(2003), a children’s book by American author Jacqueline Woodson, is told from the perspective of Lonnie Collins Motion, nicknamed “Locomotion,” who becomes an orphan along with his sister, Lili, after their family’s home burns down, killing their parents. After being turned away by their family members and juggled through the homes of various church members, they end up separated in the foster care system. Because Lonnie is black, he is treated more poorly than the other kids in the system and is never picked up by any foster parents (a predominantly white group). Having faced just about the worst possible luck a kid in a once-happy family can have, Lonnie tries to reunite with his sister to rebuild what remains of their family. The book is written as a series of poetic fragments as an older Lonnie, now a poet looks back on his childhood struggles. The book has been praised for highlighting the resilience of kids in the foster care system, sending a message of hope to its young audience.Locomotion
begins in the aftermath of the devastating fire at Lonnie’s home. As he and Lili try to grieve their parents’ death, enduring the trauma of escaping the fire without them, they are thrown into total uncertainty about their future home and caretakers. Lonnie’s mother and father, a successful secretary and power company worker, had been his greatest living role models and excellent parents. First, the department of family resources tries to place them with their relatives. Because their relatives are already struggling to make ends meet, they regretfully turn them away. Lonnie and Lili next end up in the care of their church congregation. Though these families do their best to support the kids, they can only afford to do so for short stints, and eventually, they run out of options.
The last remaining place for Lonnie and Lili becomes the foster system. Lili and Lonnie are enrolled in different group homes, tragically separating what remains of their sense of family and home. Lonnie struggles in the foster system, the odds stacked against him: because he is black, he is less likely to be selected by prospective adoptive parents. The squalid group home is rampant with child neglect and bullying. Eventually, Lonnie starts to lose hope. He is unable to locate Lili, and the slow trickle of visitors comes to a halt. One of the harshest groups of bullies in the group home calls him a “Throwaway Boy,” picking on his poor luck and feelings of dejection.
Lonnie’s luck finally begins to turn around when Miss Edna selects him for her foster son. Miss Edna is an empty nester: her two sons are now adults, and one is off in the military. The other son, Rodney, moves back home shortly after Lonnie adjusts to his new environment. They have some initial friction, but slowly start to get along better. Lili, meanwhile, is adopted by a religious woman, Selma. Noticing that Selma is deeply influenced by professions of faith, Lili hopes that Lonnie will be able to earn entry into her home by acting devout. Lonnie is more skeptical about this prospect, knowing from firsthand experience that black boys are the least sought-after in the foster system. He spends much of his time worrying that Edna will get tired of him.
After several months, Lonnie starts to make friends in school. One of his first friends, Eric, is tragically diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia. Lonnie tries to help Eric through this predicament, knowing that bad luck can befall anyone at any time. Lonnie also develops an interest in writing, especially poetry. One day, a classmate makes fun of him for being an aspiring poet, saying that black men are not poets. Lonnie’s teacher steps in, teaching the class that there are countless brilliant black poets in the world. She also shows how poetry extends to rap. By the end of the novel, Lonnie is beginning to feel secure about his place in the world. He redoubles his determination to reunite with Lili.