Jacqueline thinks about how stories always have happy endings and how she always wants the story to move faster toward the happy ending when her sister reads to her. When the children arrive back in New York, mother and Roman are waiting for them. Roman will have to return to the hospital the next day, which leads Jacqueline to feel they “are not all finally and safely/ home” (207).
Roman goes back and forth between the hospital and home. He has brain damage from eating the lead paint. One day, he is sent home for good. The family keeps his bed away from the wall so he won’t be tempted to eat the paint again. Jacqueline notes that he is now four, meaning she is around seven. He looks different now—his curls from early childhood have turned to straight hair—but he is still their brother.
In late August, Jacqueline makes a best friend outside the family. The friend’s name is Maria, and she lives down the street. Every morning, one of the girls goes to the other’s house and they go outside together. Maria speaks Spanish and has long, curly hair. Jacqueline begins to learn some Spanish phrases.
how to listen #5
Maria asks Jacqueline what her one dream or wish is.
Odella likes to read and stay indoors. Because Jacqueline likes to run and play outdoor games, she is called a tomboy. Jacqueline’s mother says Jacqueline’s walk reminds her of her father’s.
Hope, Odella, and Jacqueline get called inside by their mother before the other children on their block. They always complain as they walk back to their house, and the other children complain too, saying things like “Shoot. Your mama’s mean!” (213).
Mother now works five days a week at an office in Brownsville. She says that she and her sister never wanted to learn cooking from her mother, Grandma Georgiana. Instead, they wanted to be outside with their friends, causing mischief. She tells the story of one particular day when she and her siblings stole peaches from a man down the road and threw them at each other. Thinking back, she says that her mother letting her stay outside meant that at some point “it was too late” (215) to learn to cook.
Maria and Jacqueline often exchange dinners, Maria giving Jacqueline Puerto Rican food and Jacqueline giving Maria traditional Southern food. They sit outside together with their meals, and Maria compliments Jacqueline’s mom’s cooking.
Jacqueline finds it very easy to make up stories when telling them aloud, but difficult to write them down because she writes so slowly. Instead of the story flowing out of her, she pauses, tries, and erases, ending up with nothing.
A new school year begins. Ms. Moskowitz, the teacher, calls the students in Jacqueline’s class up to write their names on the board. When it is Jacqueline’s turn, she easily writes her name on the board in print as she has practiced many times. However, when the teacher asks her to write it in cursive, she gets confused by the letter q. Instead, for the first time, she writes Jackie Woodson. She lies and tells her teacher that that’s what she wants to be called.
the other woodson
Since Jacqueline is just one grade behind Odella, teachers have high academic expectations when she enters their classes. They also accidentally call her by her sister’s name. When Jacqueline is not as brilliant or quick to raise her hand, the teachers wait and wait and then finally stop calling her Odella. They give up on her being smart.
Jacqueline listens to the song “Family Affair” on the radio; it is her mother’s favorite song. The song makes Jacqueline think of her two homes in Greenville and Brooklyn. She copies down the lyrics, trying to write quickly to keep up with the song. She is teaching herself to write better by copying and memorizing.
birch tree poem
Jacqueline’s teacher reads the class a poem after first explaining that a birch is a kind of tree and showing a picture of what it looks like. She has an entrancing reading voice that brings many students almost to tears. Jacqueline can imagine the tree in the poem perfectly, and this chapter ends with the words “forever and ever/ infinity/ amen” (224).
how to listen #6
When Jacqueline sits beneath the only tree on her block, “the world disappears” (225).
Jacqueline is still distressed that, unlike her sister, she has trouble reading. She reads slowly because “words from the books curl around each other” (226), and her teacher tells her she needs to read higher level books for children her age. Jacqueline wants the time to read lower level books and read at her own pace so that the stories have time to settle in her brain and become a part of her memory.
stevie and me
When mother takes Jacqueline and her siblings to the library, Jacqueline picks out picture books and nobody complains. One day, Jacqueline chooses a book called Stevie that has a picture of a brown boy on the cover. When she reads the book, she is amazed to find that it is about an African American child. She notes that if someone had pushed her to read a book for older children on that day, she wouldn’t have gotten the chance to read a story about someone who looks like her.
when i tell my family
When Jacqueline tells her family she wants to be a writer, they comment that they do notice that she likes to write, but try to push her toward other careers.
