"Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson, Part I

In a series of autobiographical poems, Jacqueline Woodson vividly brings her childhood and adolescence to life. This memoir in verse won the National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Newbery Honor Award.

Here are links to our lists for the memoir: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V–Author's Note

Here is a link to our list for Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson.
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Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. barren
    providing no shelter or sustenance
    Hold fast to dreams
    For if dreams die
    Life is a broken-winged bird
    That cannot fly.
    Hold fast to dreams
    For when dreams go
    Life is a barren field
    Frozen with snow.
    —Langston Hughes
  2. constellation
    a configuration of stars as seen from the earth
    looked up and followed the sky's mirrored constellation to freedom
  3. emancipate
    free from slavery or servitude
    I am born as the South explodes, too many people too many years
    enslaved, then emancipated but not free, the people who look like me keep fighting and marching and getting killed so that today—
    February 12, 1963 and every day from this moment on, brown children like me can grow up free.
  4. vast
    unusually great in size or amount or extent or scope
    So much already covers this vast Ohio ground.
  5. protest
    a public manifestation of dissent
    I am born Negro here and Colored there
    and somewhere else,
    the Freedom Singers have linked arms,
    their protests rising into song
  6. overcome
    win a victory over
    Deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall overcome someday.
  7. injustice
    the practice of being unjust or unfair
    and somewhere else, James Baldwin is writing about injustice, each novel, each essay, changing the world.
  8. trace
    follow or ascertain the course of development of something
    My father's family can trace their history back to Thomas Woodson of Chillicothe, said to be the first son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings some say
  9. scholar
    a learned person
    ask any Woodson why
    you can't go down the Woodson line
    without
    finding
    doctors and lawyers and teachers
    athletes and scholars and people in government
    they'll say,
    We had a head start.
  10. furrow
    a slight depression in the smoothness of a surface
    There I am in the furrow of Jack's brow, in the slyness of Alicia's smile, in the bend of Grace's hand . . .
  11. memorial
    a structure erected to commemorate persons or events
    His name in stone now on the Civil War Memorial:
    William J. Woodson United States Colored Troops,
    Union, Company B 5th Regt.
  12. static
    crackling or hissing noise caused by electrical interference
    Through all that static and squawking, I heard your mama telling me you'd come.
  13. certificate
    a document attesting to the truth of certain stated facts
    My time of birth wasn't listed on the certificate, then got lost again amid other people's bad memory.
  14. lilt
    a jaunty rhythm in music or speech
    Ohio will never be home, no matter
    how many plants she brings
    indoors each winter, singing softly to them,
    the lilt of her words a breath
    of warm air moving over each leaf.
  15. deserve
    be worthy
    All you Woodson kids deserve to be as good as you already are.
  16. immense
    unusually great in size or amount or extent or scope
    We are near my other grandparents' house, small red stone, immense yard surrounding it.
  17. gleam
    shine brightly, like a star or a light
    My mother throws her head back, her newly pressed and curled hair gleaming her smile the same one she had before she left for Columbus.
  18. melt
    reduce or cause to be reduced from a solid to a liquid state
    Both know that southern way of talking without words, remember when the heat of summer could melt the mouth, so southerners stayed quiet
  19. embroider
    decorate with needlework
    A white handkerchief, embroidered with blue to wipe away my mother's tears.
  20. ditch
    a long narrow excavation in the earth
    Remember the time, they ask,
    When we stole Miz Carter's peach pie off her windowsill, got stuck in that ditch down below Todd's house, climbed that fence and snuck into Greenville pool, weren't scared about getting arrested either, shoot! nobody telling us where we can and can't swim!
  21. separate
    divided according to race, sex, class, or religion
    Greenville with its separate ways growing small behind us.
  22. porcelain
    ceramic ware made of a more or less translucent ceramic
    After the sweet tea is poured into mason jars twisted tight and the deviled eggs are scooped back inside their egg-white beds slipped into porcelain bowls that are my mother's now, a gift her mother sends with her on the journey . . .
  23. clutch
    a collection of things or persons to be handled together
    then it is time to say our good-byes, the small clutch of us children pressed against my grandmother's apron, her tears quickly blinked away . . .
  24. bound
    headed or intending to head in a certain direction
    We board the Greyhound bus, bound for Ohio.
  25. remind
    put in the mind of someone
    My father, whose reddish-brown skin would later remind me of the red dirt of the South and all that was rich about it, standing in the yard, one hand on the black metal railing, the other lifting
    into a weak wave good-bye.

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