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Poems in the Attic
Poems in the Attic
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Poems in the Attic
written by Nikki Grimes
illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Lee & Low Books, May 2015
ISBN 978-1620140277

Awards and Distinctions

Arnold Adoff Poetry Award Honor
Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year 2016
CCBC Choices 2016
Los Angeles Times
Summer Reading List
NCTE Notable Poetry List 2016
New York City Dept of Education National Poetry Month recommendation
Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee

About the Book

During a visit to her grandma's house, a young girl discovers a box of poems in the attic, poems written by her mother when she was growing up. Her mother’s family often moved around the United States and the world because her father was in the Air Force. Over the years, her mother used poetry to record her experiences in the many places the family lived. Reading the poems and sharing those experiences through her mother’s eyes, the young girl feels closer to her mother than ever before.

To let her mother know this, she creates a gift: a book with her own poems and copies of her mother’s. And when she returns her mother’s poems to the box in the attic, she leaves her own poems too, for someone else to find, someday.

Using free verse for the young girl’s poems and tanka for her mother’s, master poet Nikki Grimes creates a tender intergenerational story that speaks to every child’s need to hold onto special memories of home, no matter where that place might be.


 A girl discovers her mother’s childhood poems in her grandmother’s attic and embarks on a journey through family history that inspires her own poetic tribute to her mother. ... According to her author’s note, Grimes drew on the varied stories of friends who grew up as military brats to create this imagined intergenerational dialogue. ... Succinct poetry shines in this impassioned celebration of history; the stories of this African-American family traveling the globe are rich with heart and color.

A 7-year-old girl, exploring in Grandma’s attic, finds a box of poems her mother wrote as a child. On each lefthand page, Grimes (“Chasing Freedom,” “Words With Wings”) has her narrator write in short bursts of free verse, while on the right-side pages the poems her mother wrote are in the Japanese five-line formtanka. The result is a story that conveys decades of family history with an almost magical concision. The little girl follows her mother’s many moves around the world as an “Air Force Brat,” as the girl’s first poem is titled. We see the mother as a young girl in Texas, Japan and Germany, sharing adventures with her own father when he’s on leave and missing him when he is not. Through reading her mother’s poems, the girl realizes how much she misses her after just three days. Elizabeth Zunon’s warm, bright illustrations provide a cheerful balance, but it’s the ache of a parent’s absence that most powerfully animates the book.

During a visit to Grandma’s, a seven-year-old girl discovers a stash of poems in the attic written by her mother as a child. Each subsequent set of pages pairs a poem written by the girl with one by her mama. An air force brat, Mama wrote a different entry in each new place her family was stationed, showcasing the experiences of her “childhood on wings,” from painting luminarias in New Mexico to kayaking in Virginia to catching cherry blossoms like snowflakes in Japan. Her writing also touches upon painful situations, such as leaving her friends behind when she moved and missing her father when he was away. The daughter’s poems compare her and her grown-up mother’s lives with the experiences detailed by Mama as a girl (“It’s funny to think of Mama/making a mess with arts and crafts”). Sweet and accessible but never simplistic, this collection captures the experience of a military childhood with graceful sophistication. Grimes uses different styles of poem for each voice (free verse for the daughter and tanka poems for the mother), a choice that she discusses in an explanatory note on poetry forms that will serve budding poets and teachers alike. Rendered in acrylic, oil, and collage, Zunon’s warm, vibrant illustrations complement the text perfectly. Readers with an especially keen interest in the locations highlighted can look to a complete list of Air Force Bases appended. VERDICT A gem of a book.

During a visit to her grandmother's house, a seven-year-old African-American girl discovers poems her mother wrote in her youth, giving the daughter a window into her mother's peripatetic upbringing as an Air Force brat. Grimes (Chasing Freedom) alternates between the daughter's free-verse poems and her mother's five-line tanka poetry. In one scene, the girl's grandmother shows her how to make paper luminarias, just as she did with her daughter while they were living in New Mexico ("After we were done,/ our brown bag candleholders/ bloomed bright, lighting up the night"); a Japanese dinner between girl and grandmother ties into a trip to Japan. (In author's notes, Grimes highlights the poetic forms she uses, as well as the Air Force bases that correspond to locations in the book). Fully in step with Grimes's empathic writing, Zunon's (One Plastic Bag) warmly painted collages carry readers from the waterways of Virginia to a German castle atop a hill, highlighting the powerful emotional ties between the girl and her elders, as well as her mother's adventurous spirit.

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