Another book for Foster Care Month
by Jacqueline Woodson. Putnam, 2003 (0-399-23115-3)
$15.99; Speak, 2005 (0-142-40149-8) $5.99 pb
"Write fast, Lonnie" says his poetry teacher, and Lonnie is trying to, trying to get all his words out before Miss Edna's "Be quiet!" makes all the ideas in his head go out like a candle. There's a lot of ideas to get out, a lot of feelings, and a lot of story, and gradually Lonnie's poems reveal them: a boy who loves poetry and basketball and likes a girl names LaTenya; who lives in a foster home with Miss Edna because his parents both died in a fire; whose beloved little sister Lili now has a "new mama" who "didn't want no boys."
Woodson accomplishes so much in this short book, it's hard to know
where to begin. Along with experimenting with poetic forms, Lonnie's words incorporate images, descriptions,memories, to make a few words do a lot of work, as in this end of a poem about learning that his classmate Eric is in the hospital, with a disease that's "common among African-Americans":
"The last time Miss Edna came home and found me
crying she said Think
about all the stuff you love, Lonnie.
Let those things fill your head.
Through Lonnie's poems, we get to know everyone in his life: his inspiring but often ineffectual teacher, his tough and caring foster mom, the "dogs" he can share basketball with, but not poetry, and the parents who gave him a childhood filled with love, a legacy that lives on in his ability to write and to love the new people who claim his as family. A powerful and beautiful story, with an exceptional voice. * (8 & up)