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Black Children's Book Review: Poems In The Attic by Nikki Grimes

Photo credit: J. Quazi King

Photo credit: J. Quazi King

Black Children's Book Review: Poems In The Attic by Nikki Grimes

Words: mater mea

A mother and daughter connect over poetry and childhood memories.

Remember the first time your mom or dad shared a story from their childhood?

I do—it was both jarring and comforting to think of my parents at my age having adventures, getting into trouble, and living an entirely different life before I was even a thought.

Poet Nikki Grimes and illustrator Elizabeth Zunon capture that wonder beautifully in Poems in the Attic.

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Best suited for elementary-school aged readers, Poems opens on a 7-year-old girl discovering a cedar box filled with her mother’s poetry during a long weekend with her grandma. The poems start from when her mother was 7, too.

We learn that the young girl’s grandfather was an Air Force Captain, and that her grandparents, mother, and uncle lived and traveled all over the country and world based on where he was stationed.

Grimes uses two poetic devices—free verse for the daughter reflecting on her mother’s poetry in the present and tanka for the mother’s old poems. (Tanka, Grimes explains, “is an ancient poetry form, originally from Japan.) Both forms brilliantly capture each person’s feelings as they process what they’re seeing and learning: A daughter learning the origins of her mother’s love of nature and the mother, in her youth, seeing a majestic bird soaring high during a horseback ride in Brackenridge Park, Texas.

The poems are in conversation with each other, side by side, as are the gorgeous illustrations Zunon provides. She captures the daughter in the present realizing the fullness of her mother’s life alongside the mother’s growth from a child to a teenager. Seeing the juxtaposition between the mother and daughter’s experiences is heartwarming, and seeing the daughter’s appreciation for her mother deepen through learning more about her childhood is sure to tug at your heartstrings.

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Poems was inspired by Nikki Grimes own experience as a military brat, as well as her friends who also had parents in the military. (All of the mother’s poems are set in locations that have a United States Air Force Base.)

“However often military brats move,” Grimes writes in the book’s author’s note, “their stories remind me that, while we can’t always choose our circumstances, we can choose how we respond to them. That’s an important idea—for all of us.”

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