Nikki Grimes, happy birthday and thank you for being a part of my reawakened love for poetry. I read poems by the dozens as a young girl – my favorite ones were found in The Childcraft Book of Poems and Rhymes, part of our World Book Encyclopedia set. I read “The Land of Counterpane,” and “The Highwayman” (my favorite!) over and over. Then something happened – I think it was during my high school years – poetry became a task, an assignment to dissect and probe for a message so I could correctly answer questions on a test.
The tedium of poetry reading changed when I studied children’s literature as part of my library science degree. The professor’s message was crystal clear. She reminded me that poetry is to be read aloud, enjoyed, devoured, and shared. I decided to include poems in my elementary library lessons, and the first book I shared with my students was Nikki Grimes’ Meet Danitra Brown. Students were eager to meet purple-wearing Danitra; with her arms spread wide, she transports you into her splendiferous life. I found a successful tool for inviting students to read aloud in the library and poetry became a weekly practice.
Nikki Grimes’ poems speak to me in other ways, too. I served briefly as a volunteer teacher in Tanzania, and my spirit returns to that beautiful country in Is It Far to Zanzibar? As you read these poems, you’ll want to visit Tanzania, where you’ll learn there’s no blessing in hurrying; take your time and enjoy the sights, sounds, and scenery. We’re reminded to slow down and smell the roses (or clove flowers, as you might see in East Africa). The glossary invites the reader to try the Swahili words in the poems.
Another favorite by Nikki Grimes is The Watcher, poems inspired by Psalm 121. These “golden shovel” poems provide talking points about the subject of bullying, a template for beginning poetry writers, and solace.
Grimes’ 2019 memoir in verse, Ordinary Hazards, recounts her first 16 years of life. Her story is one of childhood trauma that handles difficult subjects like sexual assault, foster care, and her mother’s alcoholism and mental illness. The book’s ultimate message is one of hope, faith, and triumph. Grimes was stunned to hear a school district in Texas had removed the book from their curriculum in 2021 for “inappropriate content,” and she writes about “what makes a book appropriate for school” in this article. In this memoir, Grimes refers to the library as her “New BFF.” My favorite entry in the memoir is called Library Card.
A magic pass I used to climb into other people's skin any old time I needed.
Ordinary Hazards won the 2020 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal, which honors informational books that significantly contribute to children’s literature.
Nikki Grimes’ newest book is Glory in the Margins: Sunday Poems. Written as a weekly devotional, this slim book is a conversation about living a life of faith. It’s a book you want to keep and reread, but give to your friends as well.
Happy Birthday, Nikki Grimes. Thank you for everything you have added to my reading life, for the wealth of beautiful poetry to inspire my elementary students, and for enhancing my faith journey.
Kellyanne Burbage lives in Charleston, SC, and recently retired after 27 years in education which included teaching science and serving as an elementary librarian. Kelly’s interests include connecting students to science through children’s literature and by promoting science careers. In her spare time, Kelly enjoys sharing current NASA events as a volunteer Solar System Ambassador. She is a NatGeo certified educator and frequently writes about science education and intellectual freedom in her local newspaper.