Reading Nikki Grimes:
The Watcher: Inspired by Psalm 121
Written by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Grand Rapids, MI
48 pages, counting the pasted down side of the end papers
The Romare Bearden inspired illustrations were done in paint and collage.
This book is an example of the “golden shovel” form of poetry, where a poem is composed by using a line of already existing poetry, in this case, the 121st Psalm, to provide the last word of each line of the new poem. Nikki Grimes provides an explanation in the end matter. Not only is her own poetry achingly beautiful, but she has provided a challenging, yet accessible way to compose one’s own poetry.
The book is unapologetically religious in tone—a child is guided by their understanding of God to solve a problem at school and make a new friend—and the sentiments are inclusively ecumenical.
Words with Wings
Written by Nikki Grimes
Wordsong, an imprint of Highlights, Honesdale, PA
A novel, ideal for middle grade, told in a sequence of poetry—this is a story about a young girl who struggles to contain her daydreaming and to learn to focus her imagination appropriately without losing her individuality. An understanding teacher is inspired by this student to incorporate daydreaming into the curriculum to foster creative writing by his students. Her mother recognizes the girl’s talent at writing when the girl begins to write her daydreams down. The poetic format means that the book is very readable, and while it is 84 pages long, it is not a dense book; each page has lots of white space and several different typefaces are used to differentiate narrative from daydreaming. The reader is able to experience the blossoming of a young poet.
Revisiting another favorite poet—
unBEElievables: honeybee poems and paintings
written and illustrated by Douglas Florian
Beach Lane Books, New York
32 pages, not counting end papers
In his usual format, each spread presents a poem and a typical (and wonderful) illustration by Douglas Florian. The illustrations are created with gouache, colored pencil, and collage on primed paper bags. (I also see stamps or stencils in the lettering on the illustrated pages.) The palette is appropriate to bees, with bright golden yellow with touches of black, and also to wild flowers with greens, pinks, oranges, and reds. I can see the folds and overlapping paper of the bags under the background paint—a scaffolding that I find very intriguing. The illustrations are delightfully child-friendly as is the word-play in the poems. Each spread also includes facts about honeybees and bee-keeping, including the alarming mystery of hive collapse and diminishing bee populations. The last page includes a “BEEbliography” and several websites for further research.