The Road to Paris

The Road to ParisI spent sev­er­al years in and out of fos­ter care when I was a child. Lit­tle won­der, then, that fos­ter chil­dren pop up in my poems and sto­ries. I did­n’t explore the theme in a fuller text, though, until I wrote The Road to Paris.

The Road to Paris is a nov­el about Paris Rich­mond, a young fos­ter child who is sep­a­rat­ed from her only sib­ling, Mal­colm, and sent to live in her next fos­ter home, all alone. She has to come to terms with this dif­fi­cult sep­a­ra­tion, and must strug­gle to find a place for her­self in a house full of strangers. The nov­el explores that jour­ney, and the strengths Paris devel­ops along the way.

Of all the fos­ter homes I lived in, myself, the last and best was in Ossin­ing, NY. I chose that as the set­ting for much of The Road to Paris. And yes, I drew heav­i­ly from my own life expe­ri­ence in cre­at­ing the sto­ry of Paris. There are whole­sale dif­fer­ences, though. The num­ber of homes Paris lived in, ver­sus the num­ber I lived in, is a per­fect exam­ple. Before I land­ed in the good fos­ter home, I had to sur­vive half a dozen hell­ish ones. That was reflect­ed in an ear­ly draft of the book. How­ev­er, my edi­tor strong­ly urged me to roll back that num­ber to lim­it the bad expe­ri­ences to one or two, and to move the sto­ry more quick­ly to the good home. I grum­bled quite a bit, as is my want, but I even­tu­al­ly caved. I would­n’t do that, today. Too much truth and authen­tic­i­ty was lost in the bargain.

Nikki Foster Care
Here’s a pho­to of me when I first arrived at my fos­ter home in Ossin­ing, NY.

One thing I def­i­nite­ly would­n’t change is the end­ing. In it, Paris is faced with the choice to either return to the birth moth­er, who has already let Paris down in more ways than she can count, or to remain in the fos­ter home, where she is well loved and cared for. Read­ers, yearn­ing for the tra­di­tion­al hap­py end­ing, were root­ing for the fos­ter home. Paris, how­ev­er, opt­ed for her birth moth­er, risky though that choice might be. (Her moth­er strug­gled with alco­holism.) Notwith­stand­ing, the choice Paris made is the choice I made, is the choice most chil­dren make. It is the choice that is true.

Sev­er­al old­er read­ers have asked me about the tag line, “Keep God in your pock­et.” I love that line, and it came to me in a moment of pure inspi­ra­tion. I was look­ing for a non-intru­sive way to express the ele­ment of sim­ple faith that sus­tained Paris on her jour­ney. I want­ed some­thing organ­ic, yet some­thing poten­tial­ly pow­er­ful. After all, faith was a crit­i­cal ele­ment in my own sur­vival, and I thought it should be in Paris’s, as well.

Three Children
My fos­ter broth­ers, Ken and Brad, were the mod­els for the broth­ers in The Road to Paris.

I wrote The Road to Paris for all chil­dren, but espe­cial­ly for those strug­gling with prob­lems out­side of their con­trol. They need to know that, despite their cur­rent cir­cum­stance, they can come out on the oth­er side—whole, healthy, and happy.

Here’s one of my favorite pas­sages from the book.

The next morn­ing, Paris was on a plat­form at Penn Sta­tion, wait­ing for the train that would take her to her new fos­ter home.

Paris’ heart beat so loud­ly, the noise filled her ears. For the first time, Malcolm’s hand was not at her elbow to steady her. His arm was not across her shoul­ders to calm her. His smile was not there to tell her every­thing would be all right.

The case­work­er tried to hold her hand, but Paris snatched it back. She need­ed her hand to wipe away her tears. She’d nev­er felt so alone in all her life.

Some­times I wish I was like my name, thought Paris, some­where far away, out of reach. Some­where safe down south or on the oth­er side of the ocean. Instead, she was nei­ther Paris nor Rich­mond. She felt like a nobody caught in the dark spaces in between. A nobody on her way to nowhere.

The train rolled into the sta­tion, and she took one last look around before board­ing, hop­ing to see her broth­er run­ning to catch up.

Mal­colm, Paris asked the wind, where are you?

Talkin’ about Bessie, Part II

Talkin’ About Bessie, my biog­ra­phy of avi­a­tor, Eliz­a­beth Cole­man, was an exer­cise in extreme patience and per­se­ver­ance. If you’ve read Part I of this blog post, you already know how tax­ing this project was from the start! The entire saga was a bit too long for one blog post, though, so I decid­ed to break it up. Here, then, is Part II.

