- Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes
Always an inveterate daydreamer, Gabby discovers the power of certain words to whisk her away from her present circumstances one night when her father and mother are arguing (“Some words/ sit still on the page/ holding a story steady./ Those words/ never get me into trouble./ But other words have wings/ that wake my [End Page 213] daydreams”). From that point on, a single word can send her off on an adventure far from where she should be, whether it’s setting the table or paying attention in math class. Her parents’ split saddens her, but her single-word-inspired daydreams keep her afloat until she finally decides to put them aside. She then focuses with a stern will, but a sensitive teacher, Mr. Spicer, recognizes her unhappiness and figures out a way to make her dreaming productive. Grimes’ blend of simple but perfectly honed free-verse, shape, and haiku poetry transform Gabby’s familiar late-elementary lament into a luminous tale of triumph that reminds teachers and parents as well as its target audience that daydreaming deserves pride of place in our workaday worlds. While it takes her teacher and her mother a while to recognize Gabby’s artistic temperament as a gift rather than a distraction, readers, who have been privy to her inspired visions all along, will have been convinced from the start, and they’ll be eager to try their own hands at turning words into multisensory poetic images. Though branding a book with a label of curricular usefulness can often signal lesser aesthetic quality, this is most definitely not the case here; Grimes offers the complete package of a touching but not overly sentimental narrative, lyrical but accessible poetry, and a compelling rationale for incorporating Mr. Spicer’s method into the school day.