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Last class, works in verse | Class #6, 2018

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Adolescent novels in verse have steadily increased in popularity since Virginia Euwer Wolff’s groundbreaking Make Lemonade was published in 1993. The best of these marry form and subject in a way that enriches both. Jacqueline Woodson’s eloquent free-verse memoir traces her family history and the earliest development of a writer. Consider how structure and voice reflect the young girl’s discovery of self and the world around her.
Lauren Adams
Lauren Adams
Lauren Adams teaches English and ELL at Natick High School and adolescent literature at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Formerly a Senior Editor for The Horn Book Magazine, she regularly contributes book reviews.
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One of the things I appreciated most about Brown Girl Dreaming is that it lies outside my reading comfort zone. I've always struggled with poetry, and it's been hard to figure out if that's because it was poorly taught to me, or if it's just not a medium I connect with very well. I find myself tripping over the lines, and struggling to be patient with the text. In that way, perhaps I should have taken a page out of Lauren's book and listened to this story instead, although I agree with her and Lisa that the visual element of reading a book in verse is also important in drawing greater meaning from the work. That said, I did think that Jacqueline Woodson's voice came through especially distinct and clear, even in just reading. It has an absolute lyrical quality that draws a reader in and holds their attention while she weaves her story. Even though this was a bit of a challenge, and made me slow down a little more than I like to, I'm glad that I did. I have absolutely loved this class. As someone from outside of HGSE, it's been a pleasure to participate in discussions conducted through an education lens, and to be exposed to so many wonderful books I wasn't aware of before. I especially appreciated exploring graphic novels and picture books for older readers, which is something I think is important, but about which I previously didn't have a lot of personal knowledge. And beyond that, I'm thankful to have had this experience among a thoughtful, wonderful group of peers. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts.

Posted : Mar 05, 2018 10:44

Sonya B

When I first read Brown Girl Dreaming a couple of years ago, it was in a book club of friends who are also African American women. We selected themes every few months around which to make our reading selections, and one of theme was “Black, Blue, and Female in America”. With that theme, we read, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf and other canonical texts about African American women’s experiences. At that reading, like Sia, I was struck most by the themes of family and home that connect most with my personal experience. I also remember being pulled in by the narrative voice--a young, blossoming, brown and burgeoning as a writer and as a female-- Woodson chose to tell her experience. During reading this week, however, I am reading it in a different context—not only of our adolescent literature course—but also having just coincidently read other novels-in verse. One of them, My Name is Jason, Mine Too: Our Story, Our Way, is part of my annotated bibliography. Another is an award-winning, gripping novel by Jason Reynolds, Long Way Down. Finally, there’s Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes, that we teach in one of our ninth grade courses. Reading Brown Girl Dreaming in this context what I’m noticing, is two things: First, even though they are all novels in verse, the authors use the form in such disparate, yet effective ways, I’m amazed at the versatility and flexibility of the genre. I think I had underestimated and underappreciated it previously. Second, I’m noticing more the “verse” element as opposed to the “novel” element. So, similar to how last week when we were reading graphic novels, I had the epiphany that “ Hey, here is a story being jointly narrated in mixed media and I must give each its due,” now I’m realizing as a teacher of novels in verse, I’d have to strike a balance of attending to both the poetry devices and structure and the narrative devices and structure, and how the two intermingle to give meaning. Wow! (Lauren reminded me of this when I read her blog post about her experience listening to it, and therefore, not being about to notice some of the verse elements.) And that brings me to what, in the course, has resonated most for me: how enormously diverse and varied young adult literature is, but how even more diverse and varied my knowledge and skills have to be to do justice teaching it to students. There is a depth of experience, enjoyment, appreciation and meaning students and I will miss, if I don’t recognize this fact. I think I am guilty of having had a patronizing perspective of young adult literature when I first entered the class. I was juxtaposing "ya lit" with the “traditional canon” we so often teach in schools. I had sort of a “How hard can it be to teach young adult literature” kind of attitude. Going forward, I will strive to recognize and rid myself of this bias, which I’m guessing will continue to rear it’s ugly head in unexpected places and times. Also going forward—and this is much simpler—I would love to have a “Must Read” list to recommend to high school students. Because our annotated bibliographies had to have a fairly narrow focus (and for good reason), I couldn’t create such a list, but I’d still love to have a this- book- will- change- your- life-transform- your- relationship- to-reading, etc. list. Of course, this is a personal and often quite subjective, experience. However, if any of you have a title that you would put on that list, I’d love to know what it is. Mine is The Book Thief by Mark Zusak.

Posted : Mar 05, 2018 10:30

Lisa Wu

Reading Brown Girl Dreaming makes me better appreciate the art of "blank-leaving" in creating art. We fill our daily conversation with small talks because we dread the awkward silence. In telling stories, we are used to a space filled with details, words and emotional overspill. Reading this piece of work is refreshing. My mind does not stop even when the three-line verse ends on that page. The sound lingers on and creates an echoing sound in my brain. That said, I am not very confident to bring this verse to the classroom. My past experience with teaching poems is limited to techniques such as alliteration, rhyme and so on. It does not feel right to apply the rhetorical analysis in the case here. I hope to expand my skill set in teaching verses in the classroom.

Posted : Mar 05, 2018 09:55

Emmanuel Oppong-Yeboah

Jacqueline Woodson has a soft spot in my heart. Her novel "Melanin Sun" (which tells the story of a queer mother coming out to her son) is one I come back to, and think of often. What is so great about "Melanin Sun" is the complexity Woodson lends to the feelings her characters experience as they go through life changing events - the ways in which we are products of both the social context we are in and the people who are around us - the interconnectedness of things. I see that same interconnectedness throughout "Brown Girl Dreaming." Woodson writes telescopically into various moments in history and we see the effect of those various instances in time on the book's speaker. The book is useful for considering both how we write about ourselves and how we make meaning of the events going on around us. Both from a personal and a historical perspective the verse poems in the book chart how the changes in the nation, in the speaker's family, and in the speaker's community are effecting her. What I find while reading "Brown Girl Dreaming" is numerous entry points through which a reader could engage with the novels - these entry points give access to the verse on a number of levels. As a reader I can enjoy the poetic language Woodson employs, or I can enjoy the detailing of events, I can revel in the detailed accounts of family lore and history, or I can fix myself to the emotional development of Woodson herself. All this is available in a reading.

Posted : Mar 05, 2018 06:49

Katelyn Natale

I loved the structure of Brown Girl Dreaming. I thought writing a memoir in verse was inspired and such an appropriate choice to make when the memoir begins at birth. The memories, stories, and recollections one has a child can be sporadic, random, some long, some short, and some in between. It is interesting to think which small moments stand the test of time in our memories. I felt the titles, different lengths of poems/chapters/lines, punctuation, and italics use was a way to enhance this message and strengthens the reader's relationship with the narrator. We are able to understand the way she thinks by the way she writers, which enhances her voice that only grows stronger throughout the book. The thing that resonated for me the most was having the opportunity to explore several different genres and discuss the books with a diverse group of peers. It is has been a while since I read a fantasy novel, and I had never read a book without words before “The Arrival.” I am thankful for the exposure to new books. Secondly, the group discussions resonated with me. Often, I read a book and am unable to share thoughts, ask questions, or bounce ideas off of other people because I am reading the book on my own. I gained so much from being able to have an extensive amount of time hearing people’s reactions and thoughts to the books we read.

Posted : Mar 05, 2018 05:37

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