Brown Girl Dreaming (AKA a National Book Award Winner!)

Hi everyone!

So apparently, because I live in a cave and am not good at keeping up with current events, and also because I am just generally not a super up-to-date person, I missed all the stories about the National Book Awards. Namely, that JACQUELINE WOODSON WON.

Yes, good job me. >pats self on back<

Anyway, considering I’ve been planning on reviewing said award-winning book for ages, I figured now is as good a time as any. So let’s begin, shall we?

I’ve previously only read one book by Jacqueline Woodson, her excellent novel After Tupac and D Foster. However, Brown Girl Dreaming is something a little different–it’s an autobiography in verse, taking the reader through the author’s childhood.

The book takes in a lot of young Jacqueline’s life, from her birth in Columbus, Ohio, to her mother’s childhood home of Greenville, to New York City. Woodson encompasses her family’s history, her awareness of the Civil Rights Movement, her discovery of writing, and it all adds up to an intimate portrait of her childhood and what she thought and felt at the time.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the one covering the period of time when Woodson lived in Greenville, South Carolina, with her grandparents, mother, and sister and brother. This was one of the sections that I could most strongly see in my head, from the red dirt of her grandfather’s garden to the way her grandmother would do the girls’ hair on Saturday nights. I love it when an author paints a vivid picture of his or her story, and Woodson delivers in a way that is both entertaining and oh-so-fun to read. She depicts everything from her childhood activities to the civil rights protests taking place downtown, writing:

“Even my mother joins the fight.

When she thinks our grandmother

isn’t watching she sneaks out

to join the cousins downtown, but just as she’s stepping through the door,

her good dress and gloves on, my grandmother says,

Now don’t go getting arrested.

And Mama sounds like a little girl when she says,

I won’t.”

I love the way Jacqueline Woodson writes. I love her prose, but this book proves that she can write amazing poetry as well. Her words flow wonderfully, and she brings so much to life for the reader–the setting, her family, the everyday rituals that fill up our lives. She invites the reader in and makes seemingly mundane subjects bloom into lyrical images of her life, all pieced together in an endeavor to show how Jacqueline Woodson became Jacqueline Woodson. But she also touches on the bigger changes that were taking place in the U.S. as well, writing about Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panthers, and more. Brown Girl Dreaming isn’t just a wonderfully written look into the author’s childhood; it’s also an important look at the issues that were relevant then, many of which are still relevant today.

All in all, Brown Girl Dreaming is honestly a joy to read, and it deserves the National Book Award so very much. So I’m a little late with this, but: Congrats Jacqueline Woodson!!! The book deserves all of this and more. It’s definitely one of the best books of the year.

And now, because it is a Friday night and I am exhausted, I shall leave you to roam the Internet. And maybe eat a cupcake. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “I believe in one day and someday and this perfect moment called Now.” –Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons

Happy (late) New Year! Here, 2014 is being kicked off with the book Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, by the talented Ann Rinaldi.

Phillis Wheatley, as many of you probably know, was a young girl brought over from Senegal, Africa, in the 18th century. Bought by the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts, Phillis works for the Wheatley’s daughter, Mary, as her personal slave–until it is discovered that she can read.

After that, Mary’s brother Nathaniel begins to tutor Phillis, teaching her Latin and Greek and helping her to improve her reading.

And then she writes a poem. And things really change.

Soon, Phillis is reciting for the Wheatleys’ dinner guests, visiting various bookstores and printers throughout Boston, and is even sent to London. (All against the backdrop of the colonists’ growing discontent with British rule.) She meets a string of well-drawn characters, from Aunt Cumsee and Prince, fellow slaves, to Benjamin Franklin.

I love this book. So much. I haven’t read historical fiction in a fairly long time, and this was definitely a good one to go with. It pulls you in and won’t let you go, and I really loved Phillis’s voice as the narrator. She’s honest, telling the reader her thoughts as a new arrival in America, an ocean in between her and her past home and freedom. At one point she says, “It seems you are not permitted to murder a slave woman. Not even in America.”