Jacqueline’s grandfather calls from South Carolina and the children fight over who will get to talk first. His voice weak from coughing, he tells them how much he loves them all.
When Hope is ten years old, he sings onstage for the first time in a school play. The family is shocked to find that he has a beautiful, confident singing voice. Jacqueline thinks that everyone may have hidden gifts like Hope does.
daddy this time
The children return to Greenville for another summer visit, this time bringing Roman as well. However, Jacqueline’s grandfather Daddy Gunnar is now so sick that he can’t leave bed. Jacqueline cares for him, bringing him soup and feeding it to him. He only has enough energy to eat a few bites.
The other children would rather play outside, using the swing set which has been cemented down so it doesn’t shake. Jacqueline’s grandfather says that she’s his favorite as she sits with him and rubs lotion into his hands. She tells him stories about her life in New York, speaks to him in Spanish, and sings to him even though others think her voice is off-key.
what everybody knows now
While Jim Crow laws were abolished, many African Americans in the South still followed the same societal rules such as sitting in the back of the bus. Jacqueline’s grandmother sits in the back of the bus, telling Jacqueline that “It’s easier...than having white folks look at me like I’m dirt” (237). Jacqueline notices who is sitting in the back and who dares to sit up front; she says that she wants to be brave like those people. Jacqueline’s grandmother keeps the children sitting in the back and not entering restaurants where seating is mixed now, saying that she’s the one who has to live in the town year-round. She doesn’t allow them to go into Woolworths or even look at it since one time she was humiliated there.
end of summer
The children again return to New York at the end of summer. When they hug their grandfather, he is very thin and weak. From inside the taxi, they see their grandmother waving and grandfather watching from the window.
Uncle Robert gets the children home but doesn’t stay long in the city, heading to Far Rockaway. Before he leaves, the children remind him of promises he’s made them about trips and toys, and he says that he won’t forget. The children nod, but their mother doesn’t. Seeing her mother’s worried look, Jacqueline thinks about one night when police came to their house looking for Uncle Robert. Mary Ann tells him to be safe and not get into trouble.
When Jacqueline gets back to Brooklyn, Maria is upstate, staying with a rich white family in Schenectady, New York. When Maria returns home, she tells Jacqueline that the people were different and thought she was poor. She also shows Jacqueline Bubble Yum, which the people she stayed with liked, and the two girls buy and chew the brand for the rest of the summer. They swap stories and write “Maria & Jackie Best Friends Forever” (243) in chalk all over their block.
p.s. 106 haiku
This entry is in the form of a haiku, a short Japanese form of poetry. It simply says that Jacqueline is now in fourth grade and that it is raining.
learning from langston
This entry includes a quote from a Langston Hughes poem about friendship. Jacqueline mimics the form of Hughes’s poem, writing about loving her friend Maria.
the selfish giant
Jacqueline’s teacher reads a story to the class about a selfish giant who falls in love with a boy who has scars on his hands and feet like Jesus. The story causes Jacqueline to cry for hours and beg her mother to find the book at the library. Jacqueline reads the story repeatedly and falls in love with the boy in the story as well. One day, when the teacher asks Jacqueline to read to the class, Jacqueline is able to recite fluently from the story without looking at the book. Her classmates and teacher are amazed, asking how she memorized it all. Jacqueline realizes that words may be her hidden gift, like Hope’s singing voice.
the butterfly poems
Jacqueline begins to write a book of poems about butterflies, studying different types in the encyclopedia. Nobody believes that she's really writing a book, especially all about such a simple and short-lived creature as a butterfly.
Sisters at Kingdom Hall get to put on skits. Usually they are skits about a Jehovah's Witness visiting another Jehovah's Witness or a nonbeliever. When Jacqueline gets the chance to write one by herself, she includes horses and cows and questions about their status after death. Mother scolds her that she's getting off-topic, since the skit is supposed to be about resurrection. Jacqueline is conflicted because the skit must only be six minutes, and she wants to include all the interesting thoughts and experiences of the animals. She decides to write a simple skit about Jehovah's Witnesses spreading their gospel, but tells herself that she can write her story about horses and cows later in life.
