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Middle Grade Monday – Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

I’m finally going to weigh in with my thoughts on the lyrical, breathtaking work of art that is Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. Not that you really need my opinion. It has received, at last count, six starred reviews from major review publications, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Horn Book, School Library Journal, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (I hope I didn’t miss one.) And, oh, it so deserves those stars.

Let me be all hipster for a moment and talk about my love for Jacqueline Woodson’s writing. My first year as a middle school librarian was a difficult one, due in large part to my co-librarian, who was a nightmare. But I will be forever grateful to her for introducing me to Jacqueline Woodson’s books. The first one I read was If You Come Softly, and I was immediately captivated. I read everything she had written to that point. Obviously, I was delighted when I found that she would be at my state’s school library association meeting. I got to her session early enough to get a seat on the front row! And then…I was dismayed to find that only half the seats were filled for the session. How could people skip it? Didn’t they know what they were missing? If I’m calculating correctly, this was fifteen years ago. So yes, I liked her books before she was ‘famous.’ I’m such a hipster.


Over the years I’ve kept up with her books. I was so pleased when she began to write picture books. They are as lovely, if not more so, than her novels. And then I caught word of Brown Girl Dreaming. Someone I knew had an ARC. I haunted NetGalley and Edelweiss until it became available as an electronic ARC, and then I gleefully pounced with my request. I was delighted when I was granted access, and my hopes were not disappointed. This memoir in verse is everything I could have hoped for from Woodson. In it she tells the story of growing up as an African American during the 60s and 70s, spending time both in New York and South Carolina. She addresses topics that are at once universal and intimately personal. Her writing (which has consistently improved with each publication) is breathtaking. I want this book to win ALL THE AWARDS – NBA, Newbery, Coretta Scott King – all of them!

We finally got our copies in last week, and I rushed to get them ready for my sixth grade classes. This was the test, I knew. I normally don’t have any trouble getting the sixth graders to engage with the novels I book talk, but this one was different. I wanted to make sure they understood just how amazing it is, so I read them one of my favorite passages. From page 61, the passage is titled “the reader”

When we can’t find my sister, we know
she is under the kitchen table, a book in her hand,
a glass of milk and a small bowl of peanuts beside her.

We know we can call Odella’s name out loud,
slap the table hard with our hands,
dance around it singing
“She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”
so many times the song makes us sick
and the circling makes us dizzy
and still
my sister will do nothing more
than slowly turn the page. 

When I finished, there were gasps of appreciation from the students. Their eyes were universally fixed on me. The looks on their faces were all I needed to see. And that, my friends, is the true test. 

In My Mailbox: Looking for Middle Grade Fiction that Deals with Sexual Violence

I often get emails and comments in regards to The #SVYALit Project asking about Middle Grade titles that deal with sexual abuse and violence of pre-teen kids. And each time I get a question, I go looking for some great recommendations. I have even tried to ask author and Middle Grade champion Anne Ursu and she too has had a hard time coming up with some good examples. She found this great list, but it is short on Middle Grade fiction as well.

One of the titles, however, that gets mentioned frequently is I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This by Jacqueline Woodson. I read this title a long time ago, and it is written with a beautiful tongue, as all Jacqueline Woodson novels are. And it is, of course, heartbreaking. The topic is heartbreaking.

“Death happens,” Woodson told Samiya A. Bashir in Black Issues Book Review. “Sexual abuse happens. Parents leave. These things happen every day and people think that if they don’t talk about it, then it will just go away. But that’s what makes it spread like the plague it is. People say that they’re censoring in the guise of protecting children, but if they’d open their eyes they’d see that kids are exposed to this stuff every day, and we need a venue by which to talk to them about it and start a dialogue. My writing comes from this place, of wanting to change the world. I feel like young people are the most open.” (from Woodson’s Wikipedia page)

The brief publisher synopsis reads like this: Marie, the only black girl in the eighth grade willing to befriend her white classmate Lena, discovers that Lena’s father is doing horrible things to her in private.

