T.O.T.Week: jacqueline woodson

It’s spring break friends, and I’m getting wild! And by that, I mean that I am switching it up and providing a samepage thematic viewpoint, but through the works of one author! I thought it would be interesting to explore the common thread from a woman who has written them all – picture books, middle grade novels, YA books, and adult books to boot. First of all, how kickass is that? To write multi generational stories and nail it every…single…time, is, quite frankly, what samepage lives for! The woman that I am speaking of is the one, the only, Jacqueline Woodson.

I can tell you the exact spot where I turned the pages of a Woodson book, as the prose cause me to stop in my tracks and drink in the words with intention and with time. Authenticity, connection, passion, racism, struggle, love… I could go on and on; her themes pervade the pages and cross the generational lines. Yet it is her characters, those who serve as a proxy to these larger understandings, that captivate my attention. Perfectly ordinary in the goings-on of their daily lives, each protagonist carries the weight of their respective worlds. Simultaneously, they have everything under control and nothing under control. She evokes deep empathy in these very human feelings, and I often feel like I am working through a diary or engaging with the inner monologue of someone sitting right next to me. Though her novels may not always have a prescribed ‘happy’ ending, Jacqueline Woodson does manage to leave you feeling hopeful, and ready to do your part in creating a better world. At least, that is how these four books make me feel.

Each Kindness is a picture book that demonstrates the tough reality of what happens when too little kindness becomes too late for a young school girl. As a teacher, I read this book at the start of each year and the kids always say, “Ms. Tell, this book is sad!” They are not wrong, yet the tough love lesson behind this tale keep my students referring back to it throughout the year, and sets the tone for how we can do better to strive for kindness. Harbor Me is the stuff of middle schooling wizardry. This is the story of six students who have been placed into a room together, with no adults, to simply talk about their lives. I cry every time as the friends rise to take on the role of life raft in the respective storm of their peers. Her YA love story, If You Come Softly, takes on first love with every delectable and heartbreaking turn of a page. It speaks to regret and despair and passion in a way that is Shakespeare-esque while living in modern day New York City. She took a cue from Romeo and Juliet, but who could blame her? Finally, it’s worth noting that I read Red At The Bone in one sitting in a Vermont cabin, completely oblivious to what activities my friends were doing that day. Multi generational in its own right, five characters from one family live with the impact of their various decisions, and their stories are woven together in recognition that at the end of the day, they’re not as different from one another as they may think.

Each Kindness

Harbor Me

If You Come Softly

Red At The Bone

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