Jacqueline Woodson

How, why and what does she write about?

Before the books

Jacqueline Woodson is a highly accomplished author who has written for a variety of ages. She writes for children, middle school, and young adults. She has written over 30 books, her most famous being Brown Girl Dreaming which won many awards including the Newbury Honor, the National Book Award for Young People's Literature and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Young Adult Fiction.

Woodson's youth was split between South Carolina and Brooklyn. She grew up under the Jim Crow laws and these racial issues are reflected throughout her books. Growing up she was always the odd kid out. She was always in trouble for talking out of turn or missed assignments. One of the main things that influenced her to become a writer was an experience she had in 5th grade. She had just written a story and she thought it wasn’t very good. When she handed in to her teacher her teacher looked up and said “This is really good.” This caused Jacqueline Woodson to believe in herself which is important in writing.

Though she was a natural writer she never was a fan of reading. Her mother always told her to turn off the television and pick up a book. She came of age as a writer and reader because her mother’s positive attitude toward education and reading. Her mother emphasized the notion that to write about oneself was a way to overcome obstacles and move forward to in life. Her experiences and emotions aways influence her writing.

She published her first book at age 26. She writes in her home in Brooklyn where she lives with her wife and her two children. Because she is lesbian she includes characters that are lesbian or gay throughout her books. For example int the book If You Come Softly the older sister of the main character is lesbian. She is always working on two or more books so if she gets bored with one she can work the other. Once she wrote a book in 2 weeks. The next book she wrote took her four years. She is 52 and continues to write to this day.


Common Writing Techniques

Here are just a few...

Italicized Dialogue

Woodson will italicize dialogue throughout the story. She tends to do this when the dialogue is meaningful and important. She is trying to express to the reader that this dialogue is important.

I don't think god meant for his good book to be a weapon grandma, I saidFeathers pg. 34

I wanted to slap her, Cameron said” Hush pg. 42

I thought you were dead this time, Moses said”Beneath a Meth Moon pg. 165

Parenthetical Dashes

Woodson sometimes uses dashes to replace parentheses in her writing. She does this because she wants the separated section to flow more naturally and not seem set off from the rest of the text.

“Mr Lacori-Leigh-told me” Hush pg. 145

“I picked up the flowers-they were pretty-yellow and red and white with green leaves bunched around them” Feathers pg. 50

“I looked away real quick -thinking that wasn't me- that girl with the clothes hanging on for that way, her cheekbones jutting out of her face, her eyes sinking in…” Beneath a Meth Moon pg. 115


Woodson will write 1 or two medium to long sentences and then add one or two very short sentences. She does this to to emphasize the shortened sentences and make the shortened sentences seemingly more important.

“Then the loud beep and another voice telling me that the phone was off the hook. I couldn’t hang up though. Even though the beep still pounded in my ear and my hand hurt from holding the phone too tight, I couldn't hang up.” Hush pg. 40

“And in Fort Greene, Brooklyn--where everyone seems to be some shade of black--he felt good walking through the neighborhood. But one step outside. Just one step and somehow the weight of his skin seemed to change.” If You Come Softly pg. 5

“And staring at the picture of Lila, hanging on the wall with her eyes all dark and wide, it dawned on me--I wasn’t afraid of dying because dying had always been somewhere in our house, somewhere so close we could feel the wind of it on our cheeks. Lila had died. Those other babies had died. And now Mama was pregnant again and maybe this one would make it and maybe it wouldn’t.” Feathers pg. 76

SSS (same sentence starter)

Woodson will start two sentences with the same word to emphasize a certain topic or aspect of the paragraph.

“Scared to say the wrong thing. Scared she’d leave again.” If You Come Softly pg. 22

“Sometimes he liked her back. Sometimes he didn’t” Feathers pg. 43

“Someone pushed past me and then excused themselves. Someone dropped a book and got called a dork for doing it.” Hush pg. 162


Common Themes

Racial issues are a common theme in Woodson's books.

In the book If You Come Softly a girl named Ellie falls in love with a black boy named Jeremiah. This causes problems throughout the book. An example is when he tells her older sister that she likes Jeremiah. When her older sister finds out that Jeremiah is black she seemed shocked and slightly offended. This shows that people were not very accepting of their interracial relationship.

The book Hush follows the story of a black family that had to abandon their home in Denver and move to Brooklyn because of a threat. The family felt threatened because the father witnessed two white policeman killing a black teenager. The killing caused an uproar in the black community. The policemen were afraid that the father would sell them out. They threatened him which in turn forced the entire family to move away.

In the book Feathers a white boy starts going to a mostly colored school. He gets teased for his skin color and looking like Jesus. This causes a lot of problems throughout the book. Another instance of racial tension is when they talk about the black side of the highway. This is a topic that comes up multiple times in the book. There is much conversation about the rules of who could be on each side of the highway and how they should be changed.


Sentence Breakdown

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Woodson Jacqueline. Beneath a Meth Moon. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2012

Woodson Jacqueline. Feathers. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2007

Woodson Jacqueline. Hush. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2002

Woodson Jacqueline. If You Come Softly. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 1998