Talkin' about BessieSign­ing on E.B. Lewis as the illus­tra­tor for Talkin’ About Bessie should have been the end of the long saga of bring­ing this book to mar­ket. It wasn’t.

As men­tioned in Part I, after Bessie’s orig­i­nal edi­tor moved on to anoth­er pub­lish­ing house, a round-robin of edi­tors tem­porar­i­ly filled the spot over the course of a few years. With all that com­ing and going, some impor­tant details of book pro­duc­tion fell through the cracks. For exam­ple, no one was shar­ing ear­ly sketch­es with me. That was proven to be a huge mis­take. When I saw the F&Gs, I real­ized that one char­ac­ter, who was sup­posed to be African-Amer­i­can, had instead been por­trayed as a white per­son. More egre­gious than that, how­ev­er, was the fact that a female char­ac­ter had been por­trayed as a man. This was a biog­ra­phy, after all, and that char­ac­ter rep­re­sent­ed an actu­al, not a fic­tion­al, per­son. A change in gen­der goes far beyond the bounds of poet­ic license! To say I was aghast when I real­ized this error is to under­state the fact.

Both paint­ings had to be redone. The good news, I sup­pose, is that I caught the errors in time!

Whew! That was close. Yes. But that’s not the end of the story.

Unseen Illustration
You’ll nev­er find this paint­ing in Talkin’ About Bessie. Why? It was sup­posed to be a woman! Her first name was Willie, and that was the con­fu­sion! The final book fea­tures a por­trait of a woman.

As I flipped through the F&Gs a few more times, look­ing for addi­tion­al mis­takes or omis­sions, I real­ized the bib­li­og­ra­phy was nowhere to be found. But sure­ly I was wrong, I thought. Per­haps it had sim­ply fall­en out of this par­tic­u­lar copy of the F&G. So, I checked a sec­ond copy. Nope. No bib­li­og­ra­phy there, either. Fran­tic, I called the editor.

“Where is the bib­li­og­ra­phy?” I asked.

“Bib­li­og­ra­phy?” she repeat­ed, as if I were speak­ing anoth­er lan­guage. “Was there a bibliography?”

I ground my teeth and did a slow burn.

“Yes. I. Gave. You. A. Bibliography.”

“Oh!” she said. “Wait a minute. I think I do remem­ber see­ing one. Let me go back and find it.”

“You do that,” I said.

I won’t tell you what I was think­ing in that moment. I try not to use that kind of language.

Even­tu­al­ly, the bib­li­og­ra­phy was found. How­ev­er, since space allo­ca­tion had already been set, the chal­lenge of the art direc­tor was to find some space in which to include it. In the end, the bib­li­og­ra­phy was reduced to the small­est pos­si­ble font, and the whole was shoe-horned into the book.

While all this was going on, I begged the pub­lish­er not to release the F&Gs to review­ers until the bib­li­og­ra­phy could be added. I was told not to wor­ry. You know where this is going.

The first reviews were released, and crit­ics not­ed that no bib­li­og­ra­phy was avail­able. The pub­lish­er tried to keep my head from explod­ing by assur­ing me that an erra­ta sheet would go out to review­ers to let them know a bib­li­og­ra­phy was, in fact, in exis­tence. I could not be mollified.

By the time the fin­ished book hit store shelves, I remem­ber think­ing, “This damn book bet­ter win some­thing, after all this!”

Total time invest­ed? Six years. Pay­off? Coret­ta Scott King Hon­or for text, Coret­ta Scott King Award for illus­tra­tion, and many, many fans. I hope you’ll become one, if you haven’t already.

I’ll close with a favorite poem from the book, “School Teacher.”

When it came to knowl­edge, Bessie was a miser,
hoard­ing facts and fig­ures like gold coins she was
sav­ing up to spend on some­thing spe­cial. 

I’d watch her sometimes,
por­ing over her lessons,
lips pursed in concentration.
Often, when the sub­ject turned to math,
she’d glance up at me and, I’d swear,
she’d get a sort of greedy look in her eyes.
But maybe it was just my imag­i­na­tion. 

I did not imag­ine her per­sis­tence, though.
Come rain or shine, if work allowed,
Bessie would attend the hot-in-summer,
cold-in-win­ter, one-room Col­ored schoolhouse
where I taught in Waxahachie.
Not even the four-mile walk it took to get there
dis­cour­aged her from mak­ing her way to class. 

