Nikki Grimes does not consider herself a bona fide storyteller, but, as she told an audience at the Library of Congress, she is happy to own the title Poet. Born and raised in New York City, Nikki began composing verse at the age of six and has been writing ever since that time. In 2006, she received the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.
A bestselling author and a prolific artist, Nikki has written many award-winning books for children and young adults including the Coretta Scott King Award winner Bronx Masquerade; the Coretta Scott King Author Honor books Jazmin's Notebook, Talkin' About Bessie, Dark Sons, The Road to Paris, and Words with Wings; Horn Book Fanfare for Talkin' About Bessie; ALA Notable books What is Goodbye? and Words with Wings; the popular Dyamonde Daniel chapter book series, and numerous picture books and novels including The New York Times bestseller Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope and, most recently, Chasing Freedom and Poems in the Attic. You will find teacher guides for many of these books on her website, as well as a ton of other useful information.
I should probably tell you...
When it comes to Nikki Grimes, I'm prone to gush.
Last year, I was lucky enough to meet Nikki in person. You can read about it HERE. (I'll wait while you take a quick look.)
Seriously. What's not to gush about?
Nikki is one of those versatile authors that writes with warmth and honesty for children across the spectrum. Yet each child who picks up one of her books secretly knows she's writing just for them. Her work sings– not only with the music of language, but with the promise of hope.
Most definitely gushworthy.
|POEMS IN THE ATTIC|
Lee & Low Books, May 15, 2015
Find at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble,
or via IndieBound.org
It's the story of a young girl who discovers a box of poems in her grandma's attic. The poems act as a journal of sorts, written by her mother when she was growing up. Reading the poems introduces the girl to the many interesting places her mother lived because of her father's military career. It also helps her feel close to her mother because she's seeing the world through her eyes. Inspired by her mother's poetic impressions, the young girl decides to write her own reflective poetry in response.
Poems in the Attic alternates between two poetic forms: tanka for the mother's poems and free verse for the daughter's. The poems are paired on each two-page spread and complemented beautifully by Elizabeth Zunon's vibrant paint and collage illustrations. (You can read Nikki's interview with Elizabeth Zunon HERE.) Overall, the effect is warm and inviting, and, in the words of the School Library Journal:
Sweet and accessible but never simplistic, this collection captures the experience of a military childhood with graceful sophistication.
At the back of the book, you'll find an author's note, a list of the eleven U.S. Air Force bases where the poems are set, a description of the free verse and tanka forms, and an invitation to the reader to write their own:
The word is an
Set it loose
upon a page,
let it blossom,
hear it sing!
Please help me welcome Nikki Grimes to Today's Little Ditty!
Nikki's five favorites:
Favorite color: purple
Favorite music: jazz and classical
Favorite sound: violin
Favorite smell: roses
Favorite vacation spot: Santa Fe, NM
Please describe your “writing zone” for us – when, where, how do you prefer to write?
The great thing about being an author is that I get to go to work in my pajamas! I roll out of bed, walk a few steps to a cushy leather armchair, grab a yellow lined pad from the leather ottoman that serves as my desk, and begin my writing day. (That's where I'm writing this!) As for my reference to rolling out of bed, my most critical writing time is first thing in the morning. That's when I get my best work done.
|"Painting a rose from my garden taught me |
to see in a new way" – Nikki Grimes
Visual art teaches you to see in a new way. The mind has a habit of supplying images pulled from its vast catalog of memory. We look at a cup, and we don't necessarily see the cup we're holding, but we see the generic image or idea of a cup from memory. We don't realize we're doing this until someone asks us to draw a particular cup that's right in front of us, and what we end up drawing, instead, is our idea of a cup. When we're made to study the drawing and the actual cup side by side, we notice how far off we were. Once we learn this, we're able to draw the cup we actually see, rather than the idea of the cup in our mind. That gift of truly seeing gives a writer enormous clarity. So, yes: my forays into art, especially visual art, have a definite impact on my writing. When you see something as it really is, you're better able to write about it with a true and clear perspective.
For Poems in the Attic, you chose to use a story-within-a-story format. What unique challenges presented themselves by using that approach?
I didn't find it so much a challenge as an aid. I had two stories I wanted to tell: the story of a girl's relationship with her mother, and the story of a girl finding creative ways to cope with the challenges of growing up as a military brat, constantly uprooted throughout her childhood. The story-within-a-story format allowed me to do both.
|From POEMS IN THE ATTIC, text © Nikki Grimes, illustration © Elizabeth Zunon (click to enlarge)|
Air Force Brat
Thanks to Captain Grandpa
My mama had a childhood on wings,
flitting from place to place.
I choose you to keep
all my rememberings safe,
poems about home,
no matter where that might be.
Each place is special to me.
Would you share one of your favorite spreads from Poems in the Attic?
The art for this book is perfect. It's made of many different bits and pieces, just like the story of our lives.
