Friday, September 5, 2014

Meet Nikki Grimes

“Choose whatever box you like, Mike. Just don’t put me in one, son. Believe me, I won’t fit.”  ― Nikki Grimes, Bronx Masquerade 
 
I first met Nikki Grimes, a spectacular author of books written for children and young adults, many years ago at a conference. She is also a poet and journalist.

Here is one of my favorite examples of her work: Named a Coretta Scott King Honor Book as well as an ALA Notable Book, Meet Danitra Brown is  a touching collection of 13 poems about two African American girls named Zuri Jackson and Danitra Brown, is a refreshing and illuminating way to convey a portrait of friendship.

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From the point of view of Zuri, readers are introduced to Danitra Brown, “the most splendiferous girl in town,” who wears purple, from her head down to her toes, every single day, according to Scholastic.com.

There are reasons why this is so, Zuri tells readers: Danitra might be a princess, she can take bullies on with no sweat, she’s the fastest bike rider on the whole block, she helps Zuri with her chores, and she’s going to win the Nobel Prize someday. Through Zuri’s proud, but unsentimental voice, Danitra is portrayed as a spirited, spunky kid who can deal with whatever life has to give her. In turn, Danitra is also very considerate of emotional Zuri’s vulnerability. The two make a wonderful pair: they both have qualities that bring out the best in each another.

Not everything is perfect, however: Danitra is taunted for wearing thick glasses; Zuri feels bad that her dad is never around to care for her, and some neighborhood kids tease Danitra about her dark skin. But although these girls live in a world filled with problems and prejudices, Danitra and Zuri deal well with each as they happen.  

The lovely and lush oil-wash illustrations by Floyd Cooper capture and complement energy of the poems, and capture the characters’ emotions. Although these characters are African-American, the theme of friendship through struggle that Grimes conveys is universal, and, in this book, is brought to vibrant life.

Nikki Grimes was well received last night in my children’s literature class at Boise State University. Since many people here in Idaho are from small towns, they especially liked the part in the video below, where she spoke about the fact that there is no better, or safer place to learn about another culture than in the pages of a book. The students asked me to share Meet Danitra Brown.


A lesson plan for this book is found here: http://guidance.spps.org/meet_danitra_brown
Below is an excerpt:
ACTIVITY:
Discuss friendship by charting qualities that are needed to build friendships and by charting qualities that tear down friendships.  Introduce Danitra Brown as the main character and read the story.  Discuss poetry and what makes this writing poetry.  Allow time for the students to share what is special about their friends.  Talk with students about the characteristics and structural elements of poetry in the book (e.g., imagery, rhyme, verse, rhythm, meter) With these elements in mind have students write a short poem about a friend.  The poem could be given as a gift or shared in the classroom.  Make sure everyone gets a poem.  Refer to qualities chart for ideas.  Have the class do one or more Venn diagrams.   Follow up with a discussion. The Venn diagram activity gives students a chance to find out more about each other.  The closure to this lesson is to create a Circle of Friends poster, including every member of the class.

Image result for nikki grimesNikki Grimes conveyed the fire-in-the-belly fervor of a Harlem girl who knows she was born to write in Jazmin’s Notebook, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. In My Man Blue, a Booklist Editor’s Choice and Newsweek Children’s Books of the Year selection, her artful words expressed a boy’s journey from skepticism to trust. In Bronx Masquerade she presents a rich chorus of eighteen voices, singing openly about ideas, feelings, and questions–things that open minds, invite debate, provide release. A recent Booklist review proclaims: “As always, Grimes gives young people exactly what they’re looking for–real characters who show them they are not alone.”An accomplished poet, novelist, journalist, and educator, Ms. Grimes was born and raised in New York City and now lives in the Los Angeles area.

“Readers will enjoy the lively, smart voices that talk bravely, about real issues and secret fears. A fantastic choice.”
—Booklist

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