Jacqueline Woodson describes her experiences growing up as an African American girl in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
The bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama during the 1960s was both a tragic and pivotal event of the Civil Rights movement.
Introduce this informational text once students have read up to page 37 of Brown Girl Dreaming, to provide background on the extent of racial tension in the South during the 1960s. How does “The 16th Street Baptist Bombing” highlight the dangers African Americans faced living in the South during this time? How do students think violent events like these contributed to the precautions Jacqueline’s mother took when returning to the South? Why do students think she wanted to return to the South, despite the dangerous climate?
In Teri Ellen Cross Davis’ poem “East 149th Street (Symphony for a Black Girl),” the speaker describes how she feels after having her hair braided by her mother.
Introduce this poem after page 85 of the novel, when Jacqueline has her hair styled, to further explore what this experience means to young girls. Ask students to compare how the girl in the poem describes having her hair braided to how Jacqueline describes having her hair styled. How do both texts emphasize how, for the two girls, styling their hair is a family experience?
In Nancy Jean Northcutt’s short story “Kissy Face,” a boy tries to avoid receiving kisses from his aunts and grandmas.
Introduce this short story, about a boy who is about to become a big brother, after page 138 of the novel — when a new baby joins Jacqueline’s family. Ask students to discuss how James and Jacqueline feel about the idea of having a baby sibling. How does having a new baby in the family make both characters feel more grown-up? How do James’ and Jacqueline’s feelings about being seen as a grown-up differ?
In the informational text “Marley Dias: The 13-Year-Old Author Who Made a Difference,” Barrett Smith discusses the activism of a young girl who collects and donates books with black girls as the main characters.
Have students read this text, about a young activist collecting books that feature Black girls, after page 228 of the novel — when Jacqueline discovers books with Black characters. In the informational text, Marley says that she “‘couldn’t learn lessons from those stories’” that excluded Black people. What does it mean to Marley and Jacqueline to read books that feature characters that look like them? How do students think Jacqueline would feel about Marley’s mission to collect books featuring Black girls?
In Tony Medina’s poem “Poetry Means the World to Me,” Medina speaks from Langston Hughes’ point of view to explore his love for poetry.
Have students read this poem, that expresses Langston Hughes’ love for poetry, after page 248, when Jacqueline expresses her own love for stories. How is Jacqueline directly impacted by Langston Hughes’ poetry? How does the poem “Poetry Means the World to Me” explore how Langston Hughes used poetry? How does this compare to Jacqueline’s use of poetry and love of stories in general?
In Julia Alvarez’s short story “Names/Nombres,” the author explores the various names she has received over the years.
Once students have finished Brown Girl Dreaming, have them read the essay “Names/Nombres,” which is about the multiple names a Dominican American writer gained throughout her childhood. Ask students to discuss all of the different parts of Jacqueline’s identity that make her who she is. How are the different parts of Julia Alvarez’s identity explored through her various names? How do both Jacqueline and Alvarez use their writing to make sense of the world around them and who they are?