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Before the Ever After
Cover of Before the Ever After
Before the Ever After
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WINNER OF THE NAACP IMAGE AWARDWINNER OF THE CORETTA SCOTT KING AUTHOR AWARD National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson's stirring novel-in-verse explores how a family moves forward when their...
WINNER OF THE NAACP IMAGE AWARDWINNER OF THE CORETTA SCOTT KING AUTHOR AWARD National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson's stirring novel-in-verse explores how a family moves forward when their...
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    National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson's stirring novel-in-verse explores how a family moves forward when their glory days have passed and the cost of professional sports on Black bodies.

    For as long as ZJ can remember, his dad has been everyone's hero. As a charming, talented pro football star, he's as beloved to the neighborhood kids he plays with as he is to his millions of adoring sports fans. But lately life at ZJ's house is anything but charming. His dad is having trouble remembering things and seems to be angry all the time. ZJ's mom explains it's because of all the head injuries his dad sustained during his career. ZJ can understand that—but it doesn't make the sting any less real when his own father forgets his name. As ZJ contemplates his new reality, he has to figure out how to hold on tight to family traditions and recollections of the glory days, all the while wondering what their past amounts to if his father can't remember it. And most importantly, can those happy feelings ever be reclaimed when they are all so busy aching for the past?



  • From the cover Memory like a Movie
    The memory goes like this:
    Ollie’s got the ball and he’s running across my yard when 
    Dad comes out of nowhere,
    soft tackles him to the ground.
    Then everyone is cheering and laughing because 
    we didn’t even know my dad was home.
    I thought you had a game, I say, grabbing him.
    It’s a half hug, half tackle, but
    the other guys—Darry and Daniel—hop on too 
    and Ollie’s escaped, so he jumps
    on top of all of us jumping on my dad.
    Yeah, Mr. J., Darry says. I thought we’d be watching you 
    on TV tonight.

    Coach giving me a break, my daddy says. He climbs out 
    from under,
    shaking us off like we’re feathers, not boys.
    Ah man! Darry says.
    Yeah, we all say. Ah man!

    Sometimes a player needs to rest, 
    Daddy says. 
    He looks at each of us for a long time.
    A strange look. Like he’s just now seeing us.

    Then he tosses the ball so far, we can’t even see it anymore. 

    And my boys say Ah man, you threw it too far!
    while I go back behind the garage where 
    we have a whole bunch of footballs 
    waiting and ready
    for when my daddy sends one into the abyss.

    Everybody’s Looking for a Hero  
    Once, when I was a little kid, 
    this newscaster guy asked me if 
    my dad was my biggest hero.
    I said. My dad’s just my dad.
    There was a crowd of newscasters circling around me, 
    all of them with their microphones aimed
    at my face. Maybe I was nervous, I don’t remember now.
    Maybe it was after his first Super Bowl win, his ring 
    new and shining on his finger. Me just a little kid,
    so the ring was this whole glittering world, 
    gold and black and diamonds against
    my daddy’s brown hand.
    I remember hearing the reporter say 
    Listen to those fans! Looks like everybody’s 
    found their next great hero.

    And now I’m thinking back to those times
    when the cold wind whipped around me and Mom 
    as we sat wrapped in blankets, yelling Dad’s name, 
    so close to the game, we could see the angry spit 
    spraying from the other team’s coach’s lips.
    So close, we could see the sweat on my daddy’s neck.

    And all the people around us cheering,
    all the people going around calling out his number, 
    calling out his name.
    Zachariah 44! Zachariah 44!
    Is your daddy your hero? the newscaster had asked me.
    And all these years later, just like that day, I know 
    he’s not my hero,
    he’s my dad, which means 
    he’s my every single thing.

    Day after the Game  
    Day after the game
    and Daddy gets out of bed slow. 
    His whole body, he says,
    is 223 pounds of pain
    from toes to knees, from knees to ribs, 
    every single hit he took yesterday 
    remembered in the morning.

    Before the Ever After  
    Before the ever after, there was Daddy driving 
    to Village Ice Cream
    on a Saturday night in July before preseason training.
    Before the ever after, there was Mom in the back...

About the Author-

  • Jacqueline Woodson (www.jacquelinewoodson.com) is the recipient of a 2020 MacArthur Fellowship, the 2020 Hans Christian Andersen Award, the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and the 2018 Children's Literature Legacy Award. She was the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and in 2015, she was named the Young People's Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. She received the 2014 National Book Award for her New York Times bestselling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, which was also a recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor, the NAACP Image Award, and a Sibert Honor. She wrote the adult books Red at the Bone, a New York Times bestseller, and Another Brooklyn, a 2016 National Book Award finalist. Born in Columbus, Ohio, Jacqueline grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York, and graduated from college with a B.A. in English. She is the author of dozens of award-winning books for young adults, middle graders, and children; among her many accolades, she is a four-time Newbery Honor winner, a four-time National Book Award finalist, and a three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner. Her books include Coretta Scott King Award winner Before the Ever AfterNew York Times bestsellers The Day You Begin and Harbor Me; The Other Side, Each Kindness, Caldecott Honor book Coming On Home Soon; Newbery Honor winners Feathers, Show Way, and After Tupac and D Foster; and Miracle's Boys, which received the LA Times Book Prize and the Coretta Scott King Award. Jacqueline is also a recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement for her contributions to young adult literature and a two-time winner of the Jane Addams Children's Book Award. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.


  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 10, 2020
    National Book Award winner Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming) provides a beautiful and heart-wrenching story in her latest middle grade novel. Twelve-year-old Zachariah "ZJ" Johnson Jr.'s pro-football player father has always been hailed as an American hero and a loving husband and father. Slowly, though, he begins to become forgetful and even shout "at people when/ you were never the kind of guy/ to yell before." Starting in 1999, ZJ leads readers on a journey through memories of a time before his father's persistent headaches kept him from playing football, when he still loved music and wrote songs with ZJ, and into the "ever after," when he sometimes forgets even ZJ's name. Eloquent prose poetry creates a moving narrative that reveals the grief of a child trying to understand why his father has changed and why nothing can be done. An ardent account of the multitudes of losses experienced by those who suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy and its effects on their families, ZJ's doleful tale unveils the intense nostalgia and hope one can feel despite realizing that sometimes what is lost can never be regained. Ages 10–up.

  • AudioFile Magazine Guy Lockard delivers an outstanding performance of Woodson's brief, eloquent story of 12-year-old ZJ Johnson, Jr., whose father, a former pro football player, is suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The story is set in the early 2000s, when little was known about the dangers of repeated head injuries. Lockard makes effective use of pitch and pacing as he gives voice to the exhilarating before time with its happy series of football games and fun with an extended community of friends. Compellingly shifting tone and tempo as ZJ's dad succumbs to the agonizing effects of this terrible condition, Lockard brings listeners into the ever after of pain and dementia that overwhelm ZJ and his family. Woodson's spare, lyrical text is beautifully enhanced by Lockard's emotionally connected narration. S.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award � AudioFile 2020, Portland, Maine

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