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Children's Literature Reviews
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Bronx masquerade
by Nikki Grimes.
Contributor biographical information
Publisher description
Sample text
New York : Dial Books, c2002.
167 p. ; 22 cm.


While studying the Harlem Renaissance, students at a Bronx high school read aloud poems they've written, revealing their innermost thoughts and fears to their formerly clueless classmates.

Best Books:

Best Children's Books of the Year, 2003 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Children's Literature Choice List, 2002 ; Children's Literature; United States
Kirkus Book Review Stars, November 1, 2001 ; United States
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to the Eighth Edition, 2002 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Senior High Core Collection, Seventeenth Edition, 2007 ; The H. W. Wilson Co.; United States
Senior High School Library Catalog, Sixteenth Edition, 2003 Supplement, 2003 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association, 2003 ; Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association; United States
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2003 ; American Library Association; United States
YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2003 ; American Library Association; United States

Awards, Honors, Prizes:

Coretta Scott King Book Award, 2003 Winner Author United States
Heartland Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, 2004 Finalist United States
Thumbs Up! Award, 2003 Nominee Michigan

State and Provincial Reading Lists:

Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award, 2005 ; Nominee; Illinois
Beehive Book Award, 2003-2004 ; Nominee; Utah
Black-Eyed Susan Book Award, 2003-2004 ; Nominee; High School; Maryland
California Young Reader Medal, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; Grades 9-12; California
Charlotte Award, 2004 ; Nominee; New York
Garden State Teen Book Award, 2005 ; Nominee; Fiction Grades 9-12; New Jersey
Georgia Children's Book Award, 2007-2008 ; Nominee; Grades 4-8; Georgia
Golden Sower Award, 2003-2004 ; Nominee; Young Adult; Nebraska
Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award, 2006-2007 ; Nominee; Grades 6-8; Minnesota
Nutmeg Children's Book Award, 2006 ; Nominee; Teens; Connecticut
Sequoyah Book Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; Young Adult; Oklahoma
South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; South Carolina
Tayshas High School Reading List, 2003-2004 ; Texas

Reading Measurement Programs:

Accelerated Reader" "
Interest Level Upper Grade" "
Book Level 4.5" "
Accelerated Reader Points 4" "
Accelerated Vocabulary" "

Lexile, MetaMetrics, Inc.
Lexile Measure 670

Reading Counts-Scholastic
Interest Level 6-8
Reading Level 5
Title Point Value 8
Lexile Measure 670


Gillian Engberg (Booklist, Feb. 15, 2002 (Vol. 98, No. 12))
Tyrone Bittings doesn't believe in a future: "Life is cold . . . What I've got is right here, right now, with my homeys." But an English-class open mike changes everything. Grimes' first novel since Jazmin's Notebook (1998) comprises brief monologues in the voices of students and their poems. Funny and painful, awkward and abstract, the poems talk about race, abuse, parental love, neglect, death, and body image ("Don't any of these girls like the way they look?" asks Tyrone). Most of all, they try to reveal the individuals beyond the stereotypes. With such short vignettes, the characters are never fully realized, and the message about poetry's ability to move beyond color and cultural boundaries is anything but subtle. Even so, readers will enjoy the lively, smart voices that talk bravely about real issues and secret fears. A fantastic choice for readers' theater. Category: Books for Older Readers--Fiction. 2002, Dial, $16.99. Gr. 7-12.

