Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Poems in the Attic

Poems in the Attic

Nikki Grimes
Illustrator:  Elizabeth Zunon 
Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Lee & Low Books, 2015   ISBN: 978-1620140277

One day a seven-year-old girl goes into the attic in her grandmother’s house to explore. She finds a cedar box full of poems that her mother wrote when she was seven years old. As the daughter of a military man, Mama moved around a lot, and she had many memorable experiences. Now her daughter can read about these experiences in her mother’s poems.

She reads about how her mama, when she lived in California, went to the beach with her father to see the Grunion Run. Together Mama and her father saw “slim fish, silver as new dimes” wriggling onto the beach where they laid their eggs.

She reads about how Mama and Grandma made paper bag luminaries when they lived in Mexico, and how they used the bags, with their “scalloped” tops and happy painted faces, to decorate the path leading up to their adobe home. Grandma even teaches the little girl the “kind of magic she and Mama used to make / every December, in New Mexico.” Through their craft activity they have a wonderful time together connecting with the past.

Looking through a photo album the little girl see a picture of her mother with a snowman “that stands taller than she.” The child also reads her mother’s poem, in which Mama describes how she used the skies her father gave her to shuffle around her back yard in the snow. In her dreams she was “flying downhill.”

Often Mama’s father was away from the family for months, and when they lived in Colorado Mama had to bring a photo of her father to school for Bring Your Dad Day because he was away. The little girl is sure that Mama must have missed her father very much during those long separations.

When she reads her mother’s poem describing how she and her family members went canoeing when they lived in Virginia, the little girl understands why her mother has so many pictures of kayaks and canoes on their walls at home.

In this remarkable book every spread gives readers a free verse poem that captures the little girl’s feelings as she gets to know her mother through her poems. On the facing page readers will find her mother’s poems. The mother’s poems are written in the Japanese tanka format, which use five lines. There are five syllables in the first and third lines, and seven syllables in the second, fourth, and fifth lines.

It is fascinating to see how Nikki Grimes uses poems to tell a story that is powerful and poignant, and that celebrates the connection that a child shares with her mother; a connection that reaches back into the past.