Still, bright as she was, I wor­ried that her fine mind
 would soon be sac­ri­ficed to a life spent pick­ing cotton
 or work­ing in the mills, like so many oth­ers had before. 

But, after each har­vest, she’d return to class,
deter­mined as ever to snatch up and pocket
 every tid­bit of knowl­edge I could offer.
“Teacher,” she’d say, “one day, I’m going
 to amount to some­thing.” 

                        Bless God! I need not have
                        fret­ted in the least.

Talkin’ about Bessie, Part I

Talkin' about BessieThe Book that Almost Was­n’t: That could be the title of this book. The jour­ney from con­cept to book­shelves is a bit of a saga. Some books are hard­er to birth than oth­ers, and Bessie was a book-baby in breach! I’ll explain.

It seems like for­ev­er ago that then Orchard edi­tor Melanie Kroupa asked me to think about writ­ing a black biog­ra­phy. I told her not to get her hopes up, because his­tor­i­cal books were not my forté. As far as I was con­cerned, when it came to biogra­phies of black his­tor­i­cal fig­ures, the McKis­sacks had that sub­ject mat­ter sewn up. I did­n’t feel I could real­ly con­tribute any­thing of val­ue to the genre. But I agreed to do a lit­tle research to see if there were a his­tor­i­cal fig­ure of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to me. Enter Bessie Coleman.

Thumb­ing through an ency­clo­pe­dia of African Amer­i­can His­to­ry, I came across a para­graph or two about pilot and aeri­al­ist Eliz­a­beth “Bessie” Cole­man. A pilot from the barn­storm­ing era, and the first licensed African Amer­i­can woman pilot at that, Bessie had my full attention.

My ini­tial excite­ment was tem­pered, though. Sure­ly there was already a book about her for young read­ers, right? Wrong. At that time, the only in-depth book about Bessie on the mar­ket was Queen Bess, an adult biog­ra­phy by Doris Rich. Once I knew that, I was off and running.

I told Melanie about my dis­cov­ery and got the green light to write the book.

My first draft was a straight prose treat­ment of her sto­ry. It might have remained so, but as I dug in to work on the sec­ond draft, I got wind of two oth­er Bessie man­u­scripts for young read­ers being shopped around. I did­n’t know who had writ­ten them, but that was almost unim­por­tant. My con­cern was that my own would no longer be the only chil­dren’s book about Bessie hit­ting store shelves.

I went to my edi­tor and voiced my con­cern. “Do you still want me to write this book?” I asked her. “Yes,” she said. “Our book does­n’t have to be the only one, it just needs to be the best.”

Great. No pres­sure there!

I sat down for a long think. How could I write a biog­ra­phy that could poten­tial­ly com­pete with at least two oth­ers on the same sub­ject? What unique treat­ment could I offer that would make my book stand out? The answer was as sim­ple as sim­i­le: poet­ry. I would write a biog­ra­phy in verse. But what shape would such a treat­ment take? This could not mere­ly be a lose col­lec­tion of poems. As a biog­ra­phy, it required more struc­ture than that. I had no easy solu­tions, so I set aside the man­u­script for a few weeks.

In recent years, I’d attend a few (too many) memo­ri­als. Each ser­vice was, of course unique in its own way. How­ev­er, they all had some­thing in com­mon: with each, I was struck by the fact that I left the memo­r­i­al with a much more round­ed sense of the depart­ed than I had when I walked in the door. And it made per­fect sense. Every per­son who spoke shared sto­ries about the loved one from a time or per­spec­tive to which I had­n’t been privy. Each knew the depart­ed in a way no else had, and to hear each sto­ry was to receive anoth­er piece of that per­son­’s puz­zle. Tak­en togeth­er, the indi­vid­ual anec­dotes spun the larg­er sto­ry of his or her life.

I’m not quite sure why the mem­o­ry of those memo­ri­als sur­faced when they did, but I real­ized the idea of a memo­r­i­al would be a per­fect jump­ing off place for my sto­ry about Bessie Cole­man. With that in mind, I rolled up my prover­bial sleeves and began the man­u­script anew.

I iden­ti­fied the key fig­ures in Bessie’s life through whom I would tell her sto­ry and dug in for a sec­ond round of research. Among oth­er things, I stud­ied flight man­u­als, inter­viewed female pilots, and sat in the cock­pit of a repli­ca of the plane Bessie flew to get the feel of it.

