Brown Girl Dreaming


  • Written by: Jacqueline Woodson
  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 0990
  • Series: Newbery Honor Book
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books; 1 edition (August 28, 2014)

Summary: Born into the Civil Rights Movement, author Jaqueline Woodson writes about her life growing up. Filled with vivid images, written in poetic verse, Woodson fills the reader into what life was like for her. She deeply describes growing up at her grandparents home, and later moving to New York City, comparing how different the two were at the time. Woodson dealt with many family issues growing up and she describes them brilliantly in the novel. The story of her life is both touching as well as heartwarming, and at times tearful.

5 keywords: Verse, Poetry, Free-form, Auto-biography, Civil Rights Movement

Common Core State Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.3.D
Use concrete words and phrases and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely.

Suggested Delivery: Whole class

Electronic Resources: This is a video where Jaqueline Woodson describes her inspirations for this memoir, and her reasons for the title.

This webpage can be used by the teacher for discussions and lesson ideas –

Website: This is the authors website where she gives information on the story, and where to find out more about her. This website can be used as a primer and as a way to answer questions students have about the story.

Teaching guide – This teaching guide is provided by Penguin, it includes all of the author’s other works. It has great discussion questions that can serve as the basis for class/assessment prompts.

Key Vocabulary:

Infinite – Having no limits

Accuses – Blaming someone

Galaxy – Large group of stars that makes up the universe

Gravity – Very serious conditions

Goggled – To look at someone/something in a surprising way – your eyes are wide

Fascinated – To be very interested in someone/something

Protruding – To stick out

Tomboy – A girl who likes things that are typically for boys

Pastels – Light colors

Feminist – Someone who believes in equality of both sexes

Before: Prior to reading Brown Girl Dreaming, give students historical context to the time period. The Civil Right’s movement is very important when discussing the story. While the story is not all about this movement, and doesn’t always flat out state Civil Rights, there are inferences to certain historic moments, such as when Jaqueline discusses her uncle’s incarceration. Show primary sources from the time, and discuss these with the class. 

Why was her uncle arrested? 

Would a similar thing happen today?

How did her grandparents feel about her moving to New York City?

How was life different for Jaqueline when she returned to the South in the summer? How did this compare and contrast to her Northern home?

During: While reading the story discuss some of the poems in detail. Discuss literary and poetic language, verses, and tone. Have students identify inferences to other things while reading to build upon inferential comprehension. An example of this is dissecting the poem What Everybody Knows Now (237), where the author mentions that Woolworths Department Store lunch counter made her grandmother wait. This is not only foreshadowing to another poem where she mentions Woolworths (John’s Bargain Store, 253), but also a historic reference. The sit-ins were first started at Woolworths Department Store, organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Anne Moody. Woodson infers this, and without this background information, the context is lost. Show students primary footage of the incidents at Woolworths –

After: After reading Brown Girl Dreaming, discuss the story with students and ask what they thought about Woodson’s life and the time period she grew up in. Discuss her personal challenges with the students, and assess them informally about what they can recall about the text. Students should have a good understanding of literal details but prompt them with emotional questions. How did Jaqueline feel when the teacher called her Jackie? What was her special talent, and what were her siblings? How did she feel when her teachers assumed she was as smart as her sister? Do you relate to this? How are assumptions good and how are they bad?

Writing Activity: Have students emulate the Author’s voice in February 12th, 1963, to write their own poem about the day they were born. Through this students will learn about poetic voice, verse and language. While exploring poems and language students will learn how to differentiate their own writing to fit different genres. Based on this prompt students will have to base their poem off of Brown Girl Dreaming. Through this they will show inferential and literal comprehension of the story. By following and modeling Woodson’s poems, students show they literally know how to write a poem that resembles hers. In terms of tone of voice, and emotions that come from the poem the students write, there will be evidence of inferential comprehension. The students who show they understand these elements are clearly picking up on the underlying message of the text and of the poems.


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