Poems in the Attic is the picture book story of a seven-year-old African American girl who, during a visit to her grandmother’s attic, finds a box of poetry that her mother wrote as a child. Her mother’s poems are full with the yearning for an Air Force father who is often away and the wonder of discovering new places as the family moves again and again when her dad returns from deployments.
Nikki Grimes, the author makes several bold, creative choices in the telling of this story. The protagonist is never named and the story has a polyphonic poetic narrative voice. The protagonist’s mother’s voice comes through on the right side of the pages in the Tanka poems the protagonist is reading and the protagonist’s voice is represented on the left side of the pages in free verse poetry.
Even though the mother’s poems are written in the traditional Japanese Tanka form, the words are all in English.
On a first read, Poems in the Attic’s polyphony and poetry is slightly confusing, especially at the beginning as both speakers write from the first person point of view. However, once the reader catches on to this duality, it is much easier to follow each speaker’s narrative. This book is designed to introduce your child to a literary experience as the excursion in poetic form challenges what we expect from the voice of a child narrator. While the words and ideas in the text are easily accessible for the new reader, the presentation of the narrative in verse instead of prose will be a unique experience for most new readers who will discover that powerful writing can keep memories alive, and enable one to explore the present in a new way.
Recommendation: Recommended; Ages: 4-7+
Reviewer: Erin Koehler
Publisher: Lee & Low Books Inc., May 5, 2015