Jacqueline Woodson is a master of the use of words to tell a story. It was a purely magical experience to read her free verse that was brimming with sensory imagery. It allowed very sparse text to tell a very full story that was at once deeply personal and universal.
I picked this book to read because it is won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature last year and is a strong contender in the Newbery Awards being announced Feb. 2, 2015. I didn't fully realize that it was also the kind of book that I simply love the best. It is a memoir, and while not a spiritual memoir per se, has a spiritual element. I also love to hear the stories of a writer's beginnings. The stories of the ways words or pictures captured them in their younger years and let them know that one day words would be the heart of their craft. Woodson evokes this in such a way that you imagine her younger self with the pen writing the very work you are reading.
Although the story is very deeply about what it was like to be a brown girl in our country in the 60's and 70's, it was just as much about what it is like to be a child subject to being uprooted based on the struggles of the grown-ups in their lives. It is a book about being a child - making new friends and worrying that a new friend might take them away. Loving a grandparent and worrying about them when their health starts to fail. Trying to explain your father's absence to a classroom full of children who seem to you to all have fathers around them. The three beautiful passages below show just a glimpse of the beautiful experience that awaits in the pages of this book.
(from the candy lady, p. 71)
The walk home from the candy lady's house
is a quiet one
except for the sound of melting ice cream
being slurped up
fast, before it slides past our wrists,
on down our arms and onto
the hot, dry road.
(from tobacco, p. 100)
Summer is over, a kiss
of chill in the southern air. We see the dim orange
of my grandfather's cigarette, as he makes his way
down the darkening road. Hear his evening greetings
and the coughing that follows them.
Not enough breath left now
to sing so I sing for him, in my heat
where only I can hear.
Where will the wedding supper be?
Way down yonder in a hollow tree. Uh hmmmm . . .
(from new york baby, p. 135)
When my mother returns,
I will no longer be her baby girl.
I am sitting on my grandmother's lap
when she tells me this,
already so tall my legs dangle far down, the tips
of my toes touching the porch mat. My head
rests on her shoulder now where once,
it came only to her collarbone. She smells the way
she always does, of Pine-Sol and cotton,
Dixie Peach hair grease and something
warm and powdery.