As two girls become friends, the other begins to realize that one of them is being sexually abused by her father. The process of getting to know one another and share these types of secrets, and then what do you do once you know the truth, is covered with sensitivity and grace.

“When I took these things from the house:
some tapes, some books, my winter clothes,
I did not know that these would become the
things I own.”

Jacqueline Woodson, I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This 

 
Lena’s story is continued in the follow-up title, simply Lena. In this, Lena and her little sister run away from her father and are searching to find safety, they hope, by seeking out their mother’s relatives. But being a runaway with no money is dangerous, but these girls will go to great lengths to try and find a safe place to lay their head.

“It seemed like someone was always leaving someone, like that’s the way the world worked—people were born and people died, people left and people came. It was like the world was saying you can’t have everything you want at the same time.”
Jacqueline Woodson, Lena 

Woodson is a fabulous and gifted author and she has written eloquently on this topic, you’ll definitely want to read these. And if you know of more middle grade titles that can help adults talk about these tough subjects with middle grade readers, please leave us a note in the comments.

In addition to the topic of sexual violence, Woodson tackles inter-racial friendships, racism and discrimination, runaways, poverty, and more. Definitely check them out.

Take 5: Upcoming Middle Grade Titles with Diverse Protagonists

In the spirit of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, here are 5 upcoming middle grade titles that fit the bill: 

 
I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin


An eleven-year-old’s world is upended by political turmoil in this searing novel from an award-winning poet, based on true events in Chile.

Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile—until the time comes when even Celeste, with her head in the clouds, can’t deny the political unrest that is sweeping through the country. Warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates disappear from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.

The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents—her educated, generous, kind parents—must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” To protect their daughter, they send her to America.

As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?

Accented with interior artwork, steeped in the history of Pinochet’s catastrophic takeover of Chile, and based on many true events, this multicultural ode to the power of revolution, words, and love is both indelibly brave and heartwrenchingly graceful. 


An eleven-year-old’s world is upended by political turmoil in this searing novel from an award-winning poet, based on true events in Chile.

Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile—until the time comes when even Celeste, with her head in the clouds, can’t deny the political unrest that is sweeping through the country. Warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates disappear from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.
The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents—her educated, generous, kind parents—must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” To protect their daughter, they send her to America.

As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?

Accented with interior artwork, steeped in the history of Pinochet’s catastrophic takeover of Chile, and based on many true events, this multicultural ode to the power of revolution, words, and love is both indelibly brave and heartwrenchingly graceful. – See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/I-Lived-on-Butterfly-Hill/Marjorie-Agosin/9781416953449#sthash.HUiKxlYs.dpuf

An eleven-year-old’s world is upended by political turmoil in this searing novel from an award-winning poet, based on true events in Chile.

Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile—until the time comes when even Celeste, with her head in the clouds, can’t deny the political unrest that is sweeping through the country. Warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates disappear from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.
The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents—her educated, generous, kind parents—must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” To protect their daughter, they send her to America.

As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?

Accented with interior artwork, steeped in the history of Pinochet’s catastrophic takeover of Chile, and based on many true events, this multicultural ode to the power of revolution, words, and love is both indelibly brave and heartwrenchingly graceful. – See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/I-Lived-on-Butterfly-Hill/Marjorie-Agosin/9781416953449#sthash.HUiKxlYs.dpuf

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj

What’s the one thing you want most in your life? Abby Spencer wants a life of excitement!

Well, sort of. Actually, that’s a lie. All Abby really wants is to meet her father. It’s not that she’s ungrateful for what she has – nice mom, adorable grandparents, great friends – but she feels like something’s missing. And she’d never tell anyone that.

Abby knows her dad lives in India, but she’s never met him and doesn’t know much else about him. But Abby’s mom realizes it’s time to have the big talk. It’s time for Abby to finally meet her father.

But does he want to meet her? Is Abby ready for the truth? Abby’s about to find out that her dad lives a very different life in a very different country and she’s going to experience it all, for better or worse. This is what happens when all your wishes come true…

Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai



Imagine your country is at war. Now imagine everyone around you thinks you’re the enemy. 

