Art, Books, Reviews, Writing

Book Review: One Last Word by Nikki Grimes

Today’s featured book is ‘One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes.

The Backstory:

On my last trip to India in November 2018, I was going with a heavy heart. I had no idea of what to expect at the other end. My dad was in the hospital and in critical condition. He passed away in the hospital at the exact moment I met my brother(who had come to receive me) at the airport. I miss dad everyday and cherish the memories he left us with. And this quote by Emily Dickinson from one of her poems caught my eye

‘Unable are the Loved to die
For Love is Immortality’

In the normal course of things, I would have watched a random movie or two to while away the time. At the end of my destination, would have promptly forgotten which ones. But, with the frame of mind I was in, I needed something to focus on; to take my mind away from those thoughts that threatened to make me cry.

So it was that I ended up watching the ‘Poetry in America‘ series that was one of the options available. If you have not watched it, do it now. It is brilliant! In the process, I discovered wonderful poems by familiar poets and poets previously unknown to me, like Langtson Hughes.

I watched the episode with Hughes on the return journey as well. It had impressed me and helped me keep my focus on something else other than dwelling on memories of my dad. So, thank you PBS, and thank you poets.

When I returned back home here in the US, I read the Hughes poem that was featured in the series again – What Happens to a Dream Deferred? You can read it too – here.

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The Book: One Last Word

It was therefore natural for me to pick up today’s featured book ‘One Last Word’ in my local library. Read on to hear my thoughts on the book other than ‘simply brilliant’ 🙂

Book Info:

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance
by Nikki Grimes
Age Range: 10 – 14 years
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens (January 3, 2017)

My Thoughts:

I recently reviewed ‘What is Poetry?’ by Michael Rosen. As I read this book, I said to myself – ‘This Is Poetry’ at it’s most inspiring, with words that need to be said out loud, and said out many times over.

In her first poem, ‘Emergency Measures’, she wonders how she can stay strong ‘in a world where fear and hate/ wait outside my door?‘ Inspired by the Harlem Renaissance poets, she looks for ‘fuel for the future/in the past’.

Nikki Grimes then takes us on a journey through a powerhouse of words. These include works both her own and those of the Harlem Renaissance poets.

With each poem she has included, Nikki follows with her poem, similar in voice and in heart to the original one, using the challenging golden shovel method. She sometimes uses one line and at others, the entire original poem to write her own poem. It is simply genius when you think of it! And that makes it difficult for me to pick one favorite pair of poems as each one manages to outshine the other. So I chose to let you read the complete book for yourself, no examples here 🙂

Nikki’s words flow gracefully and oh so powerfully within the restrictions she has placed for herself. More importantly, her words speak to today’s young readers and acts as a bridge to those other poets as well. While it might seem to focus on youth of color, this book is for everyone.

Nikki ends with her original poem which is a response to her first poem full of questions. There is hope and confidence in the last lines of the poem: ‘I know life will be rough,/ but we’ve got the stuff/ to make it‘.

Additional Thoughts:

This book has led me to discover so many hitherto unknown poets (at least to me) like, well, just about everyone featured in the book (except for Hughes who also was a recent discovery). And I am so glad for that.

How can we not talk about the artwork? Each poem is accompanied by an illustration by some of today’s best African-American artists. Each one has a style unique to the artist, lending it’s own beautiful voice to the poem and adding to it as well.

This volume of poems gives hope that in this nation that ‘has not yet fully realized its promise of freedom and justice for all.‘, we can still realize our dreams, and work together to help realize those promises too. We still have a ways to go but we can get there.

This is a book that needs to be read cover to cover. Read the foreword, the author’s note, and all the other front matter too. The back matter includes biographies of the included poets and artists, as well as sources for the book.

One Last Word lends itself very well to discussions of the different ideas of external beauty, of the everyday racism that plays roles in society’s first impressions and deeper too, of striving and succeeding in spite of everything, and of believing in ourselves. And yes, to creative exercises as well!

I tried my hand at this form using a line from the Hughes poem I mention above: ‘Or does it explode?’   And you can see a previous golden shovel attempt here.

When Good Things Explode
by Vidya Tiru

So, dear child, you can whine or
rise above it all. When you strive, it does
wonders; when you work hard, sparks of success it
renders; magic happens when hope, confidence, smiles explode!

In Summary:

Simply Brilliant! Yes, I said it again. This is sure to be a wonderful addition to libraries everywhere. It will be a great resource for teachers in so many ways. And to everyone, an inspiration – both in it’s heart and in it’s art.

This is a tribute to all those Harlem Renaissance poets; a hats-off to all those talented artists; an exercise in creativity; a challenge taken and surpassed; and an inspiration – all rolled in one wonderful book!

I know I cannot keep my library copy forever so I will be getting my personal copy soon! So go ahead and get a copy for yourself – from the library or the store.

You can order it from Barnes and Noble

Order online and pick it up at your local Target

For international readers, Book Depository

Rating: 5+/5
Reading Level: 10+ years
Reread Level: 5/5

You can check out my previous posts for the month and for Ultimate Blog Challenge below. 

Day 20 Day 19Day 18Day 17Day 16Day 15Day 14Day 8Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7Day 9
Day 10Day 11Day 12 Day 13

44 thoughts on “Book Review: One Last Word by Nikki Grimes

  1. I’m always looking for new poets to read. I often find it quite hard to discover the lesser known gems. Grimes’ work sounds passionate and real. It’s difficult to discuss the pain of real world with beauty. It’s also very difficult to write in another’s style. I will definitely be checking this out.

  2. isn’t it funny how the perfect book found you at the perfect time when you needed something like that the most?! I think i’m subconsciously drawn to books at different times of my life too!

  3. That’s great that you happened across this inspirational book. Plus I love that it is for younger audiences! It’s nice to discover new authors, poets, and artists.

  4. I had not heard of this book until I read this post. Reading your review has made me appreciate what a great resource this would be for our children, especially considering the ranking you have given it. High praise indeed and therefore definitely worthy of further investigation. Lovely review and I do hope your father is doing much better.

  5. Wow, that seems like such a powerful book. And what a resource for education! Thanks for sharing this review.. I’ll be checking this out, for sure!

  6. I like to think of books finding us instead of our finding books. There’s so often this kind of magic connection that happens when the perfect book appears in your life at the perfect time.

  7. Great review, I don’t read poetry but this one looks and sounds very intriguing I’m glad you find a book that helped you during a hard time in your life. Thank you so much for sharing your awesome post.

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