Jacqueline finishes her first book, a collection of seven poems about butterflies.
john's bargain store
Jacqueline describes the stores on Knickerbocker Avenue and describes how she still won't shop at Woolworth's because of the way they treated African Americans. Maria and Jacqueline buy cheap, matching T-shirts at a store and plan each night which one to wear the next day. They dress alike all year, and people ask if they are cousins when they walk around together.
A girl named Diana moves to Jacqueline and Maria's block and becomes their "Second Best Friend in the Whole World" (254). Jacqueline is somewhat worried about being replaced by Diana because she is Puerto Rican and a friend of Maria's family, and she feels jealous when she sees the girls walking and playing together outside when her mother keeps her inside.
pasteles & pernil
Jacqueline attends a party at Maria's house for her baby brother Carlos's baptism. Jacqueline is unable to eat pernil, since it is made of pork, but Maria's mother has made pasteles filled with chicken especially for her. The food is delicious and people have a great time dancing to loud music. When Jacqueline asks why Diana isn't there, Maria responds that "This party is just for my family" (256), meaning Jacqueline is included in her family and Diana isn't.
Jacqueline and her siblings are raised to be extremely polite; not only do they say please and thank you, but they aren't allowed to say words like jerk or darn. When their friends pressure them to try saying curse words, they get caught in their throats as if their mother is watching.
Jacqueline's uncle and mother style their hair into afros, but Jacqueline isn't allowed to.
Jacqueline learns about tags, which are names or nicknames written with spray paint. Jacqueline and Maria try this out, but Jacqueline's uncle catches her and scolds her harshly. She thinks to herself that she just wants to write and that words can't hurt anybody.
In the morning, Jacqueline's family listens to music on the radio. Jacqueline's mother doesn't let them listen to music that says the word funk, which eliminates all of the black radio stations. While Odella likes the music on the white radio stations, Jacqueline chooses to go to Maria's house and listen to the black stations. They love to sing and dance to songs that say the word funk, and they say the word funky over and over to each other.
A phone call comes in the middle of the night; Robert is calling from Rikers Island, a prison. In the morning, mother tells the children that they won't be seeing their uncle for a while, but she won't tell them why he's in jail. She uses a Jehovah's Witness metaphor of a wide road and a narrow road, saying that Robert walked the wide road. That day it is raining, so the children stay inside all day. Jacqueline tries to write another poem about butterflies, but she finds she is unable.
Uncle Robert is sent to a different prison upstate. Instead of telling friends that Uncle Robert is in prison, Jacqueline tells friends that he moved to a big, fancy house upstate. Jacqueline thinks fondly of memories with him, but Odella is more matter of fact about him.
on the bus to dannemora
The family takes a bus to Dannemora, a town in upstate New York which is home to a large maximum security prison. While on the bus, Jacqueline hears the song Love Train and starts to fantasize about being on a train full of love. Looking around the train when this reverie subsides, Jacqueline thinks that everyone on the train must be dreaming about their loved ones who are in prison being able to come onto a love train.
As the bus reaches Dannemora, Jacqueline thinks up the lyrics to a song. When she whispers them aloud, Odella says it's too good for Jacqueline to have made it up. This makes Jacqueline very proud.
The family enters the prison. Hope is afraid, and when he gets patted down after being X-rayed, Jacqueline thinks about how quickly he could go from being a smart, unique individual to a number, like their Uncle.
When they are allowed to see Uncle Robert, they find him a changed man. His head is shaved, and though he smiles, Jacqueline can tell he is sad.
On the way home, Jacqueline makes up more lyrics to her song. She sings it over and over and cries, thinking of Robert, grandfather Daddy Gunnar, and the past in general. She thinks that if she can remember the song until she gets home, she will write it down and be a writer.
poem on paper
Jacqueline continues to write stories and poems. Her mother tells her not to write about their family, and Jacqueline says that she isn't, even though part of the song she's writing is clearly about her Uncle's experience in prison.
