Locomotion

Woodson, Jacqueline

 

Putnam Juvenile, New York. 2003. 112 p.

 

This book came to me very highly recommended, so I had some pretty big expectations. Fortunately, this book delivers in every way imaginable. The story is powerful and moving, the form of the novel is completely conducive to its overall feeling and mood, and the characters are relatable and most importantly, realistic.

 

A lot of novels, especially for children, water down “tough” issues like poverty, race, inequality, education, and death, but Woodson doesn’t go easy on her readers. The main character and narrator (or maybe poet in this case) is Lonnie Collins Motion (nicknamed Locomotion after his mom’s favorite song, “Do the Locomotion”) is a fifth grader who has already experienced more loss and pain in his short life than some of us are lucky to never experience in a lifetime. I don’t want to give away too much, but his parents have died in a tragic accident and he and his little sister Lili are left behind with no one to care for them. Lonnie ends up with one foster mother, Lili another because her foster mother doesn’t like boys. Lonnie is very intelligent and perceptive for his age, and he understands that single women know young black boys in New York City are prone to getting themselves in major trouble. Lonnie’s foster mother, Miss Edna, is not worried by Lonnie because she has already raised sons of her own and knows how to handle young boys.

 

Lonnie’s gifted mind truly gets to shine in Ms. Marcus’ English class through her assigned poetry exercises. Lonnie starts off a little slowly and has some trouble grasping the idea of poetry, but it soon becomes apparent that not only is he good at poetry, he has natural talent for the medium. Through assigned and unassigned poems, we get to see Lonnie’s thoughts and spirit and see how they change over time as he matures. We learn more about his past, his parents, and the love he still has for his sweet little sister. Lonnie is mature beyond his years, probably because he has to be mature in his situation, but he is still a young boy looking for a place to belong, which becomes clear through his interactions with Miss Edna’s son, Rodney.

 

Woodson is one of the most celebrated authors of recent memory, and I can see why just through this relatively short book. I love the free verse style and I love Lonnie’s story. He is so real that you just want to meet him and maybe even hang out with the young guy. I had to fight back tears while reading, but I think that even further proves just how powerful this book is. Another book that I cannot more strongly recommend to anyone.

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