Nikki Grimes has become one of my favorite authors over the last three years. I first discovered her work when the first book in her brilliant young Dyamonde Daniels series appeared as a Division I nominee for the Maud Hart Lovelace Award. The way she easily slips into the dialogue and behavior of her young characters, giving their voices strength and authenticity is brilliantly natural.
Words with Wings is truly a joyful cradling of a young girl’s heart. Gabby’s parents have separated and she and her mother have moved farther away from her father. A daydreamer as long as she can remember, hearing a word causes it to take flight in her imagination, joining with a myriad of other words and images along the way until she has a whole flock zooming through her imagination. Although this gift often allows her to appreciate the joy of a single moment, block out the pain of losing her father or hurtful words flung by others, Gabby’s tendency also interferes with her ability to concentrate in school and at home.
Written completely in free verse Gabby’s story is nothing short of magnificent. Grimes’ use of each carefully chosen word in the novel is exquisite. Individually the poems are by turns moving and joyful, aching and insightful. Together they tell a rich yet simple story of a sensitive young girl trying to navigate loneliness and discover the places inside where she will find the best parts of herself.
I started turning down the edges of pages so I could go back when I finished the book and read my favorite passages again; I soon realized I was marking five out of every six poems I was reading. The poems alternate between Gabby’s own story and the springboards certain words provide for her imagination.
The poem within the story that bears the book’s title is perhaps the best representation of what the reader can expect:
Words With Wings
sit still on the page
holding a story steady.
Those words never get me into trouble.
But other words have wings
that wake my daydreams.
They fly in,
silent as sunrise,
tickle my imagination,
and carry my thoughts away.
I can’t help
but buckle up
for the ride!
It is worth buckling up for the ride you will take reading Words with Wings. This is a feast for the writer, the reader, the daydreamer in all of us! This is one I know I will be using in classrooms as a read-aloud–especially in conjunction with poetry and writing units, as well as in my theatre classrooms.