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Brown Girl Dreaming

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A New York Times Bestseller and National Book Award Winner

Jacqueline Woodson, the acclaimed author of
Red at the Bone, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

A National Book Award Winner
A Newbery Honor Book

A Coretta Scott King Award Winner

Praise for Jacqueline Woodson:
Ms. Woodson writes with a sure understanding of the thoughts of young people, offering a poetic, eloquent narrative that is not simply a story . . . but a mature exploration of grown-up issues and self-discovery.”—The New York Times Book Review

ISBN-13: 9780399252518

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Publication Date: 08-28-2014

Pages: 352

Product Dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

Jacqueline Woodson ( is the recipient of a 2020 MacArthur Fellowship, the 2020 Hans Christian Andersen Award, the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and the 2018 Children’s Literature Legacy Award. She was the 2018–2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and in 2015, she was named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. She received the 2014 National Book Award for her New York Times bestselling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, which was also a recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor, the NAACP Image Award, and a Sibert Honor. She wrote the adult books Red at the Bone, a New York Times bestseller, and Another Brooklyn, a 2016 National Book Award finalist. Born in Columbus, Ohio, Jacqueline grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York, and graduated from college with a B.A. in English. She is the author of dozens of award-winning books for young adults, middle graders, and children; among her many accolades, she is a four-time Newbery Honor winner, a four-time National Book Award finalist, and a three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner. Her books include Coretta Scott King Award winner Before the Ever After; New York Times bestsellers The Day You Begin and Harbor Me; The Other Side, Each Kindness, Caldecott Honor book Coming On Home Soon; Newbery Honor winners Feathers, Show Way, and After Tupac and D Foster; and Miracle's Boys, which received the LA Times Book Prize and the Coretta Scott King Award. Jacqueline is also a recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement for her contributions to young adult literature and a two-time winner of the Jane Addams Children's Book Award. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

Read an Excerpt

february 12, 1963

I am born on a Tuesday at the University Hospital
Columbus, Ohio
a country caught

between Black and White.

I am born not long from the time or far from the place where my great, great grandparents worked the deep rich land unfree dawn till dusk unpaid drank cool water from scooped out gourds looked up and followed the sky’s mirrored constellation to freedom.

I am born as the south explodes,
too many people too many years enslaved then emancipated but not free, the people who look like me keep fighting and marching and getting killed so that today—
February 12, 1963
and every day from this moment on,
brown children, like me, can grow up free. Can grow up learning and voting and walking and riding wherever we want.

I am born in Ohio but the stories of South Carolina already run like rivers through my veins.

second daughter’s second day on earth

My birth certificate says: Female Negro
Mother: Mary Anne Irby, 22, Negro
Father: Jack Austin Woodson, 25, Negro

In Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr.
is planning a march on Washington, where
John F. Kennedy is president.
In Harlem, Malcolm X is standing on a soapbox talking about a revolution.

Outside the window of University Hospital,
snow is slowly falling. So much already
covers this vast Ohio ground.

In Montgomery, only seven years have passed since Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus.

I am born brown-skinned, black-haired
and wide-eyed.
I am born Negro here and Colored there

and somewhere else,
the Freedom Singers have linked arms,
their protests rising into song:
Deep in my heart, I do believe
that we shall overcome someday.

and somewhere else, James Baldwin is writing about injustice, each novel,
each essay, changing the world.

I do not yet know who I’ll be
what I’ll say
how I’ll say it . . .

Not even three years have passed since a brown girl named Ruby Bridges walked into an all-white school.
Armed guards surrounded her while hundreds of white people spat and called her names.

She was six years old.