I’m not wild about research, per se, but Bessie’s sto­ry was so exhil­a­rat­ing, that I felt dri­ven. I mean, here’s a woman who began life work­ing in the cot­ton fields, and end­ed it as the first licensed African Amer­i­can pilot in the world. Then you throw in the birth of avi­a­tion, air cir­cus­es, and wing-walking—come on! How could I not be intrigued?

So, I pound­ed out man­u­script num­ber two, and turned it in. There were the usu­al round of edits and revi­sions, of course. Beyond these, there was a tug of war between my edi­tor and myself. Her vision of the book was one of scant text, maybe four or five lines of text per spread, with lots of space for glo­ri­ous illus­tra­tions. I, on the oth­er hand, was dri­ven by the needs of the sto­ry. I argued that the length of the text had to be deter­mined by the num­ber of words it took to tell that sto­ry. We went back and forth on this for awhile. Even­tu­al­ly, I went back through the man­u­script and made a few judi­cious cuts, elim­i­nat­ing only those words that were not specif­i­cal­ly ger­mane to the sto­ry. Nei­ther of us got entire­ly what we want­ed, but we settled.

Then it was on to the selec­tion of the illus­tra­tor. We found one fair­ly quick­ly (for us!) and we were set to go. Final­ly, I thought. This book is mov­ing forward!

Not so much.

Melanie Kroupa and two oth­er edi­tors at Orchard announced they were leav­ing the com­pa­ny to set up shop else­where. The plan, as I under­stand it, was to take their projects with them. How­ev­er, Orchard put the breaks on and took the trio to court. What did that mean for me? My sto­ry on Bessie was held cap­tive for the next year while the legal wran­gling ensued.

When the dust final­ly set­tled, my man­u­script was still at Orchard and I had to wait until a new edi­tor was assigned to the project. In oth­er words, Bessie was still in lim­bo. The project remained that way for a while.

Nikki Grimes and EB Lewis
E.B. Lewis and I join to sign books.

Three edi­tors came and went rather quick­ly, though one stayed long enough to can­cel the con­tract of the illus­tra­tor we’d orig­i­nal­ly signed. Two edi­tors lat­er, some­one came on board and dis­cussed pos­si­ble illus­tra­tors with me. The name E.B. Lewis was raised and I jumped on it. “Yes! Yes!” I said. “Get him.” I knew he would be per­fect for this project. His his­tor­i­cal detail was impec­ca­ble and that would serve Bessie well. The down­side was that he would not be avail­able to begin for two years. More than three years had already passed since I began work on this sto­ry, and the idea of wait­ing two more years was gru­el­ing. Even so, I knew E.B. would get the sto­ry right, so I felt he was worth the wait. And he was.

Now, you’d think, at this point in the sto­ry, the future would be smooth sail­ing. But you would be wrong …

Stay tuned for Part II of Bessie’s sto­ry next week …

When Gorilla Goes Walking

Gorilla Goes WalkingGodzil­la. That was the orig­i­nal name of my feline char­ac­ter. I chose the name because it expressed the size and feroc­i­ty of her per­son­al­i­ty. It was also a bit of a joke, of course, because she was very small and, well, kit­ten­ish. But don’t tell her that!

As per­fect as her cho­sen name was, I had to change it. I did so under duress, mind you. When the man­u­script made its way into copy­edit­ing, I was informed that that the name Godzil­la was owned by Warn­er Bros. and that I did not have the right to use it. Excuse me? I was miffed, to say the least. But what can you do? So, I set about try­ing to come up with anoth­er name that could con­vey sim­i­lar attrib­ut­es. The spelling of the name also need­ed to work, syl­lab­i­cal­ly (is that a word?) with the meter of all the already-writ­ten poems. Goril­la came as close as I could get to sat­is­fy­ing those needs.

As for Goril­la’s (nee Godzil­la’s) pedi­gree, she is a Manx.

Hang­ing with Debra Jack­son and Gail Broad­nax, my buds back in the day. Debra’s the one styling with the hat.

My best friend, Debra, had a Manx when she was grow­ing up. That cat had per­son­al­i­ty and atti­tude to spare, and I loved her for it! In fact, she was the first feline to ever win my heart. She was very much her own per­son, and a nat­ur­al born char­ac­ter. I’d no idea I’d end up writ­ing a book inspired by her, though.

Still BFFs! Here, we’re on our way to the IMAGE Awards the year I won for Barack Oba­ma: Son of Promise, Child of Hope.

