Jillicious Reading: Memoirs

These talented authors use unique formats to tell their unforgettable life stories.  Don't miss these two outstanding additions to the memoir genre.  

Brown Girl Dreaming 
by Jacqueline Woodson

In this lyrical novel-in-verse, Newbery Honor/Coretta Scott King/Edwards Award winning author Woodson tells her story of growing up in the 1960s and 70s in two completely different places - Greenville, South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York.  

Most of Woodson's early years were spent with her mother's parents in South Carolina.  There, Jackie saw firsthand the prejudices and racial injustices that still dominated the South. But she also experienced a stable, loving home with her grandparents full of home cooking, starched dresses, and weekly visits to church.  When she moved to Brooklyn with her siblings and her single mother, she entered a different world.  The big city of New York was concrete and cold without gardens and nights on the front porch.  But, there Jackie also found more diversity, less prejudice, and dear new friends.

In addition to expressing her search for her place in two different worlds, Woodson's soulful poems also explore the struggles of growing up in a single parent home and living in the shadow of a brilliant older sister.  While her sister seemed to excel at everything, Jackie wrestled with learning to read.  In spite of this initial difficulty, she developed a love for words and stories.  When she received her first composition notebook, Jackie discovered that "words [were her] brilliance" and dreamed of one day becoming a writer.   
Brown Girl Dreaming is an eloquent memoir that beautifully explores a young girl's search for home and for her own unique voice.  Fans of Woodson's writing will love getting to know the observant, spunky young Jackie and learning what sparked her writing journey. Those new to her work will want to read everything else she's written.  And everyone will want to reflect on their own memories and tell their own story ... most likely in a crisp, new composition book! 

Watch this video to hear author Jacqueline Woodson talk about writing Brown Girl Dreaming

El Deafo
by Cece Bell

When Cece Bell was four years old, she contracted meningitis which resulted in a severe hearing loss.  This began a struggle with hearing aides, feelings of isolation, and a search for a friend who would treat her as an equal. In this creative graphic novel, Bell tells her touching, relatable story.  

As a kindergartner, Cece was able to attend a class with other deaf students.  But then her family moved and her new school didn't offer separate classes.  It's hard enough that she has to go to a new school and try to make new friends, but she also worries about her hearing aide. The Phonic Ear connects to a microphone worn by her teacher which makes hearing easier, but it is also bulky and makes Cece feel so different from the other students.  She soon discovers, however, that her teacher would forget about the microphone so Cece could hear her when she was talking in the teacher's lounge or even in the bathroom.  :)  These "special powers" and an After School Special led her to imagine an alter ego El Deafo who helps her through difficult days. Over the next few years with the help of her loving, supportive family, friends who appreciate her for who she is, and El Deafo who gives her courage, Cece begins to grow in confidence and acceptance of her disability.  

El Deafo is a true autobiographical achievement.  The graphic format is perfect;  the depiction of the characters as rabbits puts an immediate focus on ears (genius!), and the dialogue bubbles allow the reader to experience what Cece is hearing ("eh sounz lah yur unnah wawah!").  The book explores the struggles unique to one with hearing loss, but also explores universal experiences of wanting to fit in, searching for true friends, first crushes, and self-discovery.  All are handled with honesty and humor that make for an unforgettable memoir that soars right into your heart.  The book ends with a thoughtful author's note telling more about Cece Bell's later experiences and how she has now come to see her disability as a gift, noting that "Our differences are our superpowers."  El Deafo will make you want to grab your red cape and celebrate what makes you special!   

Watch this video of author Cece Bell talking about The Phonic Ear and El Deafo:

Fun fact:  Author/Illustrator Cece Bell is married to Tom Angleberger who created the amazing & hilarious Origami Yoda series and other terrific books (Crankee Doodle is another one of my favs which was illustrated by CeCe).  Holy smokes, Batman.  That is one power couple!  

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