Review: brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

brown girl dreaming

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Told in verse, this is Woodson’s memoir of her childhood.  Woodson shows the different influences in her life, from both South Carolina and New York City.  There is the richness of southern life, from the heat to the food to the family.  But it is not all sweetness as Woodson shows her family fracturing as she is raised by her grandparents for some of her childhood.  She also shows the racism and discrimination clearly on the page, never flinching in her powerful verse.  When Woodson and her siblings move to New York to live once again with their mother, the dynamic changes and the flavor is urban as the Civil Rights Movement becomes a focus in her life.  Taking place in the 1960s and 1970s, this book captures a time of change in the United States and is also a compelling look at what forces build a writer.

Woodson’s poetry is a gorgeous and lush mix of powerful voice and strong memory.  Her writing is readable and understandable even by young audiences, but it also has depth.  There are larger issues being spoken about as Woodson tells about her own childhood and family.  There are universal truths being explored, as this book is as honest as can be, often raw and unhealed too.  It is a book that begs to be read, shared and then reread.

One of the things I always look for in a novel in verse is whether the poems stand on their own as well as how they combine into a full novel.  Woodson manages to create poems that are lyrical and lovely, that stand strongly about a subject and could be read alone.  As a collection, the poems are even stronger, carrying the story of family and iron strength even more powerfully.

Rich, moving and powerful, this is one of the best novels in verse available for children.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin.

Review: Telephone by Mac Barnett


Telephone by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jen Corace

A mother bird wants her son Peter to come home for dinner, so she sends the message down the telephone line, literally.  It moves from one bird to the next, but the message immediately gets garbled as each bird adds their own take.  Readers will notice that each bird has its own interests that are added to the message and that the illustrations give hints about the topics that will be included that time.  This is a clever twist on the children’s game of telephone, one that has hilarious results and a resoundingly satisfying ending.

Barnett takes a simple concept in this picture book and makes it extraordinary.  His humor is great, making sure that each statement passed along by the birds rhymes but also taken huge liberties with the subject matter.  When the ending comes with a silly bird where the message becomes much longer and incorporates all sorts of things from earlier messages, it makes for a brilliant break in the pattern that sets the final message up perfectly.

Corace’s art is wonderful.  She shows the birds in silhouette on the wire, indicating early to readers what the story will be about.  The illustrations range from close ups of the birds on the wire to more distant shots that show the human neighborhood beneath the wire.  It is all done with great energy, humor and bright colors.

A winning picture book that is clever, funny and simply wonderful.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.