(photo from Jacqueline Woodson's current author Facebook page)
For EDT 603: Foundation of Literacy through Children's and Young Adult Literature at the University of Dayton, I am studying Jacqueline Woodson for my Mentor Author Project. I first became familiar with her picture books through my teaching positions and books discussed in the class, so I read two of her novels to expand my knowledge. I read her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, and a recent novel, Harbor Me. (Links at each section of this post will take you to her official website.)
Jacqueline Woodson was born on February 12, 1963 in Columbus, Ohio. Her mother was from the South Carolina and father is from Ohio, so her parents' hometowns provided differing views on the Civil Rights Movement. Jacqueline was mainly raised by her mother and maternal grandparents. Her mother was able to move the family to Brooklyn as Jacqueline started school. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Adelphi University and continued studying writing at the New School. Her first novel was published in 1990 when she was 27 years old. She is a prolific and award winning full-time writer. She uses her eloquent and lyrical style to tackle tough issues through her writing in picture books, novels, and novels in verse. Most of her books span children's to young adult literature, and her recent shift to adult fiction is notable. As of 2020, she has published 33 books and 13 short stories. She will publish two new picture books in 2022
"I used to say I'd be teacher or a lawyer or a hairdresser when I grew up but even as I said these things, I knew what made me happiest was writing."
Jacqueline's writing was first recognized in fifth grade. Her website biography
pages gives a fascinating perspective on story telling and a link to watch her TED Talk from April 2019.
“When I go into classrooms,” Woodson said, “I’ll look at the class makeup and it will be all these kids of color, and they’ll have all these books with no people of color in them. I’m like: ‘Come on! Is it just by accident or by design that you’re not letting the literature reflect your young people?’ ”
A variety of awards from 1995 to the present recognize Woodson's contributions as an author and her amazing books.
Newberry Honor 2015, 2009, 2008, & 2006
MacArthur Genius Award 2020
Hans Christian Anderson Award 2020
Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 2018
Young People's Poet Laureate 2015 - 2017
National Ambassador for Young People's Literature 2018 - 2019
Coretta Scott King Award 2021, 2015, & 2001
Coretta Scott King Author Honor 2013, 2004, 1996, & 1995
Picture Books (selected)
Coming May 2022
The power of friendship is a theme in both Brown Girl Dreaming and Harbor Me. In her memoir, Woodson writes about her growing friendship with Maria even though their families have different backgrounds. Jackie and Maria are still friends as Woodson notes at the end of Brown Girl Dreaming. Woodson brings together six kids of different backgrounds in Harbor Me and uses their weekly time to talk and share stories to examine their growing friendships.
Woodson uses her home of Brooklyn, New York as a setting for multiple stories including Harbor
Me. Woodson uses places she knows well, including New York and the South as the setting for many of her stories.
Woodson used one of the poems in Brown Girl Dreaming as the inspiration for her picture book, The Day You Begin. Her mother's story of Jacqueline's great-grandfather, William Woodson, was the basis for her poem.
Her own story is part of The Great Migration from the South to the North for many black families. She writes about her family's experience in Brown Girl Dreaming and examines another story if migration in her picture book This is the Rope.
Woodson tackles many challenging, thought-provoking topics in her books including race relations, religion, poverty, loss, divorce, and incarceration. In Brown Girl Dreaming, she shares stories of her Uncle Robert, who was in prison in New York. Her main character in Harbor Me, only remembers her father in prison, but it takes time for Haley to share this significant part of her life with her new friends. Once others share their stories, Haley begins to share her family's story.
Reading Strategies (Pre-K to Grade 5 licensure)
Woodson writes stories for young children to adults, so there are a variety of reading strategies to use with her books in classrooms.
1. Semantic Map of the Civil Rights Movement (grade 5)
After students read This is the Rope, excerpts from Brown Girl Dreaming, and two to four informational books about the Civil Rights Movement, they create semantic maps in small groups. The Civil Rights Movement is in the center and other areas may include details about the time period, leaders, events, issues, and laws. Each group shares their semantic map with the class.
2. Read with a Writer's Eye (grade 4)
Discuss how we can "read with a writer's eye" as a whole class and create an anchor chart. After the second read aloud of The Day You Begin, small groups look for evidence of good writing supported by text examples. Each group is given a copy of the text and writes 1-3 examples on 3x5 cards to be shared with the entire class. The 3x5 cards be made into a class anchor chart. (The book can also be connected to motivation for writing personal narratives.)
3. Book Cover Predictions and a One Pager (grade 5)
Books clubs are formed based on interests and reading levels. (The teacher has given choices around the theme of friendship, which is not revealed to the class until later.) Each book club is given their novel to make predictions based on the cover, and one or more groups is reading Harbor Me. The groups begin posters with their predictions about the books in the left column, and then the groups fill in actual details for the books after the reading to compare and contrast with their predictions. Individuals complete a One Pager for their book. After all books clubs are finished, the class has a gallery walk to view the posters and One Pagers to spark additional reading interest in these books.