Why Jacqueline Woodson‘s Honor means so much to me…

Jacqueline Woodson was just awarded the Coretta Scott King Honor Award for her book Each Kindness. I’d like to share a story of a kind and generous gift that she gave to a student.

I was working as a library aide at an elementary school in suburban Houston and befriended a young fourth grade African American boy who could never find a book that he liked. The main librarian didn’t let him sit with the main group because he “can’t control himself.” Of course he can’t, he’s a victim of abuse, suffers from ADHD and who knows what other environmental conditions. His teacher never gave up on him and she and I made a deal with him that he wouldn’t have to finish any book until we found one that he actually enjoyed reading.

We went on to suggest dozens of books. Most of the school year passed until right around Christmas I suggested Woodson’s poetry book, Locomotion. He loved the book so much that he re-checked it out, EVERY SINGLE WEEK for the remainder of the school year. Every time that I saw him in the hall he had the book under his arm. 

His teacher and I both knew that he would have to return the book at the end of Summer. She was going to a buy him a copy and I asked her to wait. I had the idea that I would try to contact Jacqueline Woodson to see if I could pay for an autographed copy. My expectation was that if I heard from this gifted and award winning author it would be in the form of her pointing me to an independent bookstore that could be an intermediary. 

I reached out to Woodson on Facebook. I told her the student’s story and asked if there was anywhere that I could order a signed book. Not only did she personally write back to me, she did so within minutes. She was moved by his story and asked for our school address. 

When the package came, the teacher, the principal and myself (the librarian still couldn’t care less about the student), sat with him while he opened the package. He was smiling so large that it surprised us all. At his happiest he barely curled a corner of his mouth. He touched the corner where the return address was written and said, “This came from New York? Can I keep this bag? I ain’t ever seen anything from New York.” Inside was not only a copy of Locomotion, signed personally to the student but also 2 other books by Woodson also personalized for him. 

I have rarely been as moved in my life as I was at that moment. The student cried and we all celebrated knowing that these books would always be with him. We’ll most likely never know or understand the full impact that the gift from Ms. Woodson had on his life, but I will never forget the impact that it had on mine. 

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