I’ve owned a few cats in my time, but I haven’t had one in years. Still, on my school vis­its, I’m fre­quent­ly asked what my favorite pet is. I always say cats. Tech­ni­cal­ly, though, that’s incor­rect. Cats are not pets. Any­one who lives with a cat knows that, in the feline-human rela­tion­ship, the human belongs to the cat, not the oth­er way around! Any­way, the con­stant ques­tions about my favorite pet brought back mem­o­ries of my first close feline encounter. In oth­er words, they remind­ed me of that Manx.

The sce­nar­ios in When Goril­la Goes Walk­ing are imag­i­nary, but I would­n’t call them fic­tion­al. After all, cats do hiss at dogs, bat­tle with house­plants, and curl up with their humans when a lit­tle love is need­ed, don’t they? And like Goril­la, all cats rule. Any­one who’s ever been owned by a feline can tell you that!

I’ve got a few favorite poems in this col­lec­tion, but you’ll have to find your own. I’ll close with one of mine.

Learn­ing the Rules

At first it was­n’t easy
remem­ber­ing who was boss,
whose turn it was to catch the ball,
whose turn it was to toss.
But now I’ve got the hang of it.
(House­break­ing was a snap.)
I scratch Goril­la’s bel­ly when
she com­man­deers my lap.
I switch the sun­lamp on for her
if it’s a cloudy day.
I run, I jump, I fetch, unless
my mas­ter turns away
and stretch­es ‘cross the carpet,
reclin­ing still as stone,
ignor­ing me until I see
she wants to be alone.

Jazmin’s Notebook

Jazmin's NotebookJazmin’s Note­book, a Coret­ta Scott King Award Hon­or Book, was the first nov­el in which I fea­tured a char­ac­ter who’d been in fos­ter care. Unlike The Road to Paris, which came lat­er, this nov­el did­n’t focus on the fos­ter care expe­ri­ence itself, but did illu­mi­nate some of the emo­tion­al effects of a child impact­ed by it.

Reviews talked about the book being hard-edged, yet hope­ful. It’s a com­bi­na­tion I pre­fer for most of my work, but I think Jazmin’s Note­book was the first time I struck exact­ly the right bal­ance. Writ­ing the book was­n’t easy though, not even a lit­tle bit.

Ear­ly in my writ­ing career, prose was my sta­ple. I wrote count­less arti­cles and edi­to­ri­als for mag­a­zines like Ms., Essence, and Today’s Chris­t­ian Woman, as well as for news­pa­pers like Soho Week­ly, The Voice, and The Ams­ter­dam News. But, by the time I set pen to paper to write Jazmin’s Note­book, I’d been writ­ing poet­ry exclu­sive­ly for sev­er­al years. As a result, writ­ing work that went all the way across the page felt awk­ward, strange, and ulti­mate­ly paralyzing.

The sto­ries them­selves came eas­i­ly enough. I’d left my moth­er’s home, once and for all, when I was six­teen and moved in with my old­er sis­ter. I lived with her until I grad­u­at­ed from high school, and my sto­ries were drawn from those years. No prob­lem there. The for­mat, how­ev­er, was anoth­er sto­ry alto­geth­er. I had to fig­ure out a way to get unstuck.

Nikki Teacher
My high school teacher, Mrs. Eve­lyn Wexler, was the mod­el for the kind Mrs. Vogel in Jazmin’s Note­book. I was thrilled to meet her again, lat­er in life. After all, she was my favorite teacher!

The prob­lem was clear­ly prose-cen­tered, so I asked myself, why not write the text in poet­ry, just to get the sto­ry down?  I could always refor­mat it as prose lat­er. And that’s pre­cise­ly what I did. I wrote the first two-thirds of the nov­el as if each chap­ter were a very long poem, then refor­mat­ted the text after­wards. By the time I was that far into the nov­el, I was once again com­fort­able enough with prose to drop the artifice.

What this exer­cise taught me is there is no right way or wrong way to write a nov­el. There is only what works. What­ev­er works for you, run with that. Period.

Many, though by no means all, of the sto­ries in Jazmin’s Note­book are drawn from mem­o­ry. As such, some of the char­ac­ters were com­pos­ites of real peo­ple from one of my old neigh­bor­hoods in New York City. I enjoy the process of spin­ning fic­tion­al char­ac­ters from real ones. The sin­gle per­son for which that is dif­fi­cult, though, is my mother.

Nikki at 16
Here’s what I looked like at 16 when I lived with my sis­ter, Carol—CeCe in the book.

