Friday, April 03, 2020

Guest post: Nikki Grimes

Photo credit: Aaron Lemen
I'm so happy to share my blog space with another poet for a guest post! The award-winning poet Nikki Grimes has a new book out in May and I thought it would be lovely to get a bit of back-story on it. I love what she has to say about representation here and I think you will too. So, please welcome Nikki Grimes and her new book, Southwest Sunrise (Bloomsbury, 2020), illustrated by the amazing Wendell Minor.

Nikki's bio: "New York Times bestselling author Nikki Grimes is the recipient of the 2017 Children's Literature Legacy Award, the 2016 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, and the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Her distinguished works include the much-honored books Garvey's Choice, ALA Notable book What is Goodbye?, Coretta Scott King Award winner Bronx Masquerade, and Coretta Scott King Author Honor books Jazmin's Notebook, Talkin' About Bessie, Dark Sons, Words with Wings, and The Road to Paris. Creator of the popular Meet Danitra Brown, Ms. Grimes lives in Corona, California."

Nikki writes:
Southwest Sunrise, my newest picture book, illustrated by Wendell Minor, is about to make its way into the world. I love how Kirkus closed its starred review of the book. "How glorious: a story about a black child experiencing the outdoors that is beautiful in every way." What's so special about that sentence is how it hints at my core reason for writing this book.

Too often, the children's books featuring black characters that make it through the publishing machine represent a single story. That story is set against an urban landscape, with a family that is either broken, dysfunctional, or both, and centers around some stereotypical socio-economic problem that the child must overcome, or be rescued from. In fact, such stories are often referred to as "problem books." Then there are, of course, slave narratives, black biographies, and books chronicling civil rights issues—all of which are important. That said, are they the only stories there are to tell? Do black children not have experiences outside of this narrow framework? Of course they do! There are black children from strong families with happy homes, children growing up in the suburbs, in rural areas, and gathering eggs on their family's farms. They call ranches home, live in beach cities, even overseas. And there are black children whose daily lives and imaginations are fueled by engagement with Nature. Where are those stories? It's high time we see more of them, and that's one of the reasons I wrote this book.

Southwest Sunrise is a story in poems about Jayden, a boy suddenly transplanted from New York City to the wide-open spaces of New Mexico. This move was his parent's idea, and Jayden's not too happy about leaving his friends, and his city, behind.

Too old to cry myself to sleep,
I hide behind my baseball cap,
close my eyes, and pout
all the way from New York
to New Mexico,
mad about moving to a place 
of shadows.
That's all I see when we land.

Why are we here?  
What's so great about
New Mexico?

Like it or not, this is Jayden's new home, so he takes the field guide his mother hands him at the breakfast table, and steps outside to explore.  

I shiver from the silence
unbroken by
the familiar sound of sirens—
but not for long.
A few yards down the road,
I pick up the mad chatter
of winged gossips
passing secrets
from one unfamiliar tree to another.
The guidebook calls them
piñon trees 
Little by little, Jayden discovers prehistoric looking lizards, flowers in flaming colors he's never seen, and unfamiliar species of birds like ravens, and magpies.

Someone should tell these
flying chatterboxes
magpies are beautiful
when their beaks are still,
when they sail on air
and write across the sky
with the long black tips
of their tails.

Jayden misses New York City's skyscrapers, but the red rock outcroppings all around show him that New Mexico has skyscrapers of its own.

What's so great about New Mexico? Read Southwest Sunrise and find out.

Sylvia: Thanks so much, Nikki, for sharing this glimpse of your new book. Living in Texas, I've been to New Mexico many times and I love it too-- especially the landscape. White Sands is one of my favorite places on the planet! Can't wait to get my hands on this book in May!

Next, head on over to My Juicy Little Universe where poet and teacher Heidi Mordhorst is hosting our Poetry Friday fun.


jan godown annino said...

Appreciations Ms. Nikki Grimes, for creating this kind & wholeperson New York to New Mexico transformation of a boy into a poet.
And especially in what's excerpted here, the idea of the magpie writing across the sky with its tail

Sylvia & Poetry for Children creators -
Looking forward to the grad. student movies!

Great good wishes to all in #PoetryFriday, #2020NationalPoetryMonth #ShelterInPoetry!

Liz Steinglass said...

I love this so much. I look forward to holding it and reading it.

Linda Mitchell said...

What a delightful interview and peek at this book. I need this book for my students! Thanks so much for writing.

Leigh Anne Eck said...

What a lovely treat. And what a wonderful reason to write Jayden's story. AND to have illustrations by Wendell Minor. Well, this is just a double win for us readers. Thank you for sharing this beautiful book.

Sylvia Vardell said...

I agree, friends. Nikki's work is always worth seeking out, but this one looks very special. Can't wait to get my hands on it! It's due to release May 5. Take care, everyone!

Linda B said...

It's on my list for my local Indie, and it makes me happy, too, to see a book about a black child just living life, this time sad to move, but then discovering the new wonders of nature, a most wonderful story that I'm looking forward to. Thanks, Sylvia for hosting Nikki - a lovely visit!

Linda said...

I always look forward to Nikki's latest book, but I am super excited about this one! Thank you for sharing it here.

Mary Lee said...

Thank you for all the resources you have shared (and will be sharing) here this moth. I can't wait to get my hands on this book!

Kay said...

OH, I want this book. Those lines you shared from Nikki's new book just make me swoon--especially those magpies writing across the sky with their black tails.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

Fantastic! Such a special book.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Hello, Sylvia, and congratulations, Nikki! (it's taken me a while to make the rounds from last week's PoFri--gearing up for online PreK is pretty time-consuming!) This book is, as you say, part of a small and much-needed department of Diverse Books: "regular" stories. I remember when you could find black families in books but rarely in TV commercials; now it seems much easier to find black families doing regular things like laundry and buying cars on TV than in books. Thanks for shifting things, and I hope you both are well.