Monday, December 10, 2012

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

As of this year I have a new favourite author - Jacqueline Woodson.  I adored Locomotion and this afternoon I read Feathers and I found another book for my ever expanding "Top book list".

Feathers begins with a poem by Emily Dickinson and these words about hope echo the theme of this book :

Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul, 
And sings the tune - without the words,
And never stops at all.

I will never know what it is or was like to grow up in America and more especially to grow up as an African American child and even worse a child who has experienced segregation in their own community even as recently as the 1970s but when I read a book like Feathers I feel a little closer to this experience such is the power of this writing.  Frannie lives with her mum, dad and older brother Sean. Sean is deaf and this has given Frannie a deeper understanding of people and how they think - their psychology. It also means Frannie can speak in two languages.There is a lovely scene in this book where brother and sister are preparing dinner and playing a game about words.

"We'd been playing this game since we were real little. One person gave the word and the other person had to describe it, to make the person feel it someplace inside of themselves. To make the person hear it. Sean was better at the game that me, but I still loved playing."  ""Yellow ... that's a hard one, Sean! Yellow doesn't have a SOUND. Nothing has a sound to me!  That's how this game got started .... like something soft. I signed. A pillow. Or yellow sound s like bubbles feel - lots of them in a bathtub"

This family have known terrible sadness. Their mum has miscarried twice and between Sean and Frannie baby Lila died.  Now mum is expecting a new baby and Frannie must find a way to overcome her fears about this. Meanwhile the new boy, nicknamed Jesus, is having a very hard time of his own as he becomes a target of the class bully.

The new boy arrives in Frannie's class four months after the start of school.  Frannie has some idea about how this feels as she herself arrived in Grade One about one month after school started because she had chickenpox. Things will be even harder for this boy because he is a white kid. Frannie does not have a very high opinion of her own intelligence but this is so untrue, Frannie has a wisdom beyond her years. Her insights in to her classmates, best friend and especially the new boy in her class are so profound.

Here is the author web site which also contains a moving video promoting this book. You might also like to read this excellent review.  Here is another comment that expresses how I feel about this book :

Woodson's books are like small jewels, each one getting right to the heart of the matter in lyric prose that is sparingly beautiful

After you read this book take a look at the series of book about the Silk family starting with The naming of Tishkin Silk.  Feathers is a short novel with just over 100 pages but it contains a powerful story about humanity and I am so glad I read it today.

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