To be able to write an entire story in poetic form is a rare, yet beautiful gift. Few writers have been able to do this, but two current authors come to mind who have successfully pulled it off.
Thanhha Lai has written a tale of her Vietnamese family and their journey from Saigon to the States in Inside Out and Back Again. They end up in Alabama, which is a huge culture shock for her. She weathers the storm as she deals with the bullies and learns to fit into the American fabric. The entire story is told through poems and this book has won the National Book Award, the Newbery Honor Book Award and has stayed on the New York Times Bestsellers List.
However, this post was inspired because the famed YA author, Jacqueline Woodson has again stirred the hearts of her fans in her recent book Brown Girl Dreaming. It is autobiographical and she tells her story through poems. I read parts of it and I did not want to put it down, but it was not my copy. I will be getting it soon.
Jacqueline Woodson is a writer who takes risks and writes about a variety of topics that most would never touch. She forces the reader to look at some of life’s hard issues, but the beauty and sensitivity that she brings with her pen make us peek inside and gain further insight.
I had the honor of sitting next to her at a luncheon where she was the keynote speaker. I could not believe my lucky stars when I realized who she was that Saturday morning. We actually had a brief chat before she went to the podium to read from some of her works.
I first heard of her when a woman read her picture book, The Other Side, to a large group of adults. It shows how one black girl and one white girl regularly meet at a fence to exchange daily stories, though they lived in a segregated town.
She has written so many books, but here a few that I have read. Hush is about a family that has to go into the Witness Protection Program after the father testifies about a murder. The family has to change locations and names.
Then, there is Miracle’s Boys which was made into a movie. It deals with three boys who are trying to survive the mean streets of the inner city and certainly after the oldest one has had a brush with the law. His younger brothers see that he is never the same after returning home from a detention center.
There is a series of three books that deal with the friendship of two young girls that live in Brooklyn. One goes off to a boarding school, but they stay in touch and remain close in Last Summer with Maizon; Maizon at Blue Hill and Between Madison and Palmetto.
In Coming on Home Soon, a young girl is waiting for her mother to return home from the North. She has gone to clean rail cars while the men are off fighting the war. This was a rare look into some of the work that African-American women did during the Second World War.
In Feathers, the narrator knows how to communicate with a troubled classmate because she knows how to sign. Her older brother is deaf and they use sign language. This is an unusual look into the world of the deaf and how it affects the other family members.
Last, there is the book called Locomotion. It was a book that I could not keep on the shelf as a librarian. Eventually, it did not come back at all. This happens when students fall in love with a library book. It does not come back to its original home!
Locomotion is about 11-year old Lonnie. He writes poetry to release his bottled up feelings and he cherishes Langston Hughes. This entire story is also told through short, powerful poems. His parents died in a fire and he and his younger sister have been separated. Ms. Marcus, his teacher, encourages him to write and express his pain.
The foster family that adopted his sister, do not want a boy, but Locomotion (Lonnie) is taken in by Miss Edna, whom he loves. He was nicknamed Locomotion by his mother and father after Little Eva’s song from the 60’s. They used to dance to it around the kitchen before the unfortunate accident. These poems are his saving grace and his prayer is to build his own family someday. He and his sister are reunited for a visit at the end of the story and he now has the gift of writing poems in his journal to keep him filled with optimism.
I could go on and on about the writings of Jacqueline Woodson, but I will end by saying, “When the fountain is flowing, hurry up and get a pail so that no thoughts are wasted!”
October 13, 2015