Archive for October 4th, 2009

October 4, 2009

Jacqueline Woodson

I have read every book author Jacqueline Woodson has deigned to write.

1 adult book

7 picture books

6 middle grades

10 young adults

I have a hefty project due on Wednesday, one that will summarize my Woodson reading (yes, this project is in addition to all this nonsense) as well as consider her career as an author.

So I thought I’d just run my thoughts by you guys first.

First of all, a little about the author:

Jacqueline Woodson (or, “Jackie,” as my prof. calls her… BECAUSE SHE KNOWS HER WELL ENOUGH TO CALL HER JACKIE, WHAT KIND OF AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE AM I IN?) grew up in Brooklyn and Ohio and South Carolina. She lived with her grandparents for a good portion of her childhood. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Her grandparents were wealthy, her mother was not. She is a lesbian. She has two kids. She is a full-time, professional writer, won the National Book Award, 3 Newbery Honors, and a Margaret Edwards.

The Picture Books

If you are at all interested in reading a completely subversive picture book that is COMPLETELY unoffensive but will shock you anyway for reasons you’ll have trouble articulating, please read Visiting Day. It is kind of aweseme.

If you are teaching young children about the civil rights movement and diversity, pick up The Other Side. It’s a sweet story, and the illustrations won a Caldecott.

If you want to CRY, read Coming On Home Soon. It’s about a poor woman who leaves to go work on the railroads during WWII, and her daughter who she leaves behind, and I was crying in the library I don’t know why!

If you want to read a REALLY KICK-ASS PICTURE BOOK with story and illustrations that are equally rockin’, and won a Newbury Honor, – which is crazy for a picture book – pick up Show Way. It’s now on my all-time best picture books short list.

The Middle Grades

Woodson’s first books are kind of shaky when compared to the rest of her work, but for their intended audience, I think they are still valuable reads. If you are a librarian/teacher who needs to recommend a tame series that focuses on friendship – think early Alice a la Phyllis Reynolds Naylor – then look to the Maizon trilogy, especially if you have a young African American lady in mind, although I think most of Woodson’s books defy that need for racial identity.

Locomotion and Peace, Locomotion are written in verse, from the POV of Lonny, whose parents died in a fire. He’s separated from his sister, confined to the foster care system (which can be very stifling for a young boy, especially a black boy who just might run off and join a gang, or so everyone seems to think) and has no voice until he starts to write poetry. Very touching. Everyone in my class loved ’em.

But Feathers was my favorite, and probably the only Woodson book I could have picked up outside of a grad class and said “Damn! That was a good book!” It takes place in the 70s, features an awesome deaf older brother and a very sweet storyline where their mother struggles with miscarriages, and the cover is perfect. Hope is the thing with feathers, or so says Emily Dickinson.

The Young Adults

The one that got her out of the gate is I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This, which would probably qualify as a “problem novel” but here you will learn Woodson’s talent for making you forget you’re reading a book about That Terrible Thing That Happened. This book features an interracial friendship, extreme poverty, and sexual abuse. But you’ll forget about all that. And there’s a sequel, Lena, which takes the POV of the other side of the friendship. I liked it more than I thought I would.

The House You Pass Along The Way blew me away. Much more literary than Woodson’s other works, it’s a really quiet, thoughtful book about a girl who kind of falls in love with another girl but they’re really too young to know what’s going on, so it’s an intense friendship, and also a big, complex family. Mmmm mmmm. That’s what the book made me say.

If You Come Softly will totally make you cry. I was more mad than sad, but yeah. It’s also a really good First Love tale, if you’re into that kind of thing. Love and tears, that is. Behind You is the sequel, which takes on many more POVs from the first book’s characters. If you’re into that kind of thing.

Most of Woodson’s books are narrated by females. I get that. But when she writes boys, she has this… oh, this EFFECT on her characters. The boys are always at that cusp of manhood, where they are soooo struggling to be themselves and be men, and it makes you ache for every 12-year-old boy you’ve ever met. Miracle’s Boys is about a 21-year-old taking care of his two brothers, one 12 – the narrator – and one 15, who just got out of juvie. He is the primary custodian because their parents have both died, and they are trying to hold together as a family, and make sure Mr. Juvie stays off the streets so they don’t end up in foster care. It’s pretty awesome. I’d check it out if I were you.

After Tupac and D Foster says some really interesting things about identity and friendship and family and trust. Oh, and you’ll learn about Tupac too. And probably cry when, in the novel’s timeline, he gets shot.

So, all in all, Jacqueline Woodson is a lady you should be reading, but you probably aren’t. Try one out for size. You might like it.