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Friday, April 14, 2017

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance, written by Nikki Grimes. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. $24.99 ages 12 and up

"Less sure than desperate,
I dip my spoon
into the bowl of years,
stir till I reach the Renaissance
and find a few choice lines
to chew on,
and I think:

We'll see.
We'll see."

In the front matter of this new book, Nikki Grimes includes a preface which talks about her love of poetry and her admiration for the poets of the Harlem Renaissance. They all had an influence on the writer she has become. Then, she adds a note about the Harlem Renaissance itself when writing that reflected racial pride began proving 'that there was more to the minds, hearts, and souls of black folk than previously expressed'. They taught people how to stand tall, live their lives and stay positive in trying times. An author's note, and an explanation of the poetic form complete what we need to know before we get started.

That form is called the Golden Shovel. To say it is challenging is surely an understatement! This incomparable writer does an exemplary job of penning poems that ring with truth, beg careful thought, and encourage young readers at a time when strength and hope are much needed. To simplify the way the poetry works is to say that a short poem, a stanza, or a striking line is taken from one of these famed writer's works and used to create a new poem, by ending each line of the new piece with those words on the right margin.

Using a striking line from Georgia Douglas Johnson's Calling Dreams, Ms. Grimes creates her own poem: The right to make my dreams come true

by Nikki Grimes

No accident of birth or race or place 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. It all depends on the grit at my
disposal. My father says hard work is the clay dreams
  are molded from. Yes. Molded. Dreams do not come.
They are carved, muscled into something solid,
something true."

(I'm sorry I couldn't make it post exactly as it is written.
But, I think you can see how it works.)                                            
So much beauty is in her words as she honors the words of those others. I reread my favorites  to marvel at the poems she creates that so closely match the messages from her mentors. She is a remarkably skilled writer, making her work seem effortless despite the confines of the form she chooses to use.

The poems are organized three parts - EMERGENCY MEASURES, CALLING DREAMS and TO A DARK GIRL. So relevant for her intended audience while describing scenes of superheroes, racism, poverty, peer pressure, bullying, community, family, love, and pride. The full color artwork is as stunning as the words of the poets, and all were created by well known African American artists. In back matter, Ms. Grimes includes brief biographies for the poets and the artists, as well as adding a list of sources, and an index. This is a much needed and very important addition for school and classroom libraries.

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