The Magical Language of Literature: An Interview with Author Nikki Grimes


NOTNew York Times bestselling author Nikki Grimes says the most empowering part of literature for children and young people is that it helps them see that they are not alone in the world.

“That’s the most empowering part for anyone,” she says. “And it’s definitely that for kids – knowing ‘I’m not alone’. It’s also a place where the seeds are planted for compassion and empathy, where you can step into someone’s shoes. else and get a sense of what his life or experience might be like.

Grimes says one of his favorite letters came from a high school reader who had read Bronx Masquerade, a Coretta Scott King Award-winning book about students being asked to share their vulnerabilities through open-mic poetry in their English teacher’s classroom. The young reader wrote that the book helped him understand how his classmates were more alike than different, and that he saw them in a different way.

“He was transformed by the experience of this book,” Grimes says. “A book. That’s what literature does. That’s why literature matters.

Anne V. Zarrow Prize for Literature for Young Readers

Nikki Grimes is the recipient of the Tulsa Library Trust’s 2022 Anne V. Zarrow Award for Literature for Young Readers. She is the author of numerous award-winning fiction, non-fiction and poetry books for elementary, middle school and young adult readers. Grimes will accept the award at a free presentation on Friday, May 6 at 6 p.m. at Connor’s Cove in the Hardesty Regional Library, 8316 E.93rd St. She will also present the prizes to the winners of the 2022 Youth Creative Writing Competition.

Difficult topics such as racism, bullying, foster care, abuse, pregnancy and more are all fair game for Grimes. Her books have been on banned books lists and targeted for removal from shelves.

Grimes, however, respects the difficulties of childhood as well as the ability of young people to overcome them.

“Childhood is not easy,” she says. “Your child doesn’t experience everything that all of the characters in this book experience, but they experience some of them. They were bullied. They were socially isolated. These stories are where you can see the character go through experience, where they grow and learn, and they find life and experience grace. Whatever issues you are facing, you can come out of them and walk through those experiences stronger, better, more enlightened and happier.

Poetry: a first language

In addition to reflecting the lives of young readers in his books, Grimes wants them to develop a love of reading and writing. Grimes says poetry is her first language and it allows her to deal with difficult subjects using symbolism, metaphor and imagery.

“If you want to go somewhere deeply emotional,” she says, “poetry will get you there in a way that no other form will. It goes straight to the heart.”

Children and young people respond to the natural rhythm of poetic language, what Grimes calls the “music of language”, emphasizing that poetic language appears in all types of good writing. She says teenagers love song lyrics, so it’s natural for them to love poetry and write poetry, even if it’s never shared. It’s a way for them to share what’s in their hearts.

As a child, Grimes loved word games and puzzles and started writing at the age of 6. The words were playful, fun and magical.

“I just needed an outlet for my thoughts and emotions. I needed a place to put them, and poetry became that vessel for me.

Grimes encourages parents to share poetry with their children and invite children to share poems they love.

“The field is so incredibly rich right now,” she says. “If you have a child who loves football, there are football poems. Science, outer space, you name it, there’s at least one poetry book about it. Find poetry that matches your child’s interests. Start there.

Books by Nikki Grimes

children’s fiction by Grimes includes ALA Notable Books Come Sunday, what is goodbye? and the 2018 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Prize Honor Book Garvey’s choice; the Danitra Brown series; the Dymonde Daniel series; Notable ALA Title Southwest sunrise; and the best Kirkus book Bedtime for the sweet creatures; among others.

Young adult fiction includes a novel in verse and Coretta Scott King Award winner Bronx Masquerade; his companion and YALSA title of Best Young Adult Fiction Between the lines; Coretta Scott King Honor Books words with wings, Jazmine’s Notebook and Dark threads; and much more.

Grimes’ non-fiction includes New York Times bestsellers Barack Obama: son of promise, child of hope and nominated for the IMAGE prize Kamala Harris: Rooted in JusticeCoretta Scott King Honor Book Let’s talk about Bessy: the story of aviator Bessie ColemanBoston Globe-Horn Book Honor One last word and his companion Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissanceand the Honor Book of Printz and Siebert Ordinary dangers: a memoir.

April 2022 Feature Pin

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