The Watcher

writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by Bryan Col­lier
Eerd­mans Books for Young Read­ers, 2017

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The Watcher

A poet­ic sto­ry inspired by Psalm 121

Jor­dan lives in fear of Tanya, the class bul­ly. But Tanya has wor­ries of her own, no mat­ter how much she tries to ignore them. It seems impos­si­ble that Jor­dan and Tanya could be any­thing oth­er than ene­mies, but the Lord is watch­ing over them, guid­ing each of them along a path that might just help them to under­stand one another.

Using the gold­en shov­el for­mat, I’ve worked with Psalm 121 to tell a sto­ry of com­pas­sion, friend­ship, and faith. Bryan Col­lier has cre­at­ed illus­tra­tions that bring this sto­ry to life.

Awards and Recognition

  • Catholic Press Asso­ci­a­tion 2017 Fore­word INDIES Bronze Award
  • Chil­dren’s Book Award Hon­or­able Mention
  • Junior Library Guild Selection
  • Kirkus Best Children’s Book of 2017
  • Kirkus Prize Finalist
  • NCTE Notable Poet­ry List 2018
  • WORLD Pic­ture Book of the Year 2017, WORLD Magazine


  In short bursts of poet­ry, read­ers meet Jor­dan, who fears his tor­men­tor, and Tanya, the bul­ly, whose stut­ter­ing iso­lates her. … Read­ers will be moved by Tanya’s fears and Jordan’s abil­i­ty to reach out. Col­lier uses his look-and-look-again col­lage work, here in earth tones, to cap­ture and extend the emo­tions bub­bling near the sur­face. Child­hood con­cerns, some com­mon, some not, are ele­vat­ed by the infu­sion of God into this whol­ly (and holy) orig­i­nal mix. (Book­list, starred review)

  When the chaos of life threat­ens to over­take your soul, a sim­ple psalm can soothe you. In this pic­ture book, Wilder Award-win­ning author Grimes deliv­ers a com­pact yet pow­er­ful mes­sage of hope and encour­age­ment based on Psalm 121. Short poems ener­gized with kind­ness, despair, hope, regret, and accep­tance are deliv­ered using a style she describes in the back of the book as “the gold­en shov­el,” a form she also used in One Last Word (2017). Grimes defines this form as using a por­tion of an exist­ing poem and arrang­ing it in such a way that the end words of each line form a short sen­tence from the orig­i­nal poem. Using the words from the psalm, woven with care­ful­ly craft­ed words of her own, she tells the sto­ry of Jor­dan and Tanya, two ele­men­tary school chil­dren strug­gling with fit­ting in, try­ing to sur­vive. Tanya, a black girl, stut­ters and com­pen­sates with mean­ness; while Jor­dan, a shy and qui­et white boy, just wants to make a friend. Tanya feels the con­stant brunt of oth­er’s lack of com­pas­sion and directs that anger toward Jor­dan. Col­lier’s exquis­ite art­work com­bines soft, del­i­cate brush strokes with live­ly pho­to col­lages. The effect is both hyper-real­is­tic and gauzi­ly sur­re­al, a per­fect com­ple­ment to Grimes’ poems. A sump­tu­ous work filled with a deli­cious­ly wrapped cen­ter — per­fect for class­rooms, school, pub­lic, or church libraries, or home: wher­ev­er hearts go for mend­ing. (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

  The lan­guage, by turns soar­ing and sear­ing, requires close atten­tion, but its beau­ty is brought to earth in the best way by Col­lier’s res­o­nant pho­to-col­lages of school chil­dren. (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, starred review)

Not only does Grimes use Psalm 121 for the inspi­ra­tion for the con­tent, she uses the words of the Psalm in a gold­en shov­el for­mat to struc­ture the nar­ra­tive as well. Collier’s mul­ti­me­dia illus­tra­tions enhance this call for com­pas­sion. (NCTE 2018 Notable Poet­ry Committee)

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