I’ve reviewed Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming here but the more I read of her work, the more I feel this amazing writer is underappreciated by the US kidlit world and is sadly almost completely unknown in the U.K.
True, Brown Girl Dreaming won a National Book Award as well as a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King awards and Woodson herself is the current Poetry Foundation Young People’s Poet Laureate. But hear me out:
It’s the covers.
I’ve run a book club at a junior school for three years now and I don’t see the kids going for them. Too abstract, too ‘worthy’ too…boring. Locomotion is an ‘educational’ edition which doesn’t help. Feathers is a thin-covered paperback without illustrations
And Woodson’s books are worth so much more.
True, they’re poetic. But they’re accessible. They’re real. Her dialogue captures the way kids talk. They bring to life the fears, hopes, dreams and magical thinking of children in difficult circumstances. Lonnie in Locomotion, an orphan fostered to a different home, away from his baby sister. Frannie in Feathers on the wrong side of the highway with her deaf big brother. Both Lonnie and Frannie are looking up and out from where they come from. Lonnie writes poems. Frannie imagines the world on the other side of the highway, wondering about the pale-skinned boy at school who once lived there.
Maybe Woodson’s books are in publisher’s parlance ‘quiet’–but why not give Feathers a cover like the wonderful Yan Nascimbene for (the equally ‘quiet’) Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead?
Or use an illustrator (Stian Hole) as in the poetry collection, Night Guard by Synne Lea?
I like the cover for Brown Girl Dreaming, but look at this link to artist Elnora Turner’s designs! Stunning, right? especially 2 & 4
Woodson’s books are beautiful, delicate and transparent. Feathers, which is prose not poetry, I loved in a way I haven’t loved a book in a long time. Woodson’s publishers have a bonafide star of literature on their hands and that her books have not all been reissued with beautiful and attention-grabbing new covers is a travesty.
Interesting that the world of so-called adult lit seems to be giving Woodson her due. Her adult novel Another Brooklyn was NBA shortlisted; here’s a quote from a Vogue article about her latest work and my next read.
Woodson’s writing process recalls the technique of certain painters, building and refining from a scaffold in successive passes, and the result has a condensed, luminously pearled quality, the sentences strung like worry beads against a dramatic white backdrop.