Mina Tagawa is just like any other American girl in middle school, sharing secrets with her best friend. But all that changes in December 1941 when Pearl Harbor is attacked. Suddenly her classmates are calling her a Jap, her father is arrested by the FBI, and newspaper headlines in Seattle and throughout the West Coast warn people not to trust Japanese Americans. Within weeks, Mina’s family is forced to leave their home and sent hundreds of miles away to an internment camp. For the next three years they live under armed guard – Americans treated as enemies. This powerful novel in verse visits a little-known moment in our country’s history with honesty that is both thought provoking and inspirational. 

Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

Saving the school–one con at a time.

Jackson Greene has reformed. No, really he has. He became famous for the Shakedown at Shimmering Hills, and everyone still talks about the Blitz at the Fitz…. But after the disaster of the Mid-Day PDA, he swore off scheming and conning for good.

Then Keith Sinclair–loser of the Blitz–announces he’s running for school president, against Jackson’s former best friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby hasn’t talked to Jackson since the PDA, and he knows she won’t welcome his involvement. But he also knows Keith has “connections” to the principal, which could win him the election whatever the vote count.

So Jackson assembles a crack team to ensure the election is done right: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess and cheerleader. Charlie de la Cruz, point man. Together they devise a plan that will bring Keith down once and for all. Yet as Jackson draws closer to Gaby again, he realizes the election isn’t the only thing he wants to win.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


One of today’s finest writers tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse
In vivid poems, award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South. Raised in South Carolina and later New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place, and describes the reality of 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—something she’s always loved to do, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Readers will delight in witnessing this gifted author discover her love of stories and storytelling and seeing the first sparks of the writer she was to become.

All book descriptions are provided by the publisher

Middle Grade Monday – Upcoming Excitement!

I had the opportunity to do a little hunting on Netgalley and Edelweiss this weekend, and found a few items I’m super exited to see. Let’s dive in!

The first is a new middle grade by one of my favorite authors, Jacqueline Woodson. I got to meet her at one of my first North Carolina School Library Media Association conferences – more years ago than I care to admit. At the time I had only read If You Come Softly, but I knew I was in love. Her books really resonate with me, and they’re very popular with my students. I’m excited that her new one will be middle grade.


Here is the publisher’s summary:

In vivid poems, award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South. Raised in South Carolina and later New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place, and describes the reality of 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—something she’s always loved to do, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Readers will delight in witnessing this gifted author discover her love of stories and storytelling and seeing the first sparks of the writer she was to become.

 The next title is from one of my perennial favorites, Joan Bauer. Her novels feature strong lead female characters who deal with contemporary issues. From the publisher:

A new friend.  An empathetic horse.  A flower festival.  And all of this in a town where “Nothing Bad Ever Happens.”  No wonder Anna is enjoying her visit to her grandmother, Mim.  But then Anna sees something that she can’t ignore: a girl who seems to be being held against her will.  Anna can’t forget the girl’s frightened eyes.  She wants to do something about it, tell someone, but can she get anyone to take her concerns seriously?  What good will it do to say something if no one is listening?

Finally, the latest installment in Jasper Fforde’s Chronicles of Kazam comes out tomorrow in the UK, but we have to wait until October. If I don’t get an early review copy, I may explode. Read more about my love of all things Jasper Fforde here. From the publisher: 

Although she’s an orphan in indentured servitude, sixteen-year-old Jennifer Strange is pretty good at her job of managing the unpredictable crew at Kazam Mystical Arts Management. After all, she solved the dragon problem, avoided mass destruction by Quarkbeast, and helped improve the state of magic in the Kingdom of Snodd. Yet even Jennifer may be thwarted when the mighty Shandar emerges from his preserved state and presents her with an utterly impossible task-how can a teenage non-magician outsmart the greatest sorcerer the world has ever known? But failure has dire consequences, so Jennifer has little choice but to set off on a journey from which she and her traveling companions may never return.