Young Adult Lit/Crit

February 10, 2008

Jacqueline Woodson and FEATHERS

Filed under: "Feathers" — sunyprof @ 9:51 am

I am happy to be introducing many of you who may not know her work to Jacqueline Woodson this semester. Enjoy the video clip, a short reading of FEATHERS, posted on Woodson’s website. Jacqueline Woodson was named the Margaret A. Edwards American Library Association recipient for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults in 2006. FEATHERS is a Newbery Honor Book this year. You can see videos of her reading her work, including FEATHERS, at her website. KES



  1. Thanks to Professor Stearns for getting the discussion of FEATHERS started. As a facilitator for the discussion of this book, I’ll keep it going.
    This book is beautiful in many ways. Its lyrical and captures the subtleties of life, racism, and classism very well.

    How would you introduce this book to your students? Will they relate to the setting of the 1970s?
    **I would ask the students think of our central new york community and ask them were we can see highways separating people, literally and figuratively.**
    This reading/question has a lot of meaning for me. Are any of you familiar with the setting of Syracuse University in relation to the projects across the highway? SU sits on a hill above the downtown area, and there is a highway that runs between the two areas. Both students and city residents are very aware of this separation, but the perspectives of it are very different. SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor is launching a “downtown initiative” to connect SU with downtown Syracuse. It’s a very controversial plan, and VERY unpopular amongst the students. I would be happy to discuss this more if anyone is interested, but my main point is that Woodson’s story sheds some light on contemporary issues. I think posing the above question to students could bring some very interesting responses.

    Feel free to contribute answers to my highway question, or contribute your own approach to teaching this novel!


    Comment by allison — February 11, 2008 @ 9:00 am

  2. Allison,
    I finished Feathers yesterday and I love the question that you pose above about the highway, which is a central issue in this book. I think your question would be a great way to get conversation going in the classroom, especially as an introductory activity, since every town has at least one “highway” so to speak, if not many. Further, what grade would you teach this at? I think the innocent voice of the narrator makes this book very accessible to middle school students, as well as high school students. Since the narrator deals realistically with the issues that you present above-like racism, classism, given her age, I think students would be able to relate to her character. She is an endearing protagonist.


    Comment by mandygrl101 — February 11, 2008 @ 10:48 am

  3. Allison, I love the connection you have made between Feathers and contemporary Syracuse. That could be a great and incredibly relevant discussion to have in a classroom. As I read this I was thinking it would be great for middle school kids, but I think making a connection like that could help make this a meaningful text for older students as well.

    As co-facilitator, I want to bring up a few other ideas for thought and discussion from the novel. I was really intrigued with the theme of hope in the novel and how closely this is connected with standard religion (the Jesus Boy, Samantha’s urging for Frannie to attend church). However, it seems as though hope is really connected to just simple faith. I have a couple of thoughts on this topic that I think could spark an interesting discussion. Why does it take the Jesus Boy saying some pretty nasty stuff to Trevor to make Frannie believe in him? What kind of a link did the Jesus Boy and her family and her past have in Frannie’s new found hope?

    I also want to comment on the writing assignment Ms. Johnson gives her students: “Write down the things we all have in common,” (105). I think this helps Frannie really think about her life and the people in it. Of course, I’m iterested to hear what others are thinking!

    Comment by katefrazer — February 12, 2008 @ 5:01 pm

  4. Thanks for facilitating with me Joyce! I thought about religion also when I was reading this book. You came up with some wonderful questions to focus this discussion. I just want to add one more: How do we teach/ use this book in a school that does not allow religion in the classroom? Is this a religious book?

    I like how you point out Ms. Johnson’s question. It is a great one. I think many classrooms could benefit from trying this exercise!

    Comment by allison — February 12, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

  5. How is FEATHERS any more a “religious” book than “The Scarlet Letter,” “The Chosen?” “Night?” “Hamlet?” “Brave New World?” All are suffused with notions of Christianity or Judaism and all are commonly taught in high schools. It’s a great question. How is this book “religious?”

    Analyzing the constructions of Christian thought and belief (myth? What color is Jesus?) would be very interesting although younger readers will read it for the bullying story and/or the friendship theme.

    Is it a novel about deafness? KES

    Comment by sunyprof — February 12, 2008 @ 8:04 pm

  6. Great discussion already… a few thoughts to add:

    – along with highways that divide, what about the idea of bridges that bring worlds together that Sean describes (17, 83)? Is having the bridges there enough to get people to travel to other worlds? What motivates a person to explore? What makes a person leave his or her comfort zone? What hopes do we bring with us when we enter a new world?

    – Allison asked if students will relate to the setting of the 70s. To go along with that question – why do you think this story (published in 2007) is set in 1971? Woodson carefully includes song lyrics, jive, fashion and politcal references to emphasize the setting – to what end? What does this setting add to the story?

    – Finally, religion… well, it’s a rich topic, obviously. I hope we’ll talk more about it in class, but suffice to say that I think that religion DOES have a place in the classroom. I’m not talking about the trying to convert students to a certain religion, minimally providing exposure, encouraging questions, discussion and further research.

    I am reminded of teaching MAUS to 8th graders in Brownsville, Brooklyn, which borders a large community of Orthodox Jews. When we started the book, I told my students I was Jewish. They started asking questions such as: why do they wear the little thing on their heads? I heard that all the women wear wigs and shave their heads. Is that true? Do you believe in Jesus? What about going to hell? Why do some Jews wear all black, but you wear normal clothes? What kinds of food can’t you eat? I did my best with the Q&A, but the point was getting some of those questions out in the open and making the classroom a place in which discussing and questioning religion in order to better understand it was okay.

    Comment by sostrom — February 12, 2008 @ 8:58 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: