Saturday, March 1, 2008

Oh, Brother!

“Mami remarried
and won me a brother.
‘Don’t need one,’ I said.
‘But thanks, anyway.’
Guess what? She ignored me!
Chris moved in today.”

This is the first poem in Nikki Grimes’ new picture book, Oh Brother!, which deals with the issue of blending families, and the emotions that are felt by all involved when that happens. Each poem in the book gives a little more insight into the narrator’s feelings about the new configuration of his family when his mother gets remarried. An example is the poem titled “Mouse”:

“Two new bodies
carving up my space.
Four new feet
stomping around this place.
Two new voices
ringing through the house.
There won’t be room
for me unless
I turn into a mouse!”

The illustrations, by Mike Benny, really complement each poem incredibly well. It is a wonderful example of pictures enhancing the emotions the writer is expressing with her words. The faces of the characters are slightly oversized, but it allows the reader to see all the expressions on their faces and in their eyes.

Nikki Grimes also deals with the blending of cultures, with half of the new family being Hispanic, and the other half being African-American. It is a realistic depiction of a blended family today. Grimes even includes a few Spanish words which adds to the lyrical quality of the poems. My favorite is the poem where Xavier teaches Chris to spell, “hermano”.

The best part about this book, though, is the subtle transformation that happens to our narrator, Xavier. Nikki Grimes builds the tension between the two new brothers beautifully. There is a poem about half-way through called “Showdown”, and it’s that epic moment when words and accusations fly, and then Xavier’s new brother says to him:

“ ‘ Unless I’m perfect,’ whispers Chris,
‘my dad might go away.
Normal wasn’t good enough
to make my mama stay.’ “

It is definitely one of several poems that really tugged at my heartstrings! Xavier must have felt the same way because this is the point that he starts looking at his stepbrother, Chris, with new eyes.

As the boys start to forge a new relationship as brothers, I’m delighted to share the ending is very “happily ever after” – my favorite kind.

I loved this book – it is a must have! I can’t wait to share it with my class. In some ways, Oh, Brother! is reminiscent of Ralph Fletcher’s, Moving Day, another book I love. Both books deal with a new situation the child didn’t want, the turmoil of emotions during the unwanted transition, and the gradual acceptance (and even embracing) of the situation.

You will definitely want to check out Book Buds’ review of Oh, Brother!, also.

1 comment:

  1. I love this book! I read it to my class, and I cherish the moment when someone asked, "Who's speaking in these poems?" Now, this IS the kind of thing they need to know for the achievement tests, but how beautiful is it when they come to it NATURALLY in an authentic situation where the question makes SENSE?! Can I just give all of my students (especially the one who asked) an automatic pass on that question in May?