2003 National Book Award Finalist:
Young People's Literature

Jacqueline Woodson


G.P. Putnam's Sons / Penguin Group USA

About the Book

This volume comprises 60 poems written by the novel's central character and narrator-poet "Locomotion" (the nickname of Lonnie Collins Motion). Introduced to the joys of poetry by his teacher, Ms. Marcus, Lonnie's revelations about himself are drawn out by his discovery of the emotive qualities encouraged by poetry's various forms, from haiku to sonnet. As he becomes more comfortable as a writer, Lonnie reveals the secret that at age seven, he and his sister were orphaned when their parents died in a fire. Throughout the collection, Lonnie's personal growth corresponds with his willingness to become a more adventurous writer.

About the Author

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Jacqueline Woodson grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn. She is the author of books for children, young adults, and adults, including Miracle's Boys (2001), If You Come Softly (1998), I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This (1995), Lena (2000), and Autobiography of a Family Photo (1996). Ms. Woodson was a Finalist for the 2002 National Book Award in Young People's Literature for her novel Hush. She lives in Brooklyn and is a faculty member of the National Book Foundation Summer Writing Camp. Ms. Woodson has been a writer-in-residence in the Foundation's New York City Settlement House program at Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center in Manhattan in 1999, and the Family Literacy Program at the Family Academy in Harlem in 2002.

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Selected Backlist

Autobiography of a Family Photo

I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This
If You Come Softly

Miracle's Boys



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!

I'm not a really loud kid, I swear. I'm just me and
sometimes I maybe make a little bit of noise.
If I was a grown-up maybe Miss Edna
wouldn't always be telling me to be quiet
but I'm eleven and maybe eleven's just noisy.

Maybe twelve's quieter.

But when Miss Edna's voice comes on, the ideas in my
head go out like a candle and all you see left is this little
string of smoke that disappears real quick
before I even have a chance to find out
what it's trying to say.

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.
I tell her about the smoke and she says
Good, Lonnie, write that.
Not a whole lot of people be saying Good, Lonnie to me
so I write the string-of-smoke thing down real fast.
Ms. Marcus says We'll worry about line breaks later.

Write fast, Lonnie, Ms. Marcus says.
And I'm thinking Yeah, I better write fast before Miss
Edna's voice comes on and blows my candle idea out.


At night sometimes after Miss Edna goes to bed I go
up on the roof
Sometimes I sit counting the stars
Maybe one is my mama and
another one is my daddy And maybe that's why
sometimes they flicker a bit
I mean the stars flicker


Ms. Marcus
line breaks help
us figure out
what matters
to the poet
Don't jumble your ideas
Ms. Marcus says
Every line
should count.


Once when we was real
I was sitting at the window holding my baby sister, Lili
on my lap.
Mama was in the kitchen and Daddy must've
been at work.
Mama kept saying
Honey, don't you drop my baby.

A pigeon came flying over to the ledge
and was looking at us.
Lili put her hand on the glass and the pigeon tried
to peck at it.
Lili snatched her hand away and screamed.
Not a scared scream,
just one of those laughing screams
that babies who can't talk yet like to do.

Mama came running out the kitchen
drying her hands on her jeans.
When she saw us just sitting there, she let out a breath.
Oh, my Lord, she said,
I thought you'd dropped my baby.
I asked
Was I ever your baby, Mama?
and Mama looked at me all warm and smiley.
You still are, she said.
Then she went back in the kitchen.

I felt safe then.
I held Lili tighter.
Maybe if I was eleven then
and if one of my friends had been around,
I would have been embarrassed, I guess.
But I was just a little kid
and nobody else was around.
Just me and Lili and Mama and the pigeons.
And outside the sun
getting bright and warm suddenly
like it'd been listening in.


Some days, like today
and yesterday and probably
tomorrow all my missing gets jumbled up inside of me.

You know honeysuckle talc powder?
Mama used to smell like that. She told me
honeysuckle's really a flower but all I know
is the powder that smells like Mama.
Sometimes when the missing gets real bad
I go to the drugstore and before the guard starts
following me around like I'm gonna steal something
I go to the cosmetics lady and ask her if she has it.
When she says yeah, I say
Can I smell it to see if it's the right one?
Even though the cosmetics ladies roll their eyes at me
they let me smell it.
And for those few seconds, Mama's alive
And I'm remembering
all kinds of good things about her like
the way she laughed at my jokes
even when they were dumb
and the way she sometimes just grabbed me
and hugged me before
I had a chance to get away.
And the way her voice always sounded good
and bad at the same time when she was singing
in the shower.
And her red pocketbook that always had some
tangerine Life Savers inside it for me and Lili

No, I say to the cosmetics lady. It's not the right one.
And then I leave fast.
Before somebody asks to check my pockets
which are always empty 'cause I don't steal.


And sometimes I combed Lili's hair
braids mostly but sometimes a ponytail.
Lili would cry sometimes
the kind of crying where no tears came out.
Big faker.
I wouldn't've hurt her head for a million dollars.

Some days
like today and yesterday and probably tomorrow
that's all that's on my mind
Mama and Lili.

Hair and honeysuckle talc powder.