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Author Focus: Poet Nikki Grimes

December 7, 2015

Poet Nikki Grimes features vibrant and self-assured African American girls in her books. Grimes’ depictions of friendship, community, and family are wonderful to behold.

As we have written on several occasions, it is important that children see themselves, and others different from them, in the books they read. In other words, representation matters. Today I want to share the work of Nikki Grimes, who features vibrant and self-assured African Americans girls in her children’s books. Grimes’ depictions of friendship, community, and family are wonderful to behold.

Friendship is the central theme in Grimes’ Danitra Brown trilogy: Meet Danitra Brown, Danitra Brown Leaves Town, and Danitra Brown, Class Clown. Grimes is primarily a poet: all three books, as well as many of her other works, are written in verse. 

In Meet Danitra Brown, narrator Zuri Jackson (Danitra's best friend) tells us that Danitra Brown is “the most splendiferous girl in town.” Danitra is courageous, independent, and confident. She “doesn’t mind what people say,” even if they call her “Coke-bottle Brown” because of her thick glasses. Danitra wears purple every day because of the stories her mother has told her about the “queens in Timbuktu” who “all wore purple-never red or green or blue” (what a lovely nod to the power of stories and representation!). Danitra and Zuri are close friends: they ride bikes together, and share ice cream and stories.

When summer comes, however, Danitra leaves town to visit relatives. Zuri is sad, but makes a new friend. Nina from the neighborhood and Zuri play handball “against the corner drugstore wall/wearing a hole in the bricks.” Zuri nevertheless misses her friend. One day a letter arrives from Danitra, and the two girls begin exchanging letters about their summers in the country and city, chasing fireflies and dancing at a block party.

In the last book of the trilogy, Zuri and Danitra are reunited and a new school year soon begins.  Zuri is apprehensive, but Danitra “hops in, grinning” and everything is better. Danitra continually encourages her friend Zuri: to raise her head high when explaining the meaning of her name (“My name means beautiful/wonderful, good. /Anyone with a half a brain/would steal it, if she could.”) and to not give up when math gets hard. Danitra also distracts the class with a twirling, jumping, stomping dance when a note revealing Zuri’s crush on a boy gets intercepted. She is indeed a “matchless friend.” The friendship between Zuri and Danitra is to be emulated, and Danitra’s confidence and fearlessness is an example for all young girls.

Be sure to check out some of Grimes’ other picture books, such as When Gorilla Goes Walking and Poems in the Attic. Grimes has also written many titles for older children, available at the Library. Take time to explore her website; there is biographical information, news about her speaking engagements, and more.

Klem-Mari Cajigas

Klem-Marí Cajigas

In a former life, Klem-Marí was a Religious Studies scholar. She much prefers being the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life! She wants you to read and share books with the children in your life, and for those children to see you to read as well. Originally from Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí also enjoys her cat, baking, yoga, and the works of Octavia Butler.