Newbery Honor Book


Woodson, Jacqueline. 2007. feathers. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
ISBN 978-0399239892

Plot Summary
In Jacqueline Woodson’s novel feathers, Frannie is a sixth grader who frequently reminds herself of the poem Ms. Johnson read in class. “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune– without the words, And never stops at all. “ by Emily Dickinson. Frannie and her friends Samantha, Ray-Ray, Maribel and Trevor are surprised when the new kid in their class is white and he is the only white kid in their school, which is located on the wrong side of the highway. Frannie is concerned about her mother’s pregnancy, her brother’s deafness and how her friends react and try to understand racism, class, segregation, religion, disabilities and hope for better things after segregation is outlawed in the 1970s. Hope is a thing that should have feathers becomes Frannie’s strong hold throughout the entire story as she begins to see things in a new light.

Critical Analysis
feathers by Jacqueline Woodson would fall in the Contemporary Realistic Fiction genre, but I also read a review that said it was historical fiction. After so many years most Contemporary Realistic Fiction does become historical when it is set in a specific time period. This novel is set amid the racial upheavals of the 1970s and tells the story of several black friends, their school, home and church life, and the effects it has on them when a white boy, the Jesus Boy, is enrolled at their school. Woodson covers the Contemporary Realistic Fiction Subtopics of self, family and friends. This is a slice-of-life novel that is built upon events that are true to life. The characters are very real. Frannie as the central character tries to keep her friendships intact as things change around her. Trevor is a bully and would love to fight the Jesus Boy. The Jesus Boy is calm and self assured; he promotes anti-violence. Samantha worries about her loss of faith and Frannie’s family worries about her brother’s future and his deafness. The theme for feathers would be one of personal growth and understanding the world and those around you and how everything and everyone changes. Ms Woodson’s style of writing is very lyrical and poetic. She uses symbolism and figurative language that helps the story progress, and keeps the story real and believable. Ms. Woodson is African American and her race gave her an insight into the culture of pre-teen African Americans and the changes about race in the 1970s. Ms. Woodson allows Frannie to be the protagonist in feathers and Frannie does a great job of solving most of the problems that face her group of friends.
There are no illustrations in this book, but the book jacket is simple and eloquent, with a single yellow feather floating on a pale blue background with snowflakes. This is in keeping with the setting of the book in the Winter of 1971 and the title feathers.

Newbery Honor Book

Review Excerpts
From Barnes & Noble
“Hope is the thing with feathers / that perches in the soul.” Frannie, this novel’s 16-year-old narrator, lives with a sweet sense of expectation, a feeling nurtured in her loving home. But even the purest hope does not always materialize. When a white boy nicknamed Jesus Boy joins her previously all-black class, Frannie and one of her friends start to believe that he might indeed be special. An unexpected occurrence snaps them back to reality. Carefully nuanced portrayals and a sensitive look racial segregation, prejudice, and religious faith by a Coretta Scott King Award-winning author.”

Publishers Weekly
“The narrator of Woodson’s 2008 Newbery Honor title is fascinated with Emily Dickinson’s famous couplet “Hope is the thing with feathers/ that perches in the soul.” Frannie grapples with its meaning, especially after a white student joins her all-black sixth-grade classroom. Trevor, the classroom bully, nicknames him “Jesus Boy,” because he is “pale and his hair [is] long.” Frannie’s best friend, a preacher’s daughter, suggests that the new boy truly could be Jesus (“If there was a world for Jesus to need to walk back into, wouldn’t this one be it?”). Set in 1971, the book raises important questions about religion and racial segregation, as well as issues surrounding the hearing-impaired (Frannie’s brother is deaf). Johnson, who also voiced Woodson’s Hush, sensitively renders Frannie’s narration, and her slow delivery affords listeners the opportunity to fully experience Frannie’s keen perceptions. Subtle changes in inflections distinguish the many characters’ voices in a skillful performance that enlarges the book’s already wide appeal.”
Introduce a discussion about the 1970s. How were race relations in America at this time?
Were the classes of people decided by income, skin color, and religion?
Discuss living in a poor area in a city where crime was prevalent.
Ask would it be difficult to move away to an area and be the only person of your color or religion?
Contrast and compare how African Americans were treated in the 1970s and today.
How are those with disabilities being treated today in America?

Related Books
Woodson, Jacqueline. 2010. After Tupac and D Foster. New York: Speak. ISBN 9780142413999

Stead, Rebecca. 2010. When You Reach Me. New York: Yearling.
ISBN 9780375850868

Appelt, Kathi. 2010. The Underneath. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
ISBN 9781416950592