I do not know if I’ll be strong like Ruby.
I do not know what the world will look like
when I am finally able to walk, speak, write . . .
Another Buckeye!
the nurse says to my mother.
Already, I am being named for this place.
Ohio. The Buckeye State.
My fingers curl into fists, automatically
This is the way, my mother said,
of every baby’s hand.
I do not know if these hands will become
Malcolm’s—raised and fisted
or Martin’s—open and asking
or James’s—curled around a pen.
I do not know if these hands will be
or Ruby’s
gently gloved
and fiercely folded
calmly in a lap,
on a desk,
around a book,
to change the world . . .

it’ll be scary sometimes

My great-great-grandfather on my father’s side was born free in Ohio,


Built his home and farmed his land,
then dug for coal when the farming wasn’t enough. Fought hard in the war. His name in stone now on the Civil War Memorial:

William J. Woodson
United States Colored Troops,
Union, Company B 5th Regt.

A long time dead but living still among the other soldiers on that monument in Washington, D.C.

His son was sent to Nelsonville lived with an aunt

William Woodson the only brown boy in an all-white school.

You’ll face this in your life someday,
my mother will tell us over and over again.
A moment when you walk into a room and

no one there is like you.

It’ll be scary sometimes. But think of William Woodson
and you’ll be all right.

the beginning

I cannot write a word yet but at three,
I now know the letter J
love the way it curves into a hook that I carefully top with a straight hat the way my sister has taught me to do. Love the sound of the letter and the promise that one day this will be connected to a full name,

my own

that I will be able to write

by myself.

Without my sister’s hand over mine,
making it do what I cannot yet do.

How amazing these words are that slowly come to me.
How wonderfully on and on they go.

Will the words end, I ask whenever I remember to.

Nope, my sister says, all of five years old now,
and promising me


hair night

Saturday night smells of biscuits and burning hair.
Supper done and my grandmother has transformed the kitchen into a beauty shop. Laid across the table is the hot comb, Dixie Peach hair grease,
horsehair brush, parting stick and one girl at a time.
Jackie first, my sister says,
our freshly washed hair damp and spiraling over toweled shoulders and pale cotton nightgowns.
She opens her book to the marked page,
curls up in a chair pulled close to the wood-burning stove, bowl of peanuts in her lap.
The words in her books are so small, I have to squint to see the letters. Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates.
The House at Pooh Corner. Swiss Family Robinson.
Thick books dog-eared from the handing down from neighbor to neighbor. My sister handles them gently,
marks the pages with torn brown pieces of paper bag, wipes her hands before going beyond the hardbound covers.
Read to me, I say, my eyes and scalp already stinging from the tug of the brush through my hair.
And while my grandmother sets the hot comb on the flame, heats it just enough to pull my tight curls straighter, my sister’s voice wafts over the kitchen,
past the smell of hair and oil and flame, settles like a hand on my shoulder and holds me there.
I want silver skates like Hans’s, a place on a desert island. I have never seen the ocean but this, too, I can imagine—blue water pouring over red dirt.
As my sister reads, the pictures begin forming as though someone has turned on a television,
lowered the sound,
pulled it up close.
Grainy black-and-white pictures come slowly at me
Deep. Infinite. Remembered

On a bright December morning long ago . . .

My sister’s clear soft voice opens up the world to me.
I lean in so hungry for it.

Hold still now, my grandmother warns.
So I sit on my hands to keep my mind off my hurting head, and my whole body still.
But the rest of me is already leaving,
the rest of me is already gone.

the butterfly poems

No one believes me when I tell them
I am writing a book about butterflies,
even though they see me with the Childcraft encyclopedia heavy on my lap opened to the pages where the monarch, painted lady, giant swallowtail and queen butterflies live. Even one called a buckeye.

When I write the first words
Wings of a butterfly whisper . . .

no one believes a whole book could ever come from something as simple as butterflies that don’t even, my brother says,
live that long.

But on paper, things can live forever.
On paper, a butterfly never dies.

Table of Contents

Family Tree 8

Part I I Am Born 13

Part II The Stories of South Carolina Run Like Rivers 59

Part III Followed the Sky's Mirrored Constellation to Freedom 171

Part IV Deep in my Heart, I D Believe 249

Part V Ready to Change the World 345

Author's Note 391

Thankfuls 395

Family Photos 398