“Feathers” by Jacqueline Woodson


This is a short novel set in “post segregation” early 1970s, in an urban area that remains quite segregated after all. The story’s narrator is Frannie, who is in sixth grade at an all-black middle school. One of the plots is introduced in chapter one when a mysterious white boy enrolls at the school. There are other plots involving peer relationships, girl drama, bullies, and family. For a short book, maybe there were too many subplots. Some of the narration and dialogue didn’t ring true coming from sixth graders; but some of it was excellent. The best part for me was Frannie’s older brother, Sean, who is hearing impaired, smart, and handsome. I loved that the family all signed and this was normal. I don’t know of any books that treat a disability with such sensitivity, yet naturalness. The theme revolves around an Emily Dickinson poem that was read in class by Frannie’s teacher. Frannie writes the line “Hope is the thing with feathers…” in her notebook and discusses it with her mother and brother. This would make a great introduction to a poetry unit and/or a writing unit for middle grades. Ms. Johnson, Frannie’s teacher, even provides a few writing assignments that a teacher can use.

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