Author Study & Mini Lesson: Jacqueline Woodson

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AUTHOR STUDY

Author Background:

Jacqueline Woodson is an award-winning children and adolescent author. The 54-year-old African-American author currently lives in Columbus, Ohio and has written over 30 books. Among many awards, Woodson has received the Coretta Scott King Award, John Newbery Medal, National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature. Woodson is known for her inclusive multicultural writing. The author cites Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Nikki Giovanni among the authors that have inspired her work.

Woodson’s works frequently tackle important social issues. Such issues are normally avoided in children’s literature, however, Woodson feels her works answer universal questions. Exploring issues of race, gender and trauma are frequent themes in Woodson’s works. The presentation of these issues lead to conversations about equality and a social justice. Woodson has experiences backlash from critics who feel her work contains harsh language. The author maintains that she uses very few curse words and that the topics presented are important for children to be able to read and digest.

 

Books Read:

“I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This” (1994)

“If You Come Softly” (1998)

“miracle’s boys” (2000)

“After Tupac and D Foster” (2008)

 

Literary Moves Used:

“Picture It Descriptions”

Woodson uses very concrete language when describing items and characters in her text. For example, in After Tupac and D Foster, Woodson described the narrator’s shoes as “they were new, dark green with black laces and thick soles that made me a little bit taller. But they were heavy and my feet were sweating and itchy” (Woodson, 2008). This description gives the readers a very vivid picture of how the boots looked and felt. I would use this technique in my writing to ensure that readers can visualize the item or character I am describing. As Sarah walked over to the brown cat she could feel the cold floor beneath her feet. The floor sent chills up her spine; it felt like icicles and immediately woke her up. She forgot about the pain in her stomach from not eating, she could only focus on taking the smallest steps on her ice skating rink floor.

 

“Examples of Invisibility States”

Many of Woodson’s characters are typically “invisible.” Meaning their story is infrequently told, their voices are muffled under the loud voices of systemic American oppression. For example, in I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This Woodson writes, “‘Trash’ my father interjected one morning when I asked my mother for maybe the hundredth time who the white kids were and why…. ‘People,’ my mother corrected. ‘Poor white people.” In this story Woodson explores the tensions between middle-class African-Americans and poor White people. While racial tensions are not a new topic, adding class to the mixture and having characters explicitly state the tensions is a unique literary move by Woodson. I would use this literary move if I would be writing about my life as a middle-class African-American, Muslim educator in poor inner-city schools. “Why you sound like a White lady, Miss?” While I didn’t appreciate the label, I had to acknowledge that my experience and opportunities made me different from them. How would I connect the two became the most pressing question of the moment.

 

“Frequent Flight”

As previously stated, some of Woodson’s characters’ encounter very adult issues. Many times flight is the answer; these characters escape through out of body experiences and viewing a situation as a spectator instead of as a participant. In I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This the narrator states “Yes, of course I wanted to fly. I wanted to cast off, feel the ground drop slowly out from beneath me.” Woodson uses flight in a variety of ways, considering flight vs. fight and flight as a means of transportation. I would completely copy Woodson’s style and use this “flight” in response to trauma. It was like I wasn’t even in my body. I saw his fist flying toward my face, but I was numb. It felt like I was watching it, I guess that was easier to realizing that my boyfriend was beating me…again

 

MINI LESSON

Introduction/Hook

  • Close your eyes. Imagine an ice cold orange on a hot summer day. How does it feel? How does it feel when you bite into it? What do you taste? Hear? Smell? Feel?
  • In After Tupac and D. Foster, Jacqueline Woodson describes a pair of shoes: “they were new, dark green with black laces and thick soles that made me a little bit taller. But they were heavy and my feet were sweating and itchy”
  • Woodson uses description to make the reader experience what she is trying to describe. Her adjectives create an experience, not just a description
  • Vivid description allows the author to pull their readers in. Her descriptions ensure that the reader is able to feel what they are reading, making more than a passive action.

 

Teaching Point

  • “Picture It Descriptions”
  • Woodson uses her words to make the reader experience what she is trying to describe. Woodson uses her adjectives to create an experience, not just a description. She wants readers to be able to use all of their senses when reading her texts. Her word choice is deliberate and concrete. For example, imagine an orange vs. an ice cold, juicy orange that runs down your face and makes your fingers sticky. The second example is similar to the writing style of Woodson, powerful, enticing, and full of adjectives.

 

Demonstration

  • Here are two more examples of “Picture It Descriptions.” One example was written by Jacqueline Woodson, the other was written by me.
    • Woodson example: “He loved the light in his mama’s kitchen. The yellow stained-glass panes across the top of the windows buttered the room a soft gold—even now, in the early evening with the rain coming down hard outside” (If You Come Softly).
    • My example: As Sarah walked over to the brown cat she could feel the cold floor beneath her feet. The floor sent chills up her spine; it felt like icicles and immediately woke her up. She forgot about the pain in her stomach from not eating, she could only focus on taking the smallest steps on her ice skating rink floor.

 

Guided Practice

  • Let’s examine these examples in our writing circle groups.
    • What do you notice about the writings? What stands out to you? What do you dislike? What else could the author have done in describing their object/experience/character?
    • In your group, create a color-symbol-imagine for your writing selection
    • Group discussion: What are some similarities between the groups and writings? What were you surprised by? What would you have done differently?
    • Brainstorm: How can you use this technique in your writing? What would you describe?

Link

  • After our guided reading today, I would like you to use this technique to describe a character/experience/setting. If you need help starting, create a color-symbol-image for a portion of text.

 

Further Extension

  • Gallery walk to group comments

 

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