Jacqueline Woodson is three for three.
Her novel Another Brooklyn is the featured reading selection for the 2018 One Book, One Philadelphia program. The announcement will highlight a Thursday morning ceremony at the Free Library.
And it's a Woodson trifecta: She also wrote the 2018 middle-grade companion book Brown Girl Dreaming (her 2014 National Book Award winner), and the children's companion book This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration. It's the first such sweep since One Book, One Philadelphia started in 2003.
Woodson, who's based in Brooklyn, said by phone that she was amazed and gratified. "I've always written for all the age groups, and to have this happen, for someone to say, 'Wow, you have something for that age, and that age, too,' it's as if all the pieces have come together."
Another Brooklyn is set in the Bushwick neighborhood in the 1970s, combining elements from Woodson's own childhood and the history of a community populated by families coming north in the Great Migration. The narrator is August, whose family moves to Brooklyn from the South. Now in her 30s, August comes to New York for her father's funeral and looks back on her growing up. She tells of her three friends, Angela, Gigi, and Sylvia, and how they made a family of three when no other family was there.
It's the 16th time around for One Book, the cross-city reading initiative that encourages the community to read and discuss a single book. From the official Jan. 17 kickoff through March 14, Another Brooklyn will be the topic of hundreds of classes, projects, panel discussions, film and music presentations, and other special events throughout the Philadelphia school system and the Free Library network. Schools, families, and readers beyond are also sure to join in.
Siobhan Reardon, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, said a selection committee of 15 read and considered 35 books for this year's program. "I have to say, though, that we came to Another Brooklyn in only one meeting," she said, "when it usually takes several. Everyone on the committee wanted to read it. The power and timeliness of the book, beautifully, lyrically written, was so attractive, as was the way it addresses tough topics in a way that's credible, approachable, and teachable." Those topics include race, violence, grief, loss, and sexuality.
Larissa Pahomov, a 10th-grade teacher at Science Leadership Academy and a member of the committee, says that she looks forward to teaching the books and that Woodson's "descriptions of street life, the routines and rhythms of a single block, echo the world of so many urban neighborhoods. If students see their own experience in the pages, their faces light up as they announce, 'That's me!' "
The companion books often are selected by the Free Library's young adult and children's librarians. But this time, Reardon said, "Jacqueline is so well-known in library land, with so much appreciation for her achievement, that the other two books followed very quickly."
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Woodson, 54, has been publishing since 1990. She combines a poet's wordsmithing with a reporter's eye and a storyteller's heart. Her work has earned repeated national awards, including the Coretta Scott King Award in 2001 and four Newbery Honor Book citations. She was named the Young People's Poet Laureate in 2015 by the Poetry Foundation.
In Another Brooklyn, Woodson said, "I was trying to document a place and time that deserved a better narrative." She was saddened to find "the gaze of writers and reporters at the time was an outside gaze, a tragic gaze. There was danger in living in Bushwick then, but that's not all there was to it. There was so much beauty and striving they couldn't see. There were the dreams of the Great Migration — that's the thread uniting all three books — and the dreams anyone has growing up, the dream of family, the American dream."
Some have noted the supposedly "adult" content of her books, including Another Brooklyn. Reardon acknowledged those aspects but said, "Nothing is gratuitous, and it's all done with such empathy, in such a compelling way. And she sets it all in the context of the social and cultural changes going on as the girls grow up. We look forward to a rich discussion."
Woodson said the world of children was pervaded by such "adult" topics: "A 10-year-old knows a lot. If you think she or he isn't noticing the world around them, you're missing a lot."
The three books will be available for checkout at all 54 branches of the Free Library; e-texts are available for checkout online. Kalela Williams, director of programming for One Book, One Philadelphia, said the library would stock 50 copies of Another Brooklyn at the Parkway central library, as well as five for each regional and neighborhood library, a total of 315 books.
Parkway central will have 30 copies of Brown Girl Dreaming, with five in each regional and four in each neighborhood branch, a total of 245. "We've committed to ordering 2,500 total copies of Another Brooklyn from the publisher [and may purchase more depending upon need], with most books going to schools," she said. "We have ordered 1,200 copies of Brown Girl Dreaming, but will buy more if needed."