Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance

Nikki Grimes
Illustrator:  a host of talented illustrators 
For ages 10 to 14
Bloomsbury , 2017   ISBN: 978-1619635548

Nikki Grimes was only thirteen years old when she first read her own poetry out loud in front of an audience. She gave her reading at the Countee Cullen Library in New York City, a library that was named for one of the many poets of the Harlem Renaissance.

It was a fitting place for her to perform because the poets of the Harlem Renaissance, people like Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes, has a huge impact on Nikki’s own growth as a poet. She too was raised in Harlem and on that day she felt as if she was “stepping into the stream of Renaissance poets who came before me.”

This wonderful collection of poems is a tribute to those poets. Nikki has chosen to showcase some of the poems written by her heroes, and she adds her “voice to theirs” by writing Golden Shovel poems to accompany their creations. Golden Shovel poems are created by taking the words from a line or a verse in an existing poem and using them to create a new poem.

Our journey begins with a poem called Storm Ending which was written by Jean Toomer. In the poem the poet captures a moment when a storm sends thunder rippling across the sky. It “blossoms gorgeous above our heads.” Nikki’s Golden Shovel poem, which uses words from the first lines of Storm Ending, talks about how every day is “like thunder” in that it is a surprise that can either bring us trouble or “blossoms / of blessing.” We never know what each day will bring, and what memories will be formed on that day.

What is fascinating about this collection is the way in which Nikki Grimes takes the words from poems such as The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes and creates something altogether new and exciting for her own poem David’s Old Soul. We can see how the words have been used, and can marvel at how Nikki offers us something new and fresh. At the same time she creates something that is in keeping with the feel of the poems that the Harlem Renaissance poets wrote.

Throughout the book the poems are paired with illustrations created by people such as Pat Cummings, E.B Lewis, and Brian Pinkney. Biographies of the artists can be found at the back of the book. There are also biographies of the Harlem Renaissance poets whose writings are featured in the collection.