Ann Rinaldi definitely paints a convincing picture of Phillis’s life, from childhood to being an adult. The story of her voyage on the slave ship is shown in all its unimaginable brutality, and her struggles with freedom and the desire for it are drawn really well. The author doesn’t gloss over Phillis’s struggles, and the way she writes is addictive.

It might make you cry. It will give you lots of feelings. It’s really amazing.

Phillis is a great character, and I loved the complexity with which Rinaldi details her struggles and conflicts: Should she want freedom? If free, how would she be able to survive? Would it be better if she just stayed with the Wheatleys?

Really, do the Wheatleys even value her as a human being?

Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons is definitely one of my favorite historical fiction novels of all time, and I definitely recommend it. It has happiness, sadness, big questions, and great characters. And, of course, poetry.

Literary Quote of the Day: “I could scarce contain my own excitement. The more I wrote, the more excited I became. I felt like Columbus must have felt when he just discovered America. Only the land that I had sighted was myself. In a way, my own way, I was free.” —Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, by Ann Rinaldi

P.S. Some other great books by Ann Rinaldi are A Break With Charity: A Story About the Salem Witch Trials and Brooklyn Rose.

Really Good Books to Get Your Teenager

Okay, this has been languishing in my Drafts since the beginning of December, and now it’s finally posted! Yay! Let us all cheer and eat virtual cookies.

As I’m sure a lot of you have noticed, the holiday season is taking the country by storm. Which means, of course, it’s time to head to the mall. Because of this, I thought I’d do a post about certain books that I think really deserve to be on your shopping list. And so, I present to you: Really Good Books to Get Your Teenager! Ta-DA!

First up is The Diviners, the newest book by Libba Bray, set in the glamorous 1920s. Evie (or Miss Evangeline O’Neill, if you prefer) is thrilled to be sent to New York City to live with her uncle for awhile, even though it is technically a punishment for some hot water she got into at home. From here on out, it’s nothing but parties and chatting up nice fellas for Evie and her best friend, Mabel. But the carefree frivolity doesn’t last very long. It soon becomes apparent that a serial killer is on the loose. And with Evie’s unusual, supernatural powers, she may be able to catch him. Here’s the rub: How’s she supposed to do that? This book is pretty thick, but it’s totally worth your time. Now, give me the sequel!

Second: The Fault in Our Stars! Ahhh, John Green made me so sad with this book, but it was really good! The main character of this novel is Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16-year-old with thyroid cancer, and who has had her future determined ever since her diagnosis. She spends most of her time either watching the newest episode of America’s Next Top Model or rereading her most favorite book in the entire world, An Imperial Affliction. Oh, and she sometimes attends this support group for other kids with cancer. And this is where she meet Augustus Waters, a one-legged 17-year-old who becomes Hazel’s friend and more. This won TIME’s #1 fiction book of the year for a reason, people.

Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly. And yeah, I’ve already reviewed this, but I don’t care, because it deserves to be on your shopping list! It follows the adventures of Andi Alpers, (who’s still recovering from her brother Truman’s death) as she goes to Paris with her father (against her will!) to work on her senior thesis. But things get more exciting when she discovers the diary of Alexandrine Paradis, an aspiring player from the time of the French Revolution. Andi is soon so caught up her find that it’s almost an obsession, and she’s desperate for it to have a happy ending. But things start to get rather strange one night in the catacombs. . . I’d just like to say that this book does not disappoint. It’s very thick, though, and kind of complicated, so I’m just warning you. Actually, I’m not. I take that back. Get it anyway!

Divergent. This also already has a review, but we’ll ignore that. This is not your run-of-the-mill dystopian novel. It’s a dystopian novel that is awesome. It tells the story of Beatrice Prior, who must make a choice: Her society, which is located in what was once known as Chicago, Illinois, is divided into five factions, each focusing on a certain character trait or value. They are Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Now that Beatrice is 16 years old, she must decide which of these factions will become her home, after taking the aptitude test that determines which faction she is most suited to. However, there’s just one little problem: Beatrice is Divergent, meaning she had more than one result. Which is just plain dangerous. This book has had a lot of popularity going for it, and it is well-deserving. Veronica Roth is awesome. Now if she would just finish the last book already. . .