Beverley Fahey (Children's Literature)
On Open Mike Fridays, Mr. Ward's classroom is the place to be because that is the day he challenges his students to step up and read their own poetry. Ward's is a diverse class and by their own admission, they hardly know each other. Each of the students has a voice as distinct as the lives he or she leads. There is Tyrone the homey who wants to be a hip-hop star, abused Chankara who has no use for "imitation love that packs a pinch," lonely Lupe who says her "rosaries and begs for someone to love," Sheila Gamberoni lost in a school where everyone "around me is dark and ethnic," dyslexic Raynard, and single mother Gloria. Throughout the year, in free verse and rap, they pour out their pain and their dreams, and reveal their innermost thoughts. Each of them longs to shed the masquerade that hides his true self. Grimes balances narrative and poetry seamlessly but with eighteen characters, she can offer little more than a glimpse into each one's soul. Their words are heartbreaking, thought provoking, and inspiring, and in the course of a year, these kids create new bonds and come to realize the power of self worth. Young adults who read this might be persuaded to write their own poetry as a form of cathartic release. 2002, Dial, $16.99. Ages 12 to 16.

Amanda Eron (Children's Literature)
Nikki Grimes tells the story of eighteen high school students in the Bronx who discover a love for poetry during a unit on the Harlem Renaissance in English class. The students come from diverse backgrounds, and each struggles with issues of being different. Mr. Ward, the English teacher, decides to start Open Mike Fridays in their English class so that the students can read their own poetry. A different character narrates each chapter of the book, and that character's poem usually follows the narrative. Tyrone, the student whose talent for poetry prompts Mr. Ward to start Open Mike Fridays, often provides a response to the other students' poetry. As the story progresses from various first person perspectives, the reader learns about the characters' background. The poetry also acts as a way for the characters to express themselves publicly, and gradually the students realize that they have really misjudged their classmates. As the characters gain an understanding of one another, they see that they all experience the same feelings of insecurity and fear of the future no matter what their race, height, or hair color. Grimes captures the story in a lyrical language that young adults will recognize and enjoy, and the insertion of the poetry gives each character a distinct, yet universal, voice. 2002, Dial Books, $5.99. Ages 12 up.

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2001 (Vol. 69, No. 21))
This is almost like a play for 18 voices, as Grimes ("Stepping Out with Grandma Mac", not reviewed, etc.) moves her narration among a group of high school students in the Bronx. The English teacher, Mr. Ward, accepts a set of poems from Wesley, his response to a month of reading poetry from the Harlem Renaissance. Soon there's an open-mike poetry reading, sponsored by Mr. Ward, every month, and then later, every week. The chapters in the students' voices alternate with the poems read by that student, defiant, shy, terrified. All of them, black, Latino, white, male, and female, talk about the unease and alienation endemic to their ages, and they do it in fresh and appealing voices. Among them: Janelle, who is tired of being called fat; Leslie, who finds friendship in another who has lost her mom; Diondra, who hides her art from her father; Tyrone, who has faith in words and in his "moms"; Devon, whose love for books and jazz gets jeers. Beyond those capsules are rich and complex teens, and their tentative reaching out to each other increases as through the poems they also find more of themselves. Steve writes: "But hey! Joy / is not a crime, though / some people / make it seem so." At the end of the term, a new student who is black and Vietnamese finds a morsel of hope that she too will find a place in the poetry. 2002, Dial, $16.99. Category: Fiction. Ages 12 to 15. Starred Review. © 2001 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

Claire Rosser (KLIATT Review, January 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 1))
Grimes uses 18 young people to tell this story of a class of teenagers in the Bronx who come to know and understand one another better through poetry. This format is now not so unusual, this interweaving of multiple voices, with poetry advancing the narrative. Grimes is a poet and an educator herself, crucial skills for creating this story. Through the chorus of voices, a story emerges of a class of not very successful students whose teacher inspires them to write poetry and share their work once a month in an open mike forum. As each student reads a poem, others see that person in a new light and relationships evolve, self-confidence grows, people change. It's the truth telling as much as the poetry itself that evokes these changes. Grimes is adept at introducing people through their essays and their poetry and connecting the next voice to what has come before. This is a multicultural class, mostly from poor families, so the voices tell of hardship mostly, of struggling to belong, to fit in, to be somebody. As other students hear of the struggle of a fellow student, the sense of belonging grows and the poetry moves them all. The culmination of their class experience comes when a local newspaper covers one of their open mike sessions and an article appears about them, "Student Poets Bloom in the Bronx," which makes them all proud. That's ultimately what this book is about, developing students' pride in themselves and their potential, helping them to communicate among themselves and in the wider world of their families and community. Category: Hardcover Fiction. KLIATT Codes: JS--Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2002, Penguin Putnam/Dial, 167p., $16.99. Ages 13 to 18.

Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
When a high school teacher in the Bronx begins to host open-mike poetry in his classroom on Fridays, his students find a forum to express their identity issues and forge unexpected connections with one another. Grimes's (Jazmin's Notebook) creative, contemporary premise will hook teens, and the poems may even inspire readers to try a few of their own. The poetic forms range from lyrics penned by aspiring rapper Tyrone to the concrete poem of a budding Puerto Rican painter Raul (titled "Zorro" and formed as the letter "Z"). Ultimately, though, there may be too many characters for the audience to penetrate deeply. The students in Mr. Ward's English class experience everything from dyslexia and low self-esteem to teenage motherhood and physical abuse. The narrators trade off quickly, offering only a glimpse into their lives. Not even Tyrone, who breaks in after each student's poem to offer some commentary, comes fully to life. The students' poems, however, provide some lasting images (e.g., overweight Janelle, who is teased for her "thick casing," writes, "I am coconut,/ and the heart of me/ is sweeter/ than you know"). Any one of these students could likely dominate a novel of his or her own, they simply get too little time to hold the floor here. Ages 12-up. (Jan.)"

Janice M. Del Negro (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March 2002 (Vol. 55, No. 7))
Young adults exist in an in-between kind of space: they are not completely adult yet they are often mature; they are aware of the world yet they don’t always see themselves as part of it; they shield themselves within self-forged armor yet they are capable of risky compassion. Conveying this liminality can be a difficult literary challenge: sometimes a young adult protagonist’s voice is too naïve, too sheltered to be believable; sometimes the adult author’s own voice takes over, and suddenly the adolescent voice is too informed, or too arch. Grimes’ novel balances gracefully on the tightrope of young adult characterization, and the result is a class of student poets easy to believe and difficult to forget. In Grimes’ ambitious choir of character voices, members of a high-school English class write poems and read them aloud in Friday Open Mikes. Eighteen students--boys and girls, black and white, Latino and mixed--at a Bronx high school each talk about their lives in a brief chapter of prose and a relevant poem. They examine the public lives of others as well as their own private existences, often commenting on perceived public personae in the prose and then using the poems to hold the mirror up to truth. In poetic forms ranging from free verse to rap, the students expose their emotional throats: Chankara describes her feelings upon seeing the bruise her older sister’s boyfriend has left on her cheek (“‘I bruise easily’/ is one of the lies/ she sprinkles like sugar./ But I’m fifteen,/ not brainless. Besides,/ I knew the truth at ten”); Ramon witnesses his mother’s unsung courage (“Mami’s beauty is better than a movie star’s. It survives a kind of life where pamper is a noun, not a verb”). The novel is not without flaws: Grimes tips her adult hand in an anachronistic reference to Richard Nixon in an improvised rap, and the resultant tolerance that develops among the classmates after a semester of self-revelatory poetry smacks a bit of wishful optimism. Generally, though, authenticity prevails. Grimes writes the poems of her young adult characters the way young adults would write them, each poem true to that hard-to-capture young adult voice, each poem striking just the right chord between self-restraint and raw emotion. Some characters write to escape psychic pain: “at the center of loneliness/ we dip into a pool/ of tears/ and thrash around/ desperate not to drown” (“Common Ground”); “One day at Far Rockaway/ is all it took./ One look at rocks in water/ decided me:/ I want to be stone./ I want to be marble./ Dressed up in limestone/ never looked so good” (“Ode to Stone”). Other characters seek to escape limits imposed upon them by their bodies, their gender, their peers, as in the title poem by public jock/secret poet Devon Hope: “I woke up this morning/ exhausted from hiding/ the me of me/ so I stand here confiding/ there’s more to Devon/ than jump shot and rim./ I’m more than tall/ and lengthy of limb./ I dare you to peep/ behind these eyes,/ discover the poet/ in tough guy disguise./ Don’t call me Jump Shot./ My name is Surprise” (“Bronx Masquerade”). Grimes’ novel is a surprise, too. Her character sketches, seemingly only loosely connected, accumulate to powerful emotional effect. In the end, the students’ poetry and the prose reveals a community of young adults full of promise, whose voices, although individual and distinct, ultimately meld together in blended but discernible harmonies. Review Code: R -- Recommended. (c) Copyright 2002, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2002, Dial, 167p, $16.99. Grades 7-10.

