Words with Wings (2013) by Nikki Grimes
Suggested age range: 10 and up
(WordSong, 96 pages)
Rating: 5/5 stars
“When class lets out, I hurry home, hungry for dinner and hoping to find more words with wings to dream and write about tomorrow.”
The Book: Gabby has been a daydreamer ever since she can remember. Her parents are divorcing, which means she and her mother are moving and Gabby will attend a new school. She doesn’t know anyone, and describes herself as a “Shy Girl Who Lives Inside her Head.” She misses her father, a daydreamer like Gabby. She appreciates her mother, but she often tells her to pay attention in school and stop daydreaming so much. This is a beautiful novel in verse about a young girl who sees “words with wings” and is navigating through the experience of a broken family and a new school. Grimes has created poetic verses that depict a bright and sensitive girl whose daydreams may just turn out to be more significant than she thinks.
Spirituality in Words with Wings: Difficult times can help a person to see how his/her inner spirituality is significant. Gabby’s daydreaming is definitely one aspect of her spirituality, for it fuels her wonder and awe at the world. Sometimes a moment of awe at the way the rain is falling is what nurtures our spirituality can draw us into a profound experience. Gabby has a creative mind, and she is drawn to another creative mind in her classroom—a boy who draws. Together they develop an important friendship that supports Gabby as she is adjusting to a new school. Because both Gabby and her friend are tapped into their creativity, they are able to connect meaningfully and express that creativity with one another. In other words, both feel “safe” with the other.
Exploring this Book with Readers: A slim novel, A slim novel, this would work well as a read aloud in an upper elementary or middle school classroom. At the same time, it would be perfect for individual or even pair reading. The chapters in a different font represent the daydreams that Gabby has throughout the book. Each “poem chapter” is titled and Grimes includes snapshots of Gabby’s earlier life when her parents were still together throughout the story. Young readers could relate to this book on multiple levels, including the experience of going through a divorce, moving to a new school, making friends, and most importantly, daydreaming! Many creative minds have trouble paying attention in class, and this book is lovely because it shows how a teacher reached out to Gabby, and valued her “daydreaming” gift. Grimes based the teacher in the book on one of her own teachers—I loved reading about this in the Acknowledgments section.
The Final Word: I started reading novels in verse more after I was chair of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award one month, and I am so happy I did! Novels in verse for children and young adults can be so profound, because they can tell a good story while at the same time illuminating the beauty of language and the way we can “play” with words. Words with Wings is a hopeful and heartwarming story that doesn’t sugarcoat divorce, but does illuminate how change is not always negative, and that difficult circumstances can strengthen character and reveal talents.