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4 January 2024 REMEMBER US by Jacqueline Woodson, Penguin Random House/Nancy Paulsen, October 2023, 192p., ISBN: 978-0-399-54546-7


“Now I see fire

Inside the mountain

And I see fire

Burning the trees

And I see fire

Hollowing souls

And I see fire

Blood in the breeze

And I hope that you remember me”

– Ed Sheeran (2013)


“That was the year when, one by one, the buildings on Palmetto melted into a mass of rock and ash and crumbled plaster until just a few walls were left standing. Walls that we threw our balls against and chased each other around. And at the end of the day, when we were too tired to play anymore, they were the walls we simply sat down by and pressed our backs into, staring out over a block that was already, even as we stared at it with our lips slightly parted and our hands shielding the last of the sun from our eyes, almost gone.

We said Well, nothing lasts for always, right?

We said One day even the whole earth will disappear.

We were just some kids making believe we understood.

But we didn’t. Not yet.

We didn’t understand the fires. Or life. Or the world.

But we knew that neighborhood was our world.

And we knew…our world was burning.”


“THAT WAS THE YEAR OF Freddy too.”


REMEMBER US is the poetic coming-of-age tale of a twelve-year-old Black girl growing up in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn in the mid-1970s. Sage is a passionate fan of the NY Knicks basketball team. She spends this particular summer wearing a ridiculously large Knicks teeshirt and making ridiculously awesome shots on the basketball court. Armed with a beloved, worn-out, old ball, Sage plays endless two-on-two games at the nearby park with and against the boys. 


That teeshirt and basketball used to belong to Sage’s late father, a New York City firefighter and Knicks aficionado who died in the line of duty. It is twelve-year-old Sage’s dream, despite being a girl, to become proficient and talented enough to one day play for the Knicks.


Freddy, mentioned in the above quote, is the new kid in the neighborhood, having just moved to Bushwick from a different burned-out neighborhood, up in the Bronx. Freddy is similarly passionate about the Knicks and about playing basketball. This summer, these two tweens will find one another and become–for an all-too-brief period of time–totally innocent and utterly committed best friends and allies to one another.


In real life, as in Ms. Woodson’s story, mid-Seventies Bushwick featured apartment buildings burning down so frequently that the papers referred to the area as “The Matchbox.” In REMEMBER US, Sage’s loving mother keeps stacks of old blankets in a closet, prepared to help out neighbors who have been burned out of their buildings. Mom also keeps bags of essentials for herself and Sage in a ready-to-grab-and-run location, prepared for the day when their own building may go up in flames.


REMEMBER US is the beautiful tale of Sage and Freddy. But it is also so much larger than that, as author Jacqueline Woodson paints a picture about a particular time and place–the time and place where she, herself, grew up. Ms. Woodson’s lyrical and intimate portrait of those days, set in a maze of streets named after the trees that long ago grew in Brooklyn, is a powerful piece of history that relates to a trio of my all-time favorite books:


The 2008 Newbery Honor book THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary D. Schmidt is particularly meaningful to me because it also highlights a particular place and time. In this case, the main character is in seventh grade the same year I was in seventh grade, and is growing up in the next town over from where I was raised in suburban Long Island. It so well depicts my own white suburban childhood world.


The 1975 Pulitzer Prize-winning book THE POWER BROKER: ROBERT MOSES AND THE FALL OF NEW YORK reveals so much about northern racism, all the politics and rampant housing discrimination on Long Island. It was an unconscionable system that led to two radically different childhood worlds–mine (and Holling’s) in contrast to the one Ms. Woodson paints here. 


The 2005 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award-winning LET ME PLAY: THE STORY OF TITLE IX: THE LAW THAT CHANGED THE FUTURE OF GIRLS IN AMERICA by Karen Blumenthal details the struggle to provide equitable resources for girl’s sports in public education. Enactment of the landmark Civil Rights law Title IX not only provided for girl’s sports funding, but led to a dismantling of the American caste system in which females were discriminated against in such venues as entrance to medical schools and law schools. While not referred to in REMEMBER US, America changed significantly in 1972 with the enactment of Title IX, and this seismic shift would have transformed Sage’s mid-Seventies NBA dreams from total pipe dreams to plausible ones. (Who knows? Maybe someday.)


All of this adds up to REMEMBER US being a moving and notable piece of literature for upper elementary and middle school readers. And, as a piece of historical fiction, it provides significant insights, no matter in what neighborhood a young reader resides.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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