Becky Young (The Lorgnette - Heart of Texas Reviews (Vol. 15, No. 4))
Mr. Ward's English class studies the poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Then he challenges the reluctant students in his class to write an essay about them. One young man, Wesley "Bad Boy" Boone, a self-styled rapper who admits he hates school, decides instead to write a poem about Langston Hughes. When he reads it in class, the students think it is so cool some of them want to read their works, too. That begins the every Friday, "Open Mike" poetry performances in the English class. Tyrone, Raul, Janelle, and 14 other students tell their stories in their own voices in their poetry. In an environment of acceptance, even the most private student finds the courage to share private thoughts. Each student learns a valuable lesson about her/himself and learns about a classmate's life as well. A famous poet learns about the Open Mike sessions through a newspaper story and asks to participate. The end of the year assembly proves to the class that the whole school can accept them and their poetry. Nikki Grimes creates wonderful characters with distinctive voices. Each character's poems are personal and moving. Students who are reluctant to read poetry will think about the poems that are so essential to this novel. If a teacher can create an atmosphere of acceptance and support like Mr. Ward does, fledging writers will be inspired to share their own creative efforts. This novel is a wonderful way to teach character development. Creative writing classes will appreciate the way the class members support and accept each other. Poetry lovers will embrace another book that highlights the importance of poetry in everyone's life. Fiction. Grades 8-12. 2002, Dial, 167p, $16.99. Ages 13 to 18.

Beth Gilbert (VOYA, February 2002 (Vol. 24, No. 6))
Mr. Ward's English class is unlike any his students have experienced before. In his inner city Bronx, New York, high school classroom, Mr. Ward takes his eighteen students into the personal, heartfelt world of writing poetry during their study of the Harlem Renaissance. Each chapter is told by a different teen, allowing readers insight into the teens' feelings about themselves and their classmates through beautifully crafted poems that they share on Open Mike Fridays. Devon Hope writes, "Maybe it's time I just started being who I am." This honest admission is just one of many that the characters make. What begins with eighteen disjointed people becomes a newfound family, united in compassion and camaraderie against a backdrop of broken homes, peer pressure, and tumultuous relationships. Readers will become immersed in the lives of these students with their natural teen-speak: "And guess what? That white boy can flow. Makes you kinda wonder 'bout his family tree, now don't it?" Grimes addresses many of today's teen issues through the characters' unforgettable voices and poems. In the spirit of Gil Alicea's memoir The Air Down Here (Chronicle, 1995), this book will be an exciting addition to urban public and school libraries and will serve well in teen poetry classes, speaking to the poet in every teen who picks it up. VOYA CODES: 5Q 5P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, Dial, 176p, $16.99. Ages 12 to 18.


Poetry Fiction.
Identity Fiction.
Ethnicity Fiction.
African Americans Fiction.
High schools Fiction.
Schools Fiction.
Bronx (New York, N.Y.) Fiction.
LanguageCall NumberLCCNDewey DecimalISBN/ISSN
English (eng) PZ7.G88429 Br 2002
00031701 [Fic]
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