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Best of the National Book Festival: Jacqueline Woodson, 2018

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Welcome to our ongoing celebration of the Library of Congress National Book Festival. Each weekday, we will feature a video presentation from among the thousands of authors who have appeared at the National Book Festival and as part of our new year-long series, National Book Festival Presents. Mondays will feature topical nonfiction; Tuesday: poetry or literary fiction; Wednesday: history, biography, memoir; Thursday: popular fiction; and Friday: authors who write for children and teens. Please enjoy, and make sure to explore our full National Book Festival video collection!

The following post was written by Sasha Dowdy and Monica Valentine, program specialists in the Library’s Young Readers Center.

This event from the National Book Festival is especially for children and teens, and this blog post includes prompts for writing and thinking that young readers, families and teachers can use to explore the author and the author’s work. Recommended for ages 7+.

In this video, children’s and young adult author Jacqueline Woodson discusses her books “The Day You Begin” and “Harbor Me” on the Children’s Purple Stage with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden at the 2018 Library of Congress National Book Festival. Woodson is the author of more than two dozen books for young adults, middle graders and children. She is a recipient of the National Book Award (“Brown Girl Dreaming”), a four-time Newbery Honor winner, a two-time Coretta Scott King Award winner, and was the Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2018-2019.

Jacqueline Woodson’s presentation starts at 2:09, and timestamps for major topics are below:

  • Why Jacqueline Woodson writes for young people (3:52)
  • Advice for aspiring writers (7:55)
  • Writing when you don’t feel like it (11:37)
  • Why everyone should read picture books (14:19)
  • Jacqueline Woodson reads “The Day You Begin” (18:23)
  • Inspiration and message of the book (22:31)

Writing and Thinking Prompts

  • Have you read “The Day You Begin” or any other works by this author? How have these works changed the way you think about your own story and the experiences of other people? How has this talk changed the way you think about this author?
  • What surprised you about the author talk? What does it make you wonder about?
  • If you had been at the talk, what would you have asked the author?

9:15: In advice to aspiring writers, Jacqueline Woodson says to “try to write something every day and read every day. … You learn from the writers that came before you. You copy their styles, eventually you find your own voice.”

  • Think about your favorite author. How does he or she write? What is the writer’s style and what makes it unique? Try writing a very short story in the voice of your favorite author. How did that feel? Write the same story, but now in your own voice. How was it different? What were the strengths of your version?

13:24 and 15:43: Jacqueline Woodson says, “There’s all kinds of ways to get to books” and that “people read and they read differently. Some people read really quickly and some people read really slowly. I still read books really slowly.” Are you a slow reader or a fast reader? Do you prefer audio books or e-books? Maybe you like short stories instead of novels, or maybe you only read comic books. People might even read differently because they have different accessibility needs or different access to books.

  • What is your reading style, and what superpower does it give you? For example, Jacqueline Woodson reads slowly because she analyzes the writing, and this process makes her a stronger writer. Her son prefers audio books, which help him with comprehension.

23:37: Jacqueline Woodson says that “every time we walk into a room, we’re a gift to that room.” What is unique about you and your world? You might feel like you are outside of the world sometimes (20:52), but sharing your story will help you find people who have these unique things in common, or discover someone “so fabulously not quite like you at all” (21:54).

  • Write a story or a poem about a time when you entered a room in which you thought no one was like you. Did everyone else already know each other, did you look different or come from a different part of the world or just a different neighborhood, or was it a room full of adults when you were just a kid? What do you wish the people in the room knew about you? What unique thing about you made your presence “a gift” to the room?

Explore More

In her talk, Jacqueline Woodson names the inspirations behind her work, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni. Listen to and read the poetry below and enjoy some of the works that inspired this author.

Jacqueline Woodson acknowledges that there are many ways to read: quickly, slowly, or in audio book form (15:28).

  • Some people use braille or talking books because they are blind or have a print disability. The Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) is a free braille and talking book library service for people with temporary or permanent low vision, blindness, or a physical disability that prevents them from reading or holding the printed page. Learn about braille with this activity sheet.

The 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival, which is free for everyone, will be held on Saturday, Aug. 29. You can get up-to-the-minute news, schedule updates and other important festival information by subscribing to this blog. The festival is made possible by the generosity of sponsors. You too can support the festival by making a gift now.