Grimes, N. (2015). Poems in the Attic. New York, NY: Lee and Low Books.
A young girl reads poems her mother wrote as a child of a parent in the Air Force. She relates to her mother’s adventures and composes poems of her own to add to her mother’s and presents them to her mother when she finally sees her.
This touching story is enhanced by the use of different poetry styles, giving each character a unique voice that separates yet links the two to one another. Through this unique storytelling, we are reminded that “memories can be like sandcastles that waves wash away. My mama glued her memories with words so they would last forever.” The unique perspective fit together to tie two generations together through unique experiences of growing up. The poems allow them to relate to one another, bond even when they are apart, and grow together while keeping the past close. While it is a work of fiction, it is so relatable and honest, it could easily be real.
Grimes provides an explanation of her poetry forms at the end of the book that states that the tanka form and its unique use of syllables make them like puzzle pieces that come together to form the whole. This idea fits perfectly in the puzzle of the characters’ lives being interwoven as they are read, adored, and added to by the narrator. The choice of words for each viewpoint is wonderfully selected to show the innocence of each character. One line, in particular, that left an impression on me was the one that truly drove home how difficult yet inspiring the life of an Air Force brat would be – “We call them adventures. I pack my poems, wishing I could fold my friends and slip them in my suitcase.” It not only shows how wistful the moves made the narrator, her childlike desire for stability, and how important her poems are because they are the only constant in her life, but it shows how she must convince herself that these adventures are just that because it is all that makes it worthwhile for her.
The illustrations are bright and colorful, depicting the childlike wonder with which the narrator reads her mother’s poems. There is an almost magical quality in each picture of her adventures, bringing us straight into the narrator’s childlike imagination as she brings the words on the page to life.
From School Library Journal: “Sweet and accessible but never simplistic, this collection captures the experience of a military childhood with graceful sophistication. Grimes uses different styles of poem for each voice (free verse for the daughter and tanka poems for the mother), a choice that she discusses in an explanatory note on poetry forms that will serve budding poets and teachers alike.”
Use as an introduction to family history, and have students write their own stories, in poem form, of their families, where they came from, and what has shaped them.
Use as an introduction to tanka poetry and other forms of poetry based on syllable count such as haiku.