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What Is Goodbye?

by Nikki Grimes
Illustrated by Raúl Colón

Published by Hyperion, 2004
60 pages
ISBN: 0-7868-0778-4

Ages 9-14

“One leaves / and many hearts / are broken. / There must be / a better arithmetic / somewhere.” The epigraph to Nikki Grimes’s tender story in poems about a grieving family encapsulates the heartache that spills out on the pages that follow. Jesse and Jerilyn are siblings, and their older brother, Jeron, has just died. In pairs of identically titled poems, Grimes chronicles the cycle of grief in their two skillfully distinguished voices. The poems in Jesse’s voice use simplicity of language, familiar rhyme patterns and short, metered lines to create what is almost a singsong effect, clearly conveying he is a younger child. The poems in Jerilyn’s voice are written in free verse, using imagery and metaphor to explore feelings that are more nuanced, establishing her as older. Each pair of poems is a dance of point and counterpoint: the two children do not always experience grief in the same way; at the same time, they are caught up in a cycle of grief that is part of their collective family experience. There is initial shock and sadness, anger and confusion, lingering pain, the slow, almost imperceptible start to healing, and, finally, relief: happiness and wholeness possible once again. Raul Coln’s lovely spot illustrations extend the emotional resonance of this stirring volume. CCBC Categories: Poetry (MS) ©2004 Cooperative Children's Book Center

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