To Teach Our Daughters Their Importance in the World
Jacqueline Woodson has been writing for children, young adults, and adults for thirty-two years. She has won numerous national and international awards for her writing for young people. Her books grapple with topics like teen pregnancy and incarceration with sensitivity and compassion. Her young adult literature deserves closer examination for their potential as instructional tools for English teachers. The purpose of this dissertation was to explore the history of African American children’s literature, the nature of Woodson’s contribution to contemporary African American young adult literature, and to make direct links to teaching Woodson’s YA literature in contemporary high school English classrooms. To these ends, this dissertation has three analytic chapters. In Chapter One, I present a history of African American children’s literature to situate Jacqueline Woodson’s work in the tradition of African Americans writing culturally and racially affirming text for Black children. The chapter highlights Black women who were actively writing during the Harlem Renaissance, the Chicago Black Renaissance, and the Black Arts Movement, and whose work undergirds much of Jacqueline Woodson’s success. Specifically, I highlight the works of Jessie Fauset, Effie Lee Newsome, Gwendolyn Brooks, June Jordan, and Virginia Hamilton. In Chapter Two, I analyze a set of young adult literature written by Jacqueline Woodson. Specifically, I analyzed 10 of Woodson’s YA texts with Black girl protagonists through the lenses of Black Feminist Thought, Black Queer Theory, and Black English. I identified three themes that ran through Woodson’s work and were related to the theoretical lenses: (1) claiming and naming oneself, (2) finding community and belonging, and (3) remembering. Finally, in Chapter Three I provide four sample unit plans derived from the analyses in Chapters 1 and 2. The first unit plan uses Woodson’s text as a mentor text for student self-reflection. The second unit pairs Woodson’s text with a text written by Virginia Hamilton to understand the impacts of coal mining. The third unit uses Black Feminist Thought to analyze and compare one of Woodson’s texts with an adult text written by a Black woman. In the final unit plan, students study Woodson’s memoir in verse to understand how authors use their own lived experiences to create stories.