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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 2: Engagement and Dialogue - Judith Ortiz Cofer and Nikki Grimes
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Judith Otriz Cofer
Biography
Work
Interview
Nikki Grimes
Biography
Work
Interview
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Authors and Literary Works
Bronx Masquerade

When Wesley "Bad Boy" Boone writes poetry instead of an assigned essay in response to a class study of the Harlem Renaissance, his teacher decides to host an "Open Mike Friday" and invite all of his students to read their work. Soon 18 teenagers -- some enthusiastically, others reluctantly -- are writing about what's real to them behind the "masquerade" of their school personas. There is the teen mother, the girl abused by her boyfriend, the class jock, the overweight girl, the beauty queen, the white boy who "can't rap," and the artist who describes himself as "the next Diego Rivera." In alternating voices they tell their stories and read their poems, as little by little the group begins to see past the stereotypes. With regular commentary by one student, Tyrone -- a boy who is at first completely alienated by school -- we see the group grow as writers and as a community. "I look around this class," Tyrone writes halfway through the novel, "and nobody I see fits into the box I used to put them in." By the end of the story, the class is performing their poems at an open mike assembly in front of the whole school. Invited to speak before the performance, Tyrone tells the audience about his class, "I feel like we connected. I feel like I know you now."

Nikki Grimes began this book with the idea of exploring a classroom of high school students over the course of a year. "I wanted to look at the differences between the way they saw themselves and what they were willing to show of themselves to other people. I believe that we all have masks, and by the time we're in our teens, those masks are firmly in place. So I wanted to take a look at those masks and look at the girls and boys behind the masks and who they really were and the issues with which they were wrestling. I also wanted to show the ways in which we really are more alike rather than different behind our masks, and explore some of the vulnerabilities that unite us." But it wasn't until Grimes was invited to speak at a high school where a teacher had his own open mike poetry day that she found what she calls the "framework" for her book in the idea of a series of classroom poetry readings.

A KLIATT reviewer observes:

Grimes is a poet and an educator herself, crucial skills for creating this story. 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 ... 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.

Poetry, Grimes says, "makes a beeline for the heart" in a way prose cannot. She wanted to incorporate poetry into her portraits of these teenagers because "the thing that I am most concerned with is making the emotional connection with the reader. And I don't know any genre that accomplishes that better than poetry." Bronx Masquerade is a lyrical novel that will inspire young readers to write poetry of their own.

Bronx Masquerade won the Coretta Scott King Author Award and was also named to a number of notable book lists, including ALA's Best Books for Young Adults and Quick Picks for Young Adult Reluctant Readers, the Junior Library Guild's Selections, the Texas Library Association's Tayshas High School Reading List, and Notable Books for a Global Society.

back to top Next: Nikki Grimes: Interview
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