In 14 knowing, heartfelt poems, Grimes invites readers to witness the friendship that blossoms between Damon, an African-American boy without a father, and Blue, a tough-looking man who has lost his son to the streets. At first Damon isn’t sure what to make of “This rugged dude/ Who some folk think/ Looks fierce in clothes/ of midnight black.” But the boy quickly discovers Blue’s “harmless, gentle-giant side.” In between shooting hoops and outings to the park, Blue fortifies Damon’s values and self-confidence—the very things that prevent Damon from resorting to the violence and antisocial behavior prevalent in his urban world. Though each of these accomplished poems could easily stand alone, together they form an enticing story arc. In his picture book debut, Lagarrigue doesn’t interpret Grimes’s words literally—his Blue looks approachable. Readers never see, for example, the teeth that startle the boy (“one gold, three cracked”), and Blue’s getup doesn’t match the text’s description of perpetual shades and black leather. The deep-hued acrylic paintings have a rough, slightly smudgy texture, and they demonstrate a remarkable color sense. Unexpected fields of sharp blues and greens blend into the gritty cityscapes, and blocks of text are set against canvases thinly brushed with paint in palettes that complement the facing illustration. The art creates an ideal setting for the text: the look is inescapably urban but also subtly lyrical.
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.