Open Mike Friday is everyone’s favorite day in Mr. Ward’s English class. On Fridays, his 18 high-school students dare to relax long enough to let slip the poets, painters, readers, and dreamers that exist within each of them. Raul Ramirez, the self-described “next Diego Rivera,” longs “to show the beauty of our people, that we are not all banditos like they show on TV, munching cuchfritos and sipping beer through chipped teeth.” And while angry Tyrone Bittings finds dubious comfort in denying hope: “Life is cold. Future?…wish there was some future to talk about. I could use me some future,” overweight Janelle Battle hopes to be seen for what she really is: “for I am coconut / and the heart of me / is sweeter / than you know” They are all here: the tall girl, the tough-talking rapper, the jock, the beauty queen, the teenage mom, the artist, and many more. While it may sound like another Breakfast Club rehash, Grimes uses both poetry and revealing first-person prose to give each character a distinct voice. By book’s end, all the voices have blended seamlessly into a multicultural chorus laden with a message that is probably summed up best by pretty girl Tanisha Scott’s comment, “I am not a skin color or a hank of wavy hair. I am a person, and if they don’t get that, it’s their problem, not mine.” But no teen reader will have a problem with this lyrical mix of many-hued views.
Nikki Grimes began penning poetry at the age of six. Her many award-winning titles include the picture books Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman, which won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and a Coretta Scott King Author Honor, and Meet Danitra Brown, which won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. Coretta Scott King Author Honors went to her novels The Road to Paris, Jazmin’s Notebook, and Dark Sons, and her novel Bronx Masquerade won the Coretta Scott King Author Award. She lives in Corona, California.