Friday, November 24, 2006


Nikki Grimes is the 2006 recipient of the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Grimes is the 14th children’s poet to be honored with this award since 1977. Sylvia Vardell has a story about the poetry award ceremony that was held in Nashville recently at her Poetry for Children blog. Sylvia served as co-chair of the committee that bestowed this great honor on Grimes.

(Note: The NCTE Poetry Award site has not been updated yet to include the announcement of Nikki Grimes as 2006 recipient of the poetry award.)

I thought I would acknowledge the induction of Grimes into this “Children’s Poets Hall of Fame” by looking at three of her poetry books for children.

Illustrated by Javaka Steptoe
Published by Clarion Books (2001)

Some people aren’t big fans of sharing haiku poetry with children—they feel this type of poetry doesn’t appeal to the young among us. I think many of these same people might change their minds after reading A POCKETFUL OF POEMS. In this book, Nikki Grimes imagines a girl named Tiana pulling words like SPRING and SNOW and CATERPILLAR and MOON from her pocket—and creating paired poems about each word. One of each of the poems in a pair is written in free verse—the other poem is a haiku. Here are some examples:


The word begins to melt
inside my pocket. SNOW.
I fling its lacy coldness
in the air, then watch it
floating there.

Magic! Evening snow-
drifts turn each streetlight into
a star on a stick.


HOT is a thirsty word that
wakes me from a deep sleep.
I leave my dreams and stumble into the kitchen.
I place the word in the sink, then
turn the cold water on full-blast.

Hot days send me to
the water fountain where my
face goes for a swim.

You can see that the haikus in this book are definitely accessible to young children. I think A POCKETFUL OF POEMS is one of the best books of haiku poetry written for children. It has an inventive format. It helps readers look at words in an imaginative way. And even though this book has a city setting (Harlem), the topics of the poems—including snow, caterpillars, pumpkins, outdoor showers, and the moon--are things common to the world of children who live in a city, the suburbs, or out in the country.

Suggestion: This book could serve as a springboard for a creative poetry writing activity in an elementary or middle school classroom. A teacher could have a bowl of poetry words--like those included in this book—printed on cards. Each child could pick a word and write two poems about that word—just as Grimes did in the book. The words in the bowl could be changed as the seasons change, as the subjects being studied in the classroom change. Teachers could encourage students to make their own word cards to add to the poetry word bowl.

Illustrated by Terry Widener
Published Orchard Books (2000)

In SHOE MAGIC, Nikki Grimes writes sixteen poems about tap shoes, football cleats, hiking boots, ballet shoes, flippers, running shoes, sandals, work boots, slippers, and other things people wear on their feet. This is an upbeat collection of mostly rhymed poems celebrating all manner of footwear. Now…footwear may seem like an odd subject for a poetry collection—but Nikki Grimes does some “magic” with the subject. It’s proof that a master poet like Grimes can write about the most mundane topics and still manage to delight us with her writing.

The second poem in this collection is a toe-tapping, fast-paced rhythmic rhyme entitled Tap Shoes.

Tap Shoes

When music starts playing
Marc hops to his feet.
His soles are slaphappy
His heels stomp the beat
His heart starts a-thumping
His hot blood is pumping
His steel toes are drumming—
Tell Broadway he’s coming!
Make way for the new

The book comes to a close on a quieter note with a poem about slippers.


Rest your soles.
Spread your toes.
Curl, breathe deep.
There now, Dreamer

Illustrated by Angelo
Published by Orchard Books (2001)

STEPPING OUT WITH GRANDMA MAC is a book of poems about the little things in the lives of a young girl and her outwardly gruff grandmother that add up to a big, loving relationship. It speaks to everyday experiences like Grandma teaching her granddaughter how to set a dinner table, taking her to the Garment District to show her how to spot quality fabrics and workmanship, waiting with her in line in the freezing cold at Radio City Music Hall on Christmas Eve, and passing on the wisdom of a poor woman who survived the depression to a granddaughter to whom she doesn’t express much outward affection. Still, the perceptive granddaughter is able to read the signs of her grandmother’s love that are shown in so many other ways.

The granddaughter tells the story of the relationship between her and Grandma Mac.

From Fences:

And, more than once,
I saw her eyes
Bathe me with pride.
So I figure
Grandma’s chilly words
Aren’t brick walls
Made to keep me out.
They’re more like picket fences
With gaps wide enough
For me to squeeze through—
All I have to do
Is try.

From Radio City:

I would mind more
Except that Grandma
Who normally
Avoids touching
Grabs my hand
Sticks it in
The warm well
Of her coat pocket
And holds it there
What seems like

In this slim volume of twenty poems, Grimes is able to plumb the depths of the bond between two related females of different generations and early life experiences. We read about an older woman and her young granddaughter who, although they may not express their feelings for one another with outward manifestations of affection, understand each other and love one another deeply.

Congratulations to Nikki Grimes for receiving her well-deserved honor from the National Council of Teachers of English.


Andromeda Jazmon said...

I love Nikki Grimes. Thanks for pointing out theses three books. I want to get them all!

Anonymous said...

i love it! it is so breathe takign how oy uwrite poems

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chase said...

Hi! I am a huge fan of you as a poet! I just wanted to know if all these pems are written by you. Because I am doing a Poetry project, and I saw you, so I did you : I just have to now find a nice short poem. Speaking of, I think I just found one!