Locomotion is an award winning collection of poems. It was a National Book Award Finalist, Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book and an ALA Notable Book. The collection of poems told from the perspective of eleven year old Lonnie. When he was seven years old, his parents died in a house fire, leaving him and his sister, Lili, as orphans. His sister was adopted by a wealthy woman, but her new mother didn’t want any boys, so Lonnie has been fostered by Ms. Edna for the last four years. His teacher, Ms. Marcus encouraged Lonnie to get his feelings about the past four years out using poetry.
On the back of the book, there is a picture of a young African-American boy, with his back facing the reader. There is also a summary of the book, finishing with, “Nothing’s the same after you see it through Lonnie’s eyes – and hear it through his words.” This was definitely true for me. Lonnie’s poems range from a couple of lines to a couple of pages long, and he writes in several different poetry forms, including haiku, occasional poems, and poem letters. His title of the poem tells exactly what his topic will be. For example:
When people as how, I say
a fire took them.
And then they look at me like
I’m the most pitiful thing in the world.
So sometimes I just shrug and say
They just died, that’s all.
I can still feel their voices and hugs and laughing.
Sometimes I can hear my daddy
calling my name.
And sometimes Locomotion
come on over her a minute.
I want to show you something.
And then I see his big hands
holding something out to me.
At night we went to sleep
In the morning we work up and ate breakfast
Daddy worked for Con Edison.
You ever saw him?
Climbing out of a manhole?
Yellow tape keeping the cars from coming down the block.
An orange sign that said Men Working.
I still got his hat. It’s light blue
with CON EDISON in white letters.
Mama was a receptionist.
When you called the office where she worked,
she answered the phone like this
Graftman Paper Products, how may I help you?
It was her work voice
It was her work voice
And when you said something like
Ma, its me.
Her voice went back to normal. To our mama’s voice
Hey Sugar. You behaving? Is the door locked?
That stupid fire couldn’t take all of them.
Nothing could do that.
All of Lonnie’s poems are written about himself or the people around him. Some are describing other people while others are a feeling he is having or talking about a place that gives him comfort. As I read, I imagined that these were poems being read at a slam poetry night. The feeling Lonnie portrays in them makes me want to see him perform them. I was so invested in the way he wrote that I started to question whether this was really a little boy’s writing.
I was disappointed to realize that the author, Jacqueline Woodson, made up Lonnie’s character and the events that he wrote about. I honestly felt a little deceived. The voice she wrote in was so much like to voices of the kids I teach, it was hard to believe it wasn’t someone like them writing this, sharing their pain, making it real from a person who experienced the things Lonnie experienced. I guess that is what makes the book so good. It draws you and makes you feel for this character, the poet, Lonnie Motion.
Jacqueline Woodson has authored many other books and is a three time Newbery Honor winner. To get more information about her and the other books she has written, click here.
You can find her book near you. To find out where, click here.