By Nikki Grimes; illustrated by Mike Benny
One of the most powerful poetic storytellers has done it again. With a few keystrokes, a rhyme here and there, she's woven a moving story of how two very different boys become brothers in more than name.
We don't learn the narrator's name--Xavier--until late in this collection, but we do get plenty of his opinions about his mother's remarriage. He loves his new Dad, but not the boy, Chris, who comes as extra baggage, getting in the way, acting all perfect, taking up space, throwing his small family off balance:
Everyone in this house
is a step, now.
In my mind,
I turn them into steps
I can climb
And when I reach the top,
Several of the poems are told in rhyme, others are simple, quick dabs of free verse, meant to convey a fleeting emotion. Few kids' poets are as adept as Grimes in exploring their emotions with such range and empathy, and in so few words.
At last, the two boys have their breakthrough, and if you're not crying as their bond strengthens, you're probably dead. And when we do learn the narrator's name, as Chris practices writing it, Grimes creates a magical moment for Xavier to grow. She respects her character enough to know he probably has a tough time expressing emotions, and instead gives us his actions:
I swipe his pen
and write H-E-R-M-A-N-O
"Huh?"Chris can be slow.
"It means brother," I say.
"That's my name now,
one you already know how
We know immediately what's going on in Xavier's head, because Grimes respects our intelligence too.
Benny's illustrations follow through on Grimes' many hints that this is a multiracial family--Latino and African-American--but this could be any boy's blended family today. Kids have a tendency to recover, to patch together a new life and a mended heart. Grimes takes us there, until we want to adopt this new family and make it our own.