I’d like to take a moment today to talk about this new book that appeared on the new book shelf in the children’s department at my library.
It’s cover is bright so no doubt it appealed to me because I am in fact a ‘judge by the cover’ kind of gal (…yes…I know but we’ve already discussed this elsewhere).
But in fact the cover illustration looked Christopher Myers -esque and that just got my heart to pounding, so, I picked it up not knowing what to expect, but thinking, somewhere in the recesses of my brain, that I had in my possession something special.
Well, I do not know what to say. I just do not have words, which is fortunate for me because this little number does. Plenty of them. I would like to take pause here to add in a personal note about children’s books. You see, working as a Children’s Librarian in a large branch, I see many kids. I see children who are interested in kitties/ puppies/ ponies; I see kids who want books about anything that is going to gross their parents out; I see kids who have better readers advisory than I do. I also see many young people who do not want to read, or think that they cannot read, or think that reading is boring and cannot relate to any book, or worse still, think that there is no book that can tell their story. So imagine my joy when I pick up One Last Word by Nikki Grimes, to find a powerfully packed little book (I say little but only because it feels right in my hands), that takes its subject very seriously and takes its readers, children, seriously too.
Nikki Grimes brings to us a reminiscent collection of poetry from the Harlem Renaissance and into this collection inserts her own beautifully mastered art. The idea is quite simple, but it packs a punch. Grimes uses a form of poetry call the Golden Shovel. The form takes its shape from other poets who construct beautiful verses in their own work, which has then then been reused and has become a part of Grimes’ work.
I cannot explain as well as Grimes does so I’ll quote her (p. 6):
The ides of a Golden Shovel poem is to take a short poem in its entirety, or line from that poem (called a striking line), and create a new poem, using the words from the original. Say you decide to use a single line: you would arrange that line, word by word, in the right margin.
Then you would write a poem, each line ending in one of these words.
Got it? Good
Don’t got it? Read this book!
So, Grimes presents to us a slew of authors from the Harlem Renaissance, whose works provide amazing insight into the lives, dreams, challenges, and not only that, but the hopes, fears and workings of people who have come from a repressed society into a new world where art expression has amounted in many ways to their own freedom. Grimes gives us some background in the beginning of her book; she explains how poetry has come to shape her life, she explains the influence of Harlem Renaissance, she explains the sentiment behind this collection of poems, and she explains her form of poetry. And then, she delivers an at-times devastating, but also at-times uplifting, work that makes the era of the Harlem Renaissance come to life, not just from an historical standpoint, but also relative to today’s social and political climate.
What also packs a punch is the use of visual artwork throughout the book to illustrate the point. The artwork is not on every page, but rather spaces itself throughout the book to provide a visual impact for the message delivered. And it’s stunning. Cozbi Cabrera, R. Gregory Christie, Pat Cummings, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, E. B. Lewis, Shadra Strickland, Christopher Myers (yes, he does indeed provide us with the cover image), Ebony Glenn, Brian Pinkney, Frank Morrison, Elizabeth Zunon, Sean Qualls, Javaka Steptoe and James Ransome, all contribute to these visual works.
Grimes includes works from poets Jean Toomer, Clara Ann Thompson (see her works here), Gwendolyn Bennett, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Countee Cullen, Waring Cuney, Langston Hughes and Georgia Douglas Johnson.
Nikki Grimes also, can only be described as a master of her art.
Many parts of the poetry (if not pages and pages of it) are worth noting. In an ode to my favorite poem within this book The Sculptor by Grimes, the line that really jumped off the page for me (p. 32):
No accident of birth of race determines the
scope of hope or dreams I have a right to.
I inventory my head and heart to
weigh and measure what talents I might use to make
my own tomorrow.
But there are so many more. Page 35 for example, Jabari Unmasked by Grimes:
Clothed in shades
of chocolate skin, our color works to camouflage our
character and promise- at least, in certain eyes.
Or In Search of a Superpower by Grimes (p. 53):
Better to be like the
tree, grounding itself by sinking roots downward, while pushing
upward through hard-packed earth, in search of
sun- all done silently, mysteriously, right before our
Or Hope by Georgia Douglas Johnson (p. 56):
The oak tarries long in the depth of the seed,
But swift is the season of nettle and weed,
Abide yet awhile in the mellowing shade,
And rise with the hour for which you were made.
Simply put the book is an extremely effective and powerful delivery of art at its best. It is colorful, insightful and non-pretentious. But most of all, enjoyed. It is a book that was delivered to the children’s department and which kept my head swimming for days. What a fantastic discussion piece. How wonderful it is to see once again see literature and art, aimed at a children’s audience about a soul-wrenching yet inspiring subject, taken and so widely offered to others (especially non-traditional audiences).
Watch out for this one, it’s a great read.