Brown Girl Dreaming, A Teaching Rationale

Text

Woodson, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York, Puffin Books, 2014.

Intended Audience

  • 7th, 8th, 9th Grade English Classrooms
  • Small-group work, large class discussion
  • This book is
    • A beautiful memoir representing the life experiences of a minority person
    • A text by an African American author

A Brief Summary of the Work

Jaqueline Woodson uses poetry to impress upon the reader not only her internal reactions and reflections as a child, but also the culture of her family and the sensory experiences of her childhood. She recalls her earliest memories of living in Ohio and of her father, then tells of his leaving her family and her life living with her mother’s very religious family in the South. Woodson walks through her childhood, describing the differences between her life in New York City, where her family moves, and in Greenville.

Relationship to the Program

I will use this text in a social justice unit that will use a variety of activities and texts to answer essential questions about privilege, identity, and social change. For students with disabilities, Brown Girl Dreaming could be provided as a choice novel “safe” text because it addresses critical social justice topics that other texts in the unit touch on while being free of descriptions of violence. This text will also be useful in differentiating learning for the students because it is a lower reading level (and accessible because it is a collection of poems), but also because Jacqueline Woodson has freely available audio recordings of the text online. Using the audio book along with the printed edition can help reluctant readers and auditory learners.

Impact of the Book

Brown Girl Dreaming shares the experience of a young person living in America in a powerful way to a reader who is also a young person in America. Reading texts of this kind allow students to immerse themselves in the thoughts and experiences of other people in order to challenge and analyze their own thoughts and experiences. Along with civil rights, this book also addresses many themes like identity, love, religion/morality, and change, all of which can connect and engage any student.

Potential Problems

This book addresses current issues in America like racism, activism, and the presence of religion in public schools. Woodson focuses more on her experience than trying to make an argument, but the topics are controversial nevertheless.

Professional Book Reviews

  • Koblitz, Dick. “Brown Girl Dreaming.” Language Arts, vol. 93, no. 4, 2016, pp. 320.
  • Hinton, KaaVonia. “Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming.” Vitae Scholasticae, vol. 34, no. 1, 2017, pp. 75.
  • Howard, Krystal. “Collage, Confession, and Crisis in Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, vol. 42, no. 3, 2017, pp. 326-344.
  • Anatol, Giselle L. “Brown Girl Dreaming: A Ghost Story in the Postcolonial Gothic Tradition.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, vol. 41, no. 4, 2016, pp. 403-419.

Alternate Options for Student Readers

  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munos Ryan
  • Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • March: Book One by John Lewis and Andre Aydin
  • Tangerine by Edward Bloor
  • Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
  • The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

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