There is a line halfway through Jacqueline Woodson’s novel that perfectly encompasses the lesson learned, and reflected upon throughout her childhood. Little Jacqueline sits at her grandfather’s, or “Daddy’s”, feet while he explains the silent fight blacks had to endure during recent years. He explains the marches, boycotts, and silent acts of rebellion that people must be “ready to die for.” He looks down at his three grandkids, their eyes full of innocence, and says “Be ready to die… for everything you believe in.”
Woodson takes readers back in time to the 60’s and provides a firsthand view of a young black girl’s childhood during the fight for civil rights. She captures the days spent swinging under the hot summer sun in her South Carolina backyard, with blue ribbons tied to her braids whipping through the air; and the times spent gripping tightly to her mother’s hand as they walked to the back of an empty bus, where they were told they belong. It is an eye opening journey that is told through the fresh perspective of young Jacqueline trying to understand her friends, family, and place in this big world surrounding her through the will of her pen in hand.
Though Woodson captures her childhood beautifully, it can be quite confusing placing each of the many family members mentioned on the family tree correctly. This repeated confusion throughout the novel takes away from her overall purpose of her novel. Just like how words became scrambled in her five-year-old mind, her family and their purposes were confused in mine. Although, this may distract from Woodson's story, it does not detract from the learning experience that can be gained from reading this book.
By sharing sweet stories told from her happy summer days spent at her grandparents’ Carolina home, to the gloomy days of her preteen years in New York, Woodson forms a bond with readers that allows us to feel her happiest and most painful moments. Readers develop an empathetic understanding. The basic storyline of an African American’s struggling lifestyle in America during the 60s opens the eyes of those who have lived a more privileged lifestyle presently. Experiences such as murdered family members, being discriminated against in stores, and feeling fear as mama walks out the door to join the marches, is all eloquently captured in poetry format ironically reflecting her love of writing poetry as a child and longing to become an author. This novel opens a reader’s eyes to the day-to- day life of an African American in the south coping with turbulent times by following her dream as a writer. Kids to adults can all enjoy this novel and take valuable lessons from it.