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The Books of Jacqueline Woodson

Guide by Deborah Taylor

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INTRODUCTION: ABOUT THE BOOKS

If You Come Softly

Elisha Eisen and Jeremiah Roselind meet on their first day at Percy Academy, and are immediately attracted to each other. Elisha is the youngest daughter of a successful Jewish doctor and his wife. Ellie, as she prefers to be called, is the only child still at home, where she is haunted by two earlier periods when the family was abandoned by Mrs. Eisen. JeremiahMiahis the only child of prominent African-Americans: Norman Roselind, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and Nelia Roselind, a critically acclaimed novelista couple once labeled "most romantic," but now separated. Despite their initial attraction, it is weeks before Ellie and Miah actually speak again. Once they are able to spend time together, it is obvious they have a special connection. Ellie and Miah find they are able to share their deepest feelings and the time they spend together brings unexpected happiness. Ellie worries about her family prejudices and Miah ponders making a life for himself away from the shadows of famous parents. For a while they keep their growing romance away from their parents. The reactions of schoolmates and strangers hurt their feelings. Ellie also receives a very negative reaction about her interest in Miah from her sister Anne, the one person she had expected to understand because Anne had endured family disapproval due to her sexual orientation. Then Miah introduces Ellie to his mother, and the young couple find a measure of acceptance for their relationship.

Finally Ellie feels ready to reveal her relationship to her parents – welcome news to Miah. However, before this can occur, Miah is mistaken for a wanted criminal, and is shot and killed. Despite this unspeakable tragedy, Ellie is able to hold onto the memories of the special time she had with Miah.

This is a compelling and poignant story of young love against the odds of social expectations. Ellie and Miah are vivid characters, whose stories are told in alternative chapters until the heartbreaking ending. Readers are drawn into their lives and experience the connection they feel for each other.

Miracle's Boys

Miracle's Boys is the story of three brothers – Ty'ree, Charlie, and Lafayette – and their struggle to stay together as a family after the death of their mother. The family struggles actually began years before, when the boys' father died after saving a jogger and her dog from drowning. Milagro ("miracle," in Spanish) was left to raise three boys on her own. There was little money, but Milagro was able to pass on her strong values and love of learning to her boys. Ty'ree is particularly gifted in math and science, and attends and excels at a special high school outside of their neighborhood. Things begin to unravel, though, when middle brother Charlie is sent at age 12 to a juvenile detention center for his part in an armed robbery. Two months later, Milagro dies suddenly, and the boys face separation. Their aunt offers to take them in, but oldest brother Ty'ree gives up his scholaship to MIT and assumes the role of parent and guardian. It is a difficult job, which gets harder when Charlie is released and returns home angry, mean, and disruptive to the household. Lafayette, the narrator of the story, has a difficult time coping with the person his brother has become, naming him "Newcharlie" to describe his new personality. Lafayette knows it is just a matter of time before Charlie gets into trouble again and destroys their fragile family. When he does, Ty'ree continues to support him, despite his own anger and frustration. Finally, Lafayette is reminded by the spirit of his mother about a promise he made concerning Charlie. He tries again to reach out to his brother. This time, Charlie responds, embracing rather than rejecting his brother.

This is an eloquent story of the power of love to sustain a family, against tough odds. Despite her death, Milagro is a powerful presence in the lives of her sons, and it is her spirit that keeps the boys together and helps them resist the destructive lures of the streets.

Hush

Toswiah and her sister Cameron have a good life with their parents in their home in Colorado. Their mother is a teacher who loves her job, and their father is a decorated and popular member of the police force – despite his being one of only a few African-Americans. When her father witnesses the shooting of an innocent African-American teen by two of his fellow officers, he is unable to keep silent. His testimony brings racial tension and death threats, and the family finds it must leave Colorado, assuming new names and identities. Toswiah and Cameron become Evie and Anna Thomas. The girls are devastated to leave their friends and their beloved grandmother behind. Evie is even more alarmed at the impact the changes have on her parents. Her strong father sinks into mental illness, and her mother, unable to teach until she can get new credentials, takes refuge in a new religion. Anna devises a plan to go to a college that will admit her at age 16, and spends all of her time studying. Anna's anger at her parents nearly consumes her. Evie is at a loss, until she secretly joins the track team. Once she begins to run, she feels some of the freedom she left behind in Denver. When her mother gets a teaching job and her sister is admitted early to college, Evie fears she will never get back to the life she misses. Finally, it is her father's suicide attempt that forces the rest of the family to confront just how much leaving their old life has damaged the family. After a time in the hospital, her father returns to the family, at last able to talk openly about his own pain. For the first time in many months, Evie and her father are able to have a real conversation.

This is a compelling narrative about a family that is put to the test. Each member must find his or her own way of coping with the stresses. The first-person narrative allows the reader to clearly hear Evie's voice and share her reactions to the changes going on around her.

ABOUT JACQUELINE WOODSON

Jacqueline Woodson was born in Columbus, Ohio, but was raised in Greenville, South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of a number of books for children, young adults, and adults. She has received numerous awards for her writing, including a Coretta Scott King Award, an LA Times Book Prize for Miracle's Boys, and two Jane Addams Peace Awards. In spite of writing full-time, Jacqueline also works with the National Book Foundation's Summer writing camp. There, along with three other Writers in Residence, she teaches creative writing to young people from underserved communities.

Jacqueline currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

RELATED TITLES

Dancer
by Lorri Hewett
Stephanie works hard to pursue her dream of becoming a professional ballerina while coping with the pressures of her family expectations and those at her mostly white private school.

Lives of Our Own
by Lorri Hewett
African-American Shawna and white schoolmate Kari defy the unspoken social standards of their small town as they work together to reveal a hidden community secret.

Money Hungry
by Sharon Flake
A period of homelessness and poverty has made Raspberry Hill determined to hoard as much cash as possible.

Monster
by Walter Dean Myers
Aspiring filmmaker Steve Harmon copes with his arrest for murder by relating his story as if it were a movie script.

145th Street
by Walter Dean Myers
The highs and lows of one Harlem neighborhood are explored in ten stories.

Othello: A Novel
by Julius Lester
This novelization of Shakespeare's classic play revisits the story of interracial love and tragedy.

Tears of a Tiger
by Sharon Draper
Andy Jackson feels responsible for the death of his good friend, Robert, in a drunk driving accident.

Zack
by William Bell
Zack is the son of an African-American mother and a Jewish father. He experiences racial rejection for the first time when his family moves from Toronto to a small college town, and feels a need to connect with his family history.

OTHER BOOKS BY JACQUELINE WOODSON

Last Summer with Maizon
Reissue available Summer 2002
HC: 0-399-23755-0
PB:TK

Between Madison and Palmetto
Reissue available Fall 2002
HC: 0-399-23757-7
PB: TK

Maizon at Blue Hill
Reissue available Fall 2002
HC: 0-399-23576-9
PB: TK



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