Grimes, Nikki. One Last Word: Wisdom of the Harlem Renaissance. Poetry. Cozbi A. Cabrera, R. Gregory Christie, Pat Cummings, et al., Illus. Bloomsbury, 01/2017. 120pp. $18.99. 978-1-61963-554-8. OUTSTANDING. GRADES 6-9.
Grimes finds “fuel for the future” in the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, pairing short poems from that era with her own original poems. She creates a multitude of contemporary voices, mostly of teens grappling with their hopes, dreams, and struggles. Creating her poems with the Golden Shovel poetic form, Grimes takes a key “striking line” from a selected poem and ends each line of her new poem with one word from this striking line. Thus, her modern poems are intimately linked with the originals. Countee Cullen begins his poem “For a Poet” with the line, “I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth.” From this, Grimes creates a modern character who uses poetry to hold her secrets as she navigates her urban neighborhood. “Dreamkillers daily stalk the streets you and I/ travel, trying to trip us up, but we can give them the slip. I have/ learned to protect my heart-songs. I keep them wrapped…” Each pair of poems is accompanied by a full-color illustration by leading contemporary African American children’s artists, adding to the artistic interpretation of these resonant themes. Beginning with an introduction to the Harlem Renaissance, Grimes provides historical background and a personal connection to this era. Grimes acknowledges the weight of injustices and racial bias; however, her voice rises filled with hope and the assurance the poetry will help readers stand tall. “The past is a ladder/ that can help you/ keep climbing.” The collection concludes with a short biography of each poet and artist featured. (Back matter includes a historical note, author’s notes, biographies, sources, and an index).
Mary Ann Scheuer, Berkeley USD