York setting and also Ohio. Setting is an important piece of this story. Pairing this story with poetry that deals with setting (thinking of Nikki Giovanni’s “Knoxville, Tennessee”) and you have a great connection for your students to explore the importance of space and setting.

The Importance of Dreams. Certainly the American Dream is alive and present in Woodson’s memoir. This is a story of dreams and how one little girl keeps her both her dreams and her family history alive through writing and storytelling. The juxtaposition of dreams and history is fascinating, as Woodson looks to the past while she writes and dreams of the future.

Race and Identity in America. Woodson’s memoir of course deals with race and identity, particularly as it shaped her upbringing in South Carolina, Ohio and New York. As Woodson discusses in a recent interview, “My grandmother would always say to me, ‘You’re a pretty brown girl,’ ” she says. “There was something about ‘brown’ that felt more universal, and it was speaking to more people than myself.” (see National Public Radio interview) And in seeking to write more books about diversity, Woodson has given readers a book that speaks to more than her own individual experience. This is a book that will encourage students to think about their own identity and place.

Picture Books About the Civil Rights Movement

Some of my favorite picture books – ideal for introducing the Civil Rights movement and excellent for pairing with Brown Girl Dreaming. These books lend themselves well to class discussions and text sets.

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodsonotherside

Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles

The School is Not White! A True Story of the Civil Rights Movement by Doreen Rappaport

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkey

Rosa’s Bus: The Ride to Civil Rights by Jo S. Kittenger

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carol Boston Weatherfordruby

More online resources for building a unit around Brown Girl Dreaming


Jacqueline Woodson’s website

National Public Radio interview

National Book Award video

New York Times piece by Jacqueline Woodson “The Pain of the Watermelon Joke”

Please share – have you read Brown Girl Dreaming? What are your thoughts about possibilities for the classroom?

What do you read and discuss for Martin Luther King Jr Day in your classroom?

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