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Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson


What are you reading?

Today I want to share a lovely book, Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson. This is a beautiful picture book about legacy, history, slavery, Civil Rights, family, stories, and the power of women who were not afraid to fight for freedom. The book traces seven generations of the author’s family, all women who learned the art of quilting and used their stitching to tell important stories. The story is told from the point of view of a great-granddaughter who was born free. But Soonie’s great-grandma was a slave on a plantation, who was only allowed her needles, red thread and some muslin from her mother when she was sold from her family and forced to move to South Carolina without her parents. Eventually she sewed a Show Ways quilt, a secret map showing slaves the journey to freedom. Quilts became an important part of life, especially for each daughter as she learned the art of sewing and the tradition passed on to the next generation. Through the quilts we see the history of the family, from slavery through freedom, through Civil Rights. The quilts are a living history, changing the course of so many lives and displaying the strength of the African-American spirit.

Illustrations by Hudson Talbott showcase the beauty and complexity of the quilts. The theme of stitches is carried throughout every page, sometimes with bright colors and sometimes dark, showing how the quilts were part of each generation. The final page brings together all of the women in one long quilt that spans both pages. The legacy is carried on and the quilting continues.

Show Way won a Newbery Honor Medal in 2005. Discussing Show Way on her website, Jacqueline Woodson wrote: “After my grandmother died and my daughter was born, I wanted to figure out a way to hold on to all the amazing history in our family. I wanted a Show Way for my daughter.”

This Is the Rope: A Story From the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson

This Is the RopeThis Is the Rope tells a story that will stay with the reader, along with the beautiful paintings, long after finishing this picture book written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by James Ransome. Woodson refers to this book as a “fictive memoir” on her website (Jacqueline Woodson/This is the Rope). This story resonates with readers as a tale that spans multiple generations, linked by a rope that moves with the family over the years. The rope is both a link to the past lives in the South and also the opportunity and life that awaits in the North. It is hope, love and family.

During the Great Migration, millions of families moved from the South to the cities in the North, from the early 1900s through the 1970s. Woodson dedicates this book to the “more than 6 million African Americans who left the unjust conditions of the South for a better life in the North….My mother and grandmother were among them. I thank you all for your courage and for making a way out of no way.”

Woodson’s mother moved to New York City in 1968, and her siblings moved as well during the same time period. Woodson grew up in New York City, but also traveled back and forth between NYC and South Carolina for many years as a young girl. This experience and the courage of her mother and grandmother to make this move toward freedom and opportunity in the North inspired Woodson to write the story of a rope and a young girl.

The rope is discovered many years ago by a young girl in South Carolina, who first used the rope to jump rope. Later, when the young girl was a mother, the rope tied down the items she owned on top of the family car as her family drove north to New York City. The rope was used as a clothes line to dry her daughter’s diapers and clothes, then to pull toys, to skip rope with friends outside their home in Brooklyn, to tie down suitcases on top of the car as the young woman (the narrator’s mother) drives to college. Years later, after the mother has finished college and now has a daughter of her own, the young girl telling the story of the rope uses the rope for her own games, jumping rope and finally trading the old rope for a new one from her Grandmother — who was once the young girl in South Carolina, skipping rope amidst the sweet smelling pines of the South.

The story has a circular nature, and one that provides readers with the framework of the Great Migration north while focusing on one family and the generations whose lives are forever changed by the decision to move toward freedom and opportunity.

Woodson’s note:

This Is the Rope is a work of fiction. The rope we brought to this ‘new country’ was Hope.

It remains with us.”


For more information about the Great Migration, here are a couple of good websites:

Novels to pair with This Is the Rope

  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson


Love Jacqueline Woodson? Check out Brown Girl Dreaming too!

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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