Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Locomotion – African American Literature

Woodson, Jacqueline. 2003. Locomotion. New York, NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN 0-399-23115-3

Plot Summary
This story, written as a collection of poems, is about a young man named Lonnie Collins Motion - Locomotion. Lonnie’s parents died in a house fire and he has to deal with their loss, being separated from his sister and adjusting to a new home with Miss Edna in addition to just regular growing pains. His teacher encourages him to use his words and his poems to work through his emotions.

Critical Analysis
This wonderfully written book not only shows us the power of poetry but also provides some insight into the African American culture. In the vernacular, “kicks” are shoes and your really good friend is a “Dog.” People named Lamont and LaTenya use ‘be’ instead of ‘is’ or ‘are’ and often use double negatives in their speech. Hair is done in braids or cornrows, sometimes using coconut hair grease, and lotion is applied so their skin doesn’t appear ashy. The reader also gets a feel for how the main character is often followed by a guard in a store like he was going to steal something and that sickle-cell anemia will be an unfortunate reality in his life. The reader also sees how those who are not African American, are not always comfortable with differences between the cultures as demonstrated when Ms. Marcus asks Lonnie why he included the word “white” in his description of a lady on television and missed Lonnie’s focus on throwing away good food.

In addition to telling readers a little about life as an African American boy, the story also gives some insight into the life of a foster child. Lonnie writes about being moved from family to family and then to a group home where he begins to feel like a “throwaway boy.” He is separated from his sister and eventually the two are settled into different homes where they only get to see each other when all the adults involved agree. The book shows us that life is hard and sometimes tragic but with stable, loving people to support us, things usually turn out ok in the end.

Professional Reviews
From Hazel Rochman (Booklist, Feb. 15, 2003 (Vol. 99, No. 12))
Lonnie is grieving and angry about the loss of his parents in a fire four years ago and about his subsequent separation from his beloved little sister, who is in foster care. He expresses his feelings in his fifth-grade poetry-writing class, encouraged by his wonderful teacher Ms. Marcus. In a series of free-verse poems and more formal verse, such as haiku and sonnets, he writes about his life and about the writing that "makes me remember." The framework of the story is fairy-tale idyllic--perfect family before the fire; happy-ever-after foster family by the end of the book--but the poetry is simple and immediate, true to the voice of the lost kid who finds himself with caring people and with words. The line breaks make for very easy reading, and Lonnie talks about those line breaks and about poetry forms, making this ideal for use in classrooms where students are reading and writing poetry. From rap to haiku, Woodson shows and tells that poetry is about who we are. Category: Books for Middle Readers--Nonfiction. 2003, Putnam, $15.99. Gr. 3-6.

From Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2002 (Vol. 70, No. 22))
Count on award-winning Woodson (Visiting Day, p. 1403, etc.) to present readers with a moving, lyrical, and completely convincing novel in verse. Eleven-year-old Lonnie ("Locomotion") starts his poem book for school by getting it all down fast: "This whole book's a poem 'cause every time I try to / tell the whole story my mind goes Be quiet! / Only it's not my mind's voice, / it's Miss Edna's over and over and over / Be quiet! . . . So this whole book's a poem because poetry's short and / this whole book's a poem 'cause Ms. Marcus says / write it down before it leaves your brain." Lonnie tells readers more, little by little, about his foster mother Miss Edna, his teacher Ms. Marcus, his classmates, and the fire that killed his parents and separated him from his sister. Slowly, his gift for observing people and writing it down lets him start to love new people again, and to widen his world from the nugget of tragedy that it was. Woodson nails Lonnie's voice from the start, and lets him express himself through images and thoughts that vibrate in the different kinds of lines he puts down. He tends to free verse, but is sometimes assigned a certain form by Ms. Marcus. ("Today's a bad day / Is that haiku? Do I look / like I even care?") As in her prose novels, Woodson's created a character whose presence you can feel like they were sitting next to you. And with this first novel-in-verse for her, Lonnie will sit by many readers and teach them to see like he does, "This day is already putting all kinds of words / in your head / and breaking them up into lines / and making the lines into pictures in your mind." Don't let anyone miss this. 2003, Putnam, $15.99. Category: Fiction. Ages 9 to 13. Starred Review. © 2002 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

From Amy Alessio (VOYA, February 2003 (Vol. 25, No. 6))
Woodson makes every word meaningful in this narrative through the verse of Lonnie C. Motion. What begins as a class assignment to keep a poetry journal turns into the expression of four years of emotion built up after the death of Lonnie's parents in a fire. Through skillful free verse, haiku, and sonnets in a true, likeable teen voice, Woodson draws the reader into Lonnie's story of group and foster homes. Three-dimensional characters emerge through the verse--Lonnie's caring teacher, tough foster mother, and worried sister. Lonnie writes about his confusion over a bullying classmate who sings in a church choir and spends some time in the hospital with sickle cell anemia. The plot is moved forward by Lonnie's successful efforts to spend more time with his sister, who is in a separate foster home. As in Woodson's Hush (Putnam's, 2002/VOYA February 2002), troubled teens are treated with respect and sympathy, leaving readers with hope for their futures. Woodson continues to grow as an important writer in young adult fiction, showing that her poetic ability equals her considerable talent with fiction. A strong addition to the genre of novels in verse and recommended for public and school libraries, this title will appeal to most teens and would also be useful in conjunction with poetry groups and assignments. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Putnam's, 128p, $15.99. Ages 11 to 18.

This book would be great in a poetry unit, showing examples of different kinds of poems and how powerful just a few words can be. It would also be great in an author study of Jacqueline Woodson as an example of how an author can write in many different styles.

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