Friday, July 6, 2007

Poetry Friday 2--Nikki Grimes

What is Goodbye?
by Nikki Grimes
Illustrations by Raul Colon
Hyperion Books, New York, 2004

Well, I've been in sort of a marathon reading mode. I'm getting ready to take a trip out of the country--to Thailand, specifically--for a month. I had about 20 library books checked out that I really wanted to read before I left. So I've been reading like a hungry bear. One of my finds from the library is Nikki Grimes' collection of poems, What is Goodbye? I actually would call this a novel in verse. It is centered around two characters, a brother and sister, who are coping with the loss of their brother. It is not a long novel, but it still has characters, plot, and a resolution.

Jesse and Jerilyn are two siblings whose brother has died. Each of them tell their side of the story--their emotions, their thoughts--about this event in their lives. They talk about their parents and how their brother's death has affected them. Grimes gives each point of view by titling companion poems the same. The only thing that changes is the person telling the poem. For example, "Getting the News--Jesse" and "Getting the News--Jerilyn". We learn how they view the same set of circumstances differently.

I love the way Grimes has set up this book with the two siblings each telling their side of the story. Jesse's poems are more patterned and often rhyme. Jerilyn's poems are always told in free verse. The whole book is full of wonderful figurative language and images.

Here is my favorite example from "Getting the News--Jerilyn". She is talking about her father's reaction, then her mother's.

Silent, he stepped away,
turned himself like
a page in a book
so I couldn't read,
couldn't look inside.
Mommy also hid,
her eyes dull coins
peeking from the pockets
of her lids.

Nikki Grimes' poems are honest and powerful. She deals with death and the raw emotions that come with it. She includes a beautiful author's note at the end encouraging readers to deal with death in whatever way is the right way for them--everyone is different.

Teachers' Guide available at Nikki Grimes' website

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