"Chopsticks" is one of my favorite spreads. In both poetry and art, it is an image of an African American out in the wider world, an image we don't often see in books, or art, or any other medium, for that matter. And yet, in truth, we are citizens of the world, and a good number of us have enjoyed rich experiences living overseas.
|From POEMS IN THE ATTIC, text © Nikki Grimes, illustration © Elizabeth Zunon (click to enlarge)|
At dinner I ask Grandma
for the chopsticks Mama
taught me to use. Once, I asked Mama
where she learned, and she just smiled.
Spring! Kimono time.
I joined the parade of girls
dusted with cherry blossoms.
I caught a few, like snowflakes.
|"As a foster child, I moved from |
home to home, just like the miliary brat
in my story." – Nikki Grimes
Stories of my family. I know so little about them, and now they're gone. Growing up in and out of foster care, I missed a lot of time with my family.
I’ve read that reading and writing became your survival tools to cope with a difficult childhood. What does your gift of creative writing and your ability to reach children of all ages mean to you now?
It means that none of my experiences as a child and a young adult were wasted. It means, because of God's grace, I've learned to make beauty from ashes. It means, perhaps, I've given my readers a road map to do the same in their own lives, no matter how difficult their experiences may be.
Can you give us a hint about what’s coming up next for you?
What's next? A book inspired by poets of the Harlem Renaissance. It will be for middle grade readers. I can't say more than that!
If you had all the world’s children in one room, what would you tell them?
Nurture your daydreams. They will lead you to magical, meaningful places in your life. If it weren't for my daydreams about being an author, I don't know where I'd be.
Finally, please tell us what you have chosen as this month’s ditty challenge.
When I first began to write poetry at age six, it was the result of wordplay. So try this wordplay exercise and create your own free verse poem.
When I talk about wordplay, I'm talking about studying a word from top to bottom, and inside out, considering every aspect of the word: What it looks like, sounds like, feels like. What it does, how it's used, etc. The idea is to bring all of your senses into the act. The poem you create may end up being complex and sophisticated, or very simple. But whether you're writing a nursery rhyme, or a complex prose poem for adults, wordplay is a valuable skill in the process of creating dynamic, original, poetry, or lyrical prose.
The following are a few simple examples to show you what I mean.
Ball is a round, rubber word.
It fits inside my palm.
I play with it outside,
bounce it on the sidewalk.
when it hits the ground,
it makes a smacking sound.
My cupped hand waits for it
to come back home.
Pumpkin is an orange word.
I set its roundness out
where others can enjoy it.
I help Mama carve
a crooked smile on its face.
we bake others like it for dessert.
But first we have to wait
for them to arrive.
Pen is a slim word,
a tube of possibility.
Poems and essays hide inside
or ride the river
of her ink.
Pen jots down things
that make you think.
Pen is round.
Pen speaks, yet
makes no sound.
Okay. I'm sure you get the hang of it. Now, here is a list of ten words for you to choose from:
Bell Lemon Blanket Shadow ScissorSome are loaded with more meaning than others, but I want you to approach each in the same way. Just choose one that particularly appeals to you.
Leaf Sun Ice Bullet Siren
1. Hold each word in your mind and close your eyes. Picture the item each word represents. Sift the word through your senses. Consider all aspects of it: how it looks, sounds, feels, tastes. What it does, what you can do with it, how it affects you. What it's made of, where it's found. Does it have an age, a color, a smell? Turn it over in your mind.
2. Write a paragraph about the word you've chosen.
3. Turn this paragraph into a poem. Use as many, or as few poetic elements as you like: metaphor, simile, repetition, alliteration, rhyme, etc. And as you write, pretend that the reader has never seen that item before. He is relying on you to paint a picture of it for him. Just have fun with it. That's what wordplay is all about.
I don't know about the rest of you, but I am very excited about this challenge! Even though we're choosing our subject matter from the same list, I can't wait to see how our unique experiences of these words come into play.
Now go set those words loose!
HOW TO PARTICIPATE:
Throughout the month, send your free verse poems to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com or use the contact form in the sidebar to the right. For children under 13 who would like to participate, please read my COPPA compliance statement located below the contact form.
BLOGGER FRIENDS: Thank you for publishing your poems on your own blogs– I love that! Please also remember to send me a copy of your poem or a direct link to your post. That way I know I have your permission to post your poem on Today's Little Ditty.
Some poems may be published on the blog as daily ditties, but all of them will appear in a wrap-up celebration on May 29th, 2015.
Thank you for being here today, Nikki, and for generously offering a personalized copy of Poems in the Attic to one lucky participant! A random drawing will be held at the end of the month.
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Thanks also to everyone who participated in last month's clerihew challenge, brought to us by Kwame Alexander. With six new poems since last Friday, you might want to give the wrap-up post another look. As usual, you did an amazing job writing and supporting one another! It's a joy celebrating poetry with you, not only during National Poetry Month, but every month.
Random.org has determined that the winner of a signed copy of THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander is:
Elementary Dear Reader. Thanks, Ellen!