Agh, what next? Um. . .oh! How about Poetry Speaks Who I Am? (Okay, let’s just accept that almost every book on this list probably already has a review, or will have one at some point.) This is actually a really good Christmas gift. It’s properly fancy (comes with a CD) and is filled with awesome poetry for teens (I should know), from a myriad of writers. Some of my personal favorites are How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson, Abuelito Who by Sandra Cisneros, Used Book Shop by X. J. Kennedy, The Writer by Richard Wilbur. . .you do realize I could go on forever, right? So, seriously, get this. For pretty much any teenage poetry-lover (and older ones, too!) it’s a must.

There are tons of other books I demand you get, but this post would be never be finished if I wrote about them all. So let me just say that I love anything by Gary D. Schmidt, The Future of Us, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, anything by Carolyn Meyer or Ann Rinaldi is great, and. . .okay, okay, I’ll stop.

So, anyway, I hope you consider putting some of these incredibly awesome books under your Christmas tree this year, or giving them as a Hanukkah present, etc. Or just giving them to someone randomly, hopefully in the near future, or for a birthday, or New Year’s, or even Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, because any day is a good enough occasion to give someone a book. (Well, that sounded kind of corny, but let’s face it: It’s true.) Happy holidays everybody!

P.S. There is only one more week of school before break. Did you hear that? One more week!

Favorite Poems

April is National Poetry Month! So I bet you can guess what will be the subject of my posts for a while. And more specifically, as you can tell from this post’s title, this one is about favorite poems. I’ll be giving a some of my favorites here, and readers can give their own in comments or emails. Be sure to say why you like them, and I’ll post them on the blog.

Okay, so first off: Brian O’Linn, written by an anonymous author. It’s a poem of nonsense: “Brian O’Linn had no watch for to wear,/He bought a fine turnip and scooped it out fair,/ He slipped a live cricket right under the skin–/’They’ll think it is ticking,’ says Brian O’Linn! It’s a just a fun poem that will make you laugh with its ridiculousness. It can be found in the book A Pot O’ Gold.

Another favorite is Oatmeal, written by Galway Kinnell. It’s a free verse poem, meaning it has no rhyme, and it’s one of my favorite poems to read when I have a chance. You could say it has a subtle humor, I suppose. And it includes one very important piece of advice: Never eat oatmeal alone. (Apparently it is not good for your mental health.) This poem can be found in Poetry Speaks Who I Am.

Number three–How I Discovered Poetry, by Marilyn Nelson. Also free verse, and also found in Poetry Speaks Who I Am. One of the best things about poetry is the way the words just sound and flow. The effect is something not-quite-but-kind-of-musical. This poem is a good example of that, and that’s one of the reasons I like it so much.

Yet another poem I love is penned by Alexander Pope, and it’s called Epigram Engraved on the Collar of a Dog Which I Gave to His Royal Highness. I think it’s hilarious, and since it’s only two lines long, I’ll give it to you right here: “I am his Highness’ dog at Kew;/Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?” I hope the giver of the dog didn’t get in too much trouble for being smart. This is found in Poetry Speaks to Children.

And last but not least, The Survivor, by Marilyn Chin. It carries a kind of quiet strength, telling the reader to not be tortured by what they are or are not. Whether you are a boy or girl, white or black, etc. This poem is in the book Poetry Speaks Who I Am.

That’s all for now. But there are so many more great poems out there, dozens upon dozens. Used Book Shop by X. J. Kennedy, Zodiac by Elizabeth Alexander, Dressed Up by Langston Hughes, and many, many more. Read some poetry this April, and don’t limit it to just then! Remember, if you comment/email with your favorite poems and give reasons why you like them, I’ll mention them in upcoming blog posts. Bye for now!