As I delved deep into the sto­ry of Jazmin and her com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ship with, and feel­ings for, her moth­er, I began to cross the line between the per­son­al and the fic­tion­al, and did­n’t even real­ize it. My edi­tor, who was some­what famil­iar with my per­son­al his­to­ry, real­ized what was hap­pen­ing, though. I’d stopped writ­ing about Jazmin and her moth­er, and had start­ed writ­ing about my own! Once my edi­tor brought it to my atten­tion, I stepped back from the man­u­script to get some per­spec­tive. In the end, I had to scrap near­ly two chap­ters, climb back into Jazmin’s skin, and write them again. It was a good les­son for me.

I love poet­ry, as every­one knows, so I espe­cial­ly enjoyed cre­at­ing the poems that open each chap­ter of the book. The poem “For Sale” is one of my favorites. When you read Jazmin’s Note­book, per­haps you’ll find a favorite of your own.

I pass the used-goods store
peek at
the bronzed baby shoes
use­less and dusty
in the window.
It’s legal
to sell such things,
I know.
But it feels wrong
to me,
some­one selling
some­one else’s

Aneesa Lee and the Weaver’s Gift

Aneesa Lee and the Weaver's GiftI’ve been work­ing in tex­tiles since my late teens. First, it was sewing, then cro­chet­ing, then on to knit­ting. Along the way, I’ve made bead­ed jew­el­ry, done pey­ote bead­ing, made hand­made books and jour­nals, dec­o­rat­ed wood­en box­es, and col­laged hand­made cards. I con­tin­ue to make cards, pads, and jour­nals, and knit now and then. But I’ve nev­er tried my hand at weav­ing, though I find this skill par­tic­u­lar­ly fascinating.

One of my best friends is a con­sum­mate weaver, and I’ve had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to watch her work: hand-dying her own yarn, dress­ing her loom, and pro­duc­ing a rain­bow of cloth from which she’s gone on to design jack­ets, vests, scarves, and more.

One thing I’ve dis­cov­ered by attend­ing to the lengthy process of weav­ing is that, unlike oth­er forms of tex­tile art, it requires a high lev­el of math­e­mat­ic acu­men. (I’m no math whiz, so I trou­bled my friend to explain it all to me, more than once. Clear­ly, my deci­sion to leave the art of weav­ing to some­one else was a smart idea!) The more I learned about the process of weav­ing, the more I want­ed to write about it. Aneesa Lee and the Weaver’s Gift was the result.

Nikki Grimes and Ashley Bryan
Ash­ley Bryan and me at a conference

Aneesa Lee is a young girl who is born into a fam­i­ly of weavers. She is just begin­ning to dis­cov­er the joy of weav­ing for her­self. Along the way, she not only devel­ops the skills required, but also learns that the loom can be a place where she can give vent to her emo­tions. In so doing, she trans­forms even dark thoughts into bril­liant­ly col­ored cloth, with intri­cate patterning.

One of the chal­lenges in writ­ing this book was fig­ur­ing out a way to best describe the process of spin­ning yarn. Not every weaver spins, mind you, but many do. I called a friend who spins and asked if I could come by and watch her work. She oblig­ed, and demon­strat­ed spin­ning using a hand-held tool, and then sit­ting at a spin­ning wheel. It was her time on the wheel that, ulti­mate­ly, gave me the poem “Aneesa at the Wheel.” The rhythm of her move­ments at the wheel remind­ed me of dance. Once I real­ized that, I was off and running.

Aneesa Lee
This love­ly paint­ing now hangs on my wall.

Artist Ash­ley Bryan brought the jour­ney of Aneesa Lee to life, both for me, and for the read­ers. Who bet­ter for the job? One of the love­ly paint­ings form the book hangs on my wall, and it always makes me smile.

Aside from “Aneesa at the Wheel,” one of my favorite poems in this book is “Sun­set.”

Thoughts of Grand­ma make Aneesa smile.
 But sor­row’s shad­ow hangs there all the while.
Aneesa weaves her sad and sweet remem­ber­ing. 

Through hed­dles, shed, and reed,
Joy and sad­ness blend.
The beat­er press­es them together,
End to end.

Aneesa leaves her sor­row in the cloth
And, when her evening hand­i­work is done,
Glow­ing pin and coral from the loom,
Appears a woven square of set­ting sun.

I hope you’ll dis­cov­er, or redis­cov­er this book. Like most of my oth­er titles, you’ll find a teach­ers guide for it on my website.