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Poems in the Attic

Poems in the Attic

by Elizabeth Zunon (Illustrator), Nikki Grimes

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.


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. Ages 6–11. Author's agent: Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown. Illustrator's agent: Lori Nowicki, Painted Words. (May)
Children's Literature - Susan Glick
What better way for a mother to share her stories than through poetry, especially poems she created as a child herself? Such is the premise of this appealing picture book in which a seven-year-old girl discovers her own mother’s poems, her “secrets,” tucked into a cedar box in the attic of her grandmother. Like the daughter, readers will be enchanted with these poetic sketches of the poet-mother’s “childhood on wings. “The daughter of an Air Force captain, she lived all over the world. The poems and the book’s illustrations capture the “dancing rainbow” of the aurora borealis in Alaska, the grunion run on California’s Cabrillo Beach, a “first castle” in Hohenecken, Germany. Even young readers can share the feeling of loss that children in military families must feel when they leave yet another set of friends behind and long instead to “fold my friends and slip them in my suitcase.” The poems allow this seven-year old to make new connections, including understanding now why her mother loves pictures of boats and why she was never told that rock collecting was just for boys. Young readers may also want to try some of these activities themselves, as the girl and her grandmother do when they create luminaries, the grandmother once again drawing faces on the paper bags as a poem describes. In the end, the daughter adds her own poems to the cedar box, realizing that she, too, has experiences and feelings to share. Illustrations throughout are muted and dreamy—capturing this family against a world of backdrops. Back matter includes an Author’s Note about her connection with “military brats,” a list of the U.S. Air Force bases referenced in the poems, and a brief explanation of free verse and tanka, with encouragement for readers to try these simple, expressive poetry forms. Reviewer: Susan Glick; Ages 5 to 11.
School Library Journal
Gr 1–4—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.—Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, Montclair, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2015-02-23
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. The mother's poetry tells of a childhood of constant resettling as the daughter of a base-traveling Air Force captain. Grimes' poems and Zunon's paint-and-collage illustrations take readers through the lands and cultures surrounding global U.S Air Force bases, including stories of aurora borealis observed in Alaska, the cherry blossoms seen in Japan, the hills hiked in Germany, and the mountains climbed in Colorado. (The specific bases are identified in a note in the backmatter.) Poetic forms alternate between the free verse of the daughter and her mother's tanka, an ancient five-line poetry form originating in Japan (and also further explained in the backmatter). Each spread presents one of her mother's poems within a large, bright illustration and the narrator's free-verse rumination on it, placed above a smaller, oval vignette. 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. The standout "Grandma Says" enlightens readers to the power of reflective writing: "My mama glued her memories with words / so they would last forever." 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. (Picture book/poetry. 6-11)

Product Details

Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
9.00(w) x 10.75(h) x 0.50(d)
NP (what's this?)
Age Range:
7 - 8 Years

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