The family rides in an airplane for the first time to get to South Carolina, where they see Daddy Gunnar in very bad condition. Jacqueline wants to tell him all about the exciting plane ride, but her grandmother says he is very tired, and that evening he dies. The burial takes place soon after, and on that day there is a long parade through Nicholtown. The children lead the parade, and people join as the parade passes by. At the burial, people drop handfuls of dirt on the casket as it is lowered into the ground.
how to listen #7
Jacqueline says that if you listen to silence, it has a story to tell you.
Unlike the title of Part III, which was a quote from an earlier poem in Brown Girl Dreaming, the title of Part IV is an allusion to something outside of the book. The quote comes from the gospel song "We Shall Overcome," which was immensely popular as a protest song during the Civil Rights Movement. While the song itself focuses on themes of overcoming adversity and looking toward the future, the particular quote Woodson chose to title the section focuses on the more internal aspects of feeling and believing. During Part IV, Jacqueline becomes more aware of racial history and the widespread nature of the Civil Rights Movement going on around her.
One poem of particular importance in Part IV is "stevie and me" (227-8). In the poem, Jacqueline picks out a picture book from the library and finds that it is "filled with brown people, more/ brown people than I'd ever seen/ in a book before" (228). Woodson uses this scene to criticize the lack of representation for African Americans and other people of color in literature, especially children's and young adult literature. Woodson writes that as a child she felt that this book demonstrated that "someone who looked like me/ had a story" (228), giving her the strength to embrace her racial identity and follow her dreams. In a metaliterary sense, the scene shows part of Woodson's intent in producing children's and young adult fiction with African American main characters so that other young African Americans, especially females, can find accurate and positive representations of people like themselves in literature.
As Jacqueline grows, and consequently writes, reads, and learns more, Woodson begins to play more with the style of the poems. The poem "p.s. 106 haiku" is written, as the title of the poem suggests, as in traditional haiku form. Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry consisting of three phrases, one with five on or syllables, the next with seven, then the final with five again. In English contexts, haikus are generally written on three lines, while in Japan they are written in a single, vertical line. The theme of Japanese haikus is almost always nature, and usually there are two juxtaposed images. Jacqueline's haiku shows that she is being introduced to both a wide variety of cultures and more formal styles of writing now that she is in the upper grades of elementary school. Jacqueline's haiku stays true to Japanese form by including the theme of nature—"It's raining outside" (244)—and perhaps it could be said to juxtapose the image of Jacqueline safe and dry inside with the simple image of rain outside.
Another exploration of poetic forms comes in the very next poem, titled "learning from langston" (245). The poem begins by quoting the entirety of a short poem by Langston Hughes, a well-known African American poet especially famous for his work during the Harlem Renaissance. Woodson clearly has great admiration for Hughes's work, as she also used one of his poems for the epigraph of Brown Girl Dreaming. Hughes's poem used in this entry is about a friend who "went away" (245). The phrase "I loved my friend" (245) is repeated at the beginning and end of the short, six-line poem, creating a tone of sadness yet acceptance. Jacqueline's poem copies the style of Hughes's in some ways, but innovates significantly in both tone and form. Jacqueline's poem has five lines rather than six, and instead of being entirely left-aligned, the poem has a curved shape. As for the tone, Jacqueline creates a happy and youthful tone by starting and ending with the present tense "I love my friend" (245) rather than the past tense used by Hughes. This poem shows Jacqueline's willingness to learn from those before her but also do things her own way.
Friendship is one of the strongest themes in Part IV, as Jacqueline makes a close friend outside of her family for the first time. Maria, Jacqueline's new best friend, is a Puerto Rican girl who lives down the street. Rather than feel separated by cultural differences, the girls delight in learning about one another's cultures, especially by exchanging food. Jacqueline also starts to learn Spanish, nuancing the motif of language and accents established by Jacqueline's experiences in the North and South. The girls seem to delight in their friendship both privately and publicly, doing things such as writing "Maria & Jackie Best Friends Forever...so many times that it's hard to walk/ on our side/ of the street without looking down/ and seeing us there" (243) and wearing the same color shirt every day so that people will ask if they are cousins (253). Their friendship represents the blending of cultures in the United States, particularly in cities like New York.