Nikki Grimes is a well-known and well-respected poet, especially in children’s literature circles. Her previous works, including BRONX MASQUERDE and WORDS WITH WINGS, have earned her numerous awards including several Coretta Scott King Awards and Honors. In 2006 Grimes was the recipient of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.
"Grimes [writes in verse using the Tanka format] and she does it with apparent ease....In addition to writing entirely in Tanka, Grimes has created a likable and compelling character in Garvey."
GARVEY’S CHOICE is Grime’s newest work of poetry for upper elementary/middle grade readers. GARVEY’S CHOICE is a contemporary realistic fiction novel in verse about Garvey, a young boy who is trying to find his place at school, within his family and in the world. Garvey is overweight and this, along with his quiet, studious nature have resulted in him being the target of school bullies. Garvey’s dad was extremely athletic in his youth and pushes Garvey to try sports that he is not interested in nor that he has any talent in. This pressure from his dad is compounded by the fact that Garvey’s older sister is very athletic. Garvey would rather practice chess or gaze at the stars.
Garvey does have one hidden talent that he hasn’t ever acknowledged. Garvey can sing --- not only can he sing, but he has music beating through his veins. With the pressure and encouragement of his best friend, Garvey joins the school chorus and finds a place to shine as well as a plane on which to connect with his dad.
As stated above, GARVEY’S CHOICE is a novel in verse, which is an impressive format in and of itself, however, to make GARVEY’S CHOICE a more impressive feat, Grimes chose to write the entire novel in the Tanka form of poetry. Grimes explains in the back of the book that “Tanka is an ancient poetry form, originally from Japan. The word Tanka means “short poem” in Japanese. The basic Tanka is five lines long. The line-by-line syllable count varies in the modern English version, but the number of lines is always the same.” For GARVEY’S CHOICE Grimes chose to follow these syllable counts for each line:
Line 1: 5 syllables
Line 2: 7 syllables
Line 3: 5 syllables
Line 4: 7 syllables
Line 5: 7 syllables
As someone who has tapped out syllables on the table as I struggled to write a three line haiku, I can’t imagine writing an entire novel in the Tanka form. But Grimes does it and she does it with apparent ease.
In addition to writing entirely in Tanka, Grimes has created a likable and compelling character in Garvey. However, in my opinion, the combination of Tanka and the character of Garvey are a double-edged sword in that I grew to care about Garvey but I got to spend so little time with him because, as a result of the Tanka format, GARVEY’S CHOICE is such a fast read. I wanted to spend more time with Garvey and his family and in his world. I wanted to find out more about Garvey’s burgeoning singing career as well as his deepening relationship with his father. As a result of the Tanka format readers will likely connect deeply with Garvey, I sure did, but the time spent with Garvey is far too short.
Reviewed by Aimee Rogers on January 3, 2017