The Reading Quilt: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline WoodsonMar 19, 2021 08:00AM ● By Dr. R.A. Slaughter
The cultural landscape of the classroom is rapidly changing. Schools in America are experiencing a surge in ethnic and racial diversity. Now a tapestry of cultures, the classroom is fertile ground for multicultural materials that can increase cultural competency and increase racial harmony. As a bonus, teachers who pack their bookshelves with multicultural literature may experience a decrease in racism as the community moves toward a “multi-culturally literate” mind-set.
Young people are especially curious about race and race relations often chatting about various issues amongst themselves. Oddly enough, when the topic of race is approached in the classroom, students commonly rush to bury their heads in the metaphorical sand. Using appropriate texts, a teacher can coax reluctant students to celebrate other cultures while discussing race without fear or shame. Research shows that quality multicultural literature is powerful, and a perfect vehicle for teachers and students to build strong relationships with their students, while increasing self-awareness. But often, the search for quality multicultural literature is difficult since the literature seems scarce.
Albeit less prolific, multicultural literature is available, and teachers who include multicultural literature in their curriculum can destroy colorblind ideology which allows a single cultural narrative to dominate. Colorblind ideology has a major impact on the educational system, the perceptions of teachers, and how they perceive their students, families and communities of color (Matias, 2013). A deficient multicultural program interferes with the goal of multicultural education becoming a “characteristic of American mentality so that educators can eliminate discrimination (Boyer,1996, p. 1),” inequality and oppression (Nieto & Bode, 2008).
As with any program, literature selections pertaining to multicultural education must be carefully chosen with great consideration since not all books that include people of color have merit and may include racist ideas and images (Hall, 2008). Specifically, books for older students frequently contain stereotypes or generalizations, and primarily middle-class, White characters (Fondrie, 2001). In order to promote the “real business” of multicultural education, teachers must improve how they teach and focus on respecting all sociocultural groups (Heewon, 2018). Books that follow this sentiment can be found using a multitude of databases like “Diverse Book Finder” and The Cooperative Children’s Book Center.
Books that feature White characters are prolific since they are published at a higher rate than books featuring ethnic characters. However, books that feature Multicultural characters help children see themselves and others while vicariously experiencing situations that are outside of their purview. Educators must keep in mind that since the characters in books are predominately White, there are 6 million non-White school children who almost never encounter their “own” cultural backgrounds in books (Hassell, 2013).
Each month “The Reading Quilt” provides a short review of a book that a teacher may use to spark conversations about culture and race, along with a learning activity that may help students “understand the complexity of the human experience’’ (Banks, 2009, p. 235). Using the acronym QUILT, Slaughter offers readers information about the Quality of writing, and Imaginative plot, as well as a mini Lesson plan, and Talking points that stem from the book’s premise.
Photo Credit: Marty Umans
Woodson, a native of Ohio, is an accomplished writer who spent much of her childhood in Brooklyn, New York. Woodson is the author of over a dozen award-winning novels. One award that stands out to teachers and librarians is the The Newbery Medal which is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
A humble, small-town girl from Greenville, S.C., Woodson confessed her culture shock to Harry Gross (December 10, 20142:37 PM ET, Heard on Fresh Air). “One of the differences is that I still say "hi" to strangers, but in New York strangers don't say "hi" back. The whole idea that I would say "good morning" to someone and it's just so ingrained in who I am (NPR.org).”
Woodson is relatable. At fifty-five years old, Woodson still gives off the air of youth and vitality. Often spotted sporting a leather back and signature natural twists, Woodson celebrates the African American experience in many of her books. Her fans are plentiful and chomp at the bit to collect tidbits about the elusive Woodson. On her newly updated site Jacquelinewoodson.com, fans can learn that so much like right-handed Woodson “can only write with the notebook turned sideways. When she was a kid, she wrote with her notebook turned upside down” (Jacquelinewoodson.com).
On a more personal side, Woodson, an LGBTQ supporter, struggled with the Jehovah Witness faith her family practiced when she was a child. No longer a practicing member, Woodson and her partner Juliet Widoff, a physician, reside in Brooklyn.
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Quality: In Another Brooklyn, HarperCollins, 2016, Woodson reveals her fandom for Brooklyn. Through a cast of characters named August, Sylvia, Gigi, and Angela, and rich descriptions of 70’s Brooklyn, Woodson details the milieu of her old stomping grounds. The fun and drama the inner-city quad experienced through many trials and tribulations makes you wish you were a tag-along turning the clothesline that moonlighted as a double-dutch rope.
Universal theme: Gifted in spinning the coming-of-age tale, Another Brooklyn, told in first person point of view, shows its perfection through authentic dialogue and stunning imagery that help the reader share the “weight of growing up Girl in Brooklyn” (Woodson, 2016, p. 3). Woodson describes Brooklyn with descriptive words that sparkle: “longer nails and sharper blades.” And Woodson’s technique of using a personal, down-to-earth tone, helps the book read like a personal journal. Each of the girls sports her own idiosyncrasy. Like the original Destiny’s Child, the four girls are a mixed bag of personalities. Angela, with her “high-yellow skin” is a nail-biter who tends to her afro come hell or high water. Gigi whose grandmother came to “South Carolina by way of a Chinaman daddy and mulatto mama” gifted Gigi with eyes of China man and heavy thick braids. In the novel, Woodson stirs the story of each girl with colorful additives of pop or historical references. For example, Woodson gives a nod to the Ibo people, a tribe “someplace off the coast of South Carolina brought over by slave catchers who tossed themselves into the water” believing that “since the water had brought them here, the water would take them home. They believed going home to the water was far better than living their lives enslaved,” (Woodson, 2016, p. 167).
Imaginative Plot: In this book, August, Sylvia, Gigi, and Angela are teenage “supergirls” who escape the pitfalls of the inner-city while grappling with the hands of rogue and lascivious men. In the midst of many daily storms, the four girls dazzle the readers with their lives wrapped in jazz music, bell bottoms, afros, and a Southern buffet featuring iconic dishes like chitterlings, pickled pigs feet, and pork rinds. With tenacious spirits, the young girls fight the world.
Lesson Plan: This book is an ideal specimen to teach the literary term “milieu.” A term defined as surroundings, especially of a social or cultural nature (Dictionary.com), milieu is brought to life in Another Brooklyn. A teacher can use the book as the platform for a student who is writing the milieu of his own neighborhoods, cities, or towns.
Talking Points: Woodson’s novel is a great conversation starter for high school students. Listed below are four possible talking points or writing prompts:
The struggles of inner-city life
The African-American experience
The power of friendship
Dr. R. A. Slaughter earned her doctoral degree in Cognitive Studies in Reading at Widener University. Her dissertation explores multicultural literature in private schools through the lens of Critical Pedagogy. Her new book titled “Turning the Page: The Ultimate Guide for Teachers to Multicultural Literature,”published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available for order. To contact her, email [email protected] For other multicultural book suggestions, visit literacyuniversity.org.