Grimes, Nikki. 1999. Hopscotch Love: A Family Treasury of Love Poems. Ill. By Melodye Benson Rosales. New York, NY: Lothrop, Lee and Shepherd Books.
2. PLOT SUMMARY
This collection of twenty-two poems shows a variety of types of love within an African-American community, complete with illustrations. Instead of telling one story, each poem is a snap-shot into another type of love relationship, from a girl’s first love, to the love for a sister, to a Mother’s love, to the steadfast love of the grandparents still dancing at the Sweetheart Dance. It’s a sweet collection, with a few funny poems mixed in that still manage to pull the heartstrings.
3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS
The poems are, for the most part, free-verse, with varying line lengths depending on the tone and mood of the poem. The language is clear and to the point, without intimidating words or structures. The poem, “Sweethearts Dance” does have rhyme, with the rhyme scheme A/B/A/B. A Table of Contents is a handy tool to easily find which poem is desired. Readers of all ages, except the very young, will be able to enjoy these poems.
Overall, the emotional impact is profound. The poem, “Sister Love,” will make a reader’s throat tighten, as a pair of sisters who need a home are offered the chance for only one of them to go to a permanent home, but she opts to stay with her sister in the group home: “I squeezed my sister’s trembling hand/And whispered, ‘Thanks, but no.” (13).
If a poem doesn’t make you laugh, it is bound to make you tear up from the sheer sweetness of sentimental emotion. Sometimes, the poems even manage to do both at the same time. The poem, “Eye-Luv-U” is adorable, with the final laugh-out-loud AND sweet conclusion about her notebook—and her crush: “But he’s been grinnin’ ever since, so/ I guess I didn’t close it fast enough./ He musta seen that stuff I wrote/ about ‘Dante + me, 4-ever.” (10).
The illustrations by Melodye Benson Rosales are realistic, artistically rendered. Not every poem has an illustration, but the illustrations that do exist take up the entire opposite page from their related poem. Dr. Vardell tells us in her book Children’s Literature in Action that, “We look at the book in terms of the balance of illustration and text…” (126). Happily, these illustrations do not overshadow the poems themselves. They provide a wonderful anchor for the poetry and the expressions of the people effectively capture the emotion of each poem, representing the love of a variety of people in the African-American community. It’s important for children of all ethnicities to see themselves represented in literary works. This is a stellar collection of poems and artwork for inspiration.
4. REVIEW EXCERPT(S)
“A fresh celebration of love based on the African-American experience. The 22 selections run the gamut of all types of affection, from teenaged crushes to the feelings between siblings and the bonds between children and their parents. ...Rosales's warm illustrations, rendered in pastel pencils on acrylic-and-oil paints, reflect the mood of each selection. This small treasury will lift readers' spirits and touch their hearts.”—School Library Journal, Jan 1, 1999
“A long way from Grimes' tough, poignant YA novel Jazmin's Notebook, (1998), these 22 upbeat one-or two-page verses are mainly greeting-card sentimental, with a few funny vignettes and lots of warm affection. Melodye Benson Rosales' smiling pictures show young teens exchanging notes and cheeky glances; there are also a couple of "graying sweethearts" and a joyful mother and small son. … The lines are short; the words are very simple. The red cover and creamy pages fit with the valentine cuddly style.”—Booklist, Feb 15, 1999.
Society of School Librarians International Book Awards, 1999 Honor Language Arts K-6 United States.
- Invite children to write their own love poem for someone they love. This could be for Valentine’s Day, or just any other time.
- Use this book to make other African American poetry connections: I, Too, Am American, by Langston Hughes:, Roots and Blues: A Celebration Arnold Adoff, Jazz, by Walter Dean Myers, Words with Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art, compiled by Belinda Rochelle. This could be used during Black History Month or any time of the year.
- Encourage classes to read one of these poems a day for twenty-two days, having the teacher read it out loud once (showing simultaneously) and then having the students join in for a choral read. By the end of the month, they will probably be much more comfortable with poetry.
- Have students record their own poetry on VoiceThread (www.voicethread.com) and leave each other responses.
6. PERSONAL REACTIONS
I found the poetry very moving. I sometimes became teary-eyed, sometimes I laughed, and sometimes I smiled ruefully, remembering that first crush-feeling captured so well in some of these poems. I would love to own this book and share it with my family and others in my life.
Adoff, Arnold. 2011. Roots and Blues: A Celebration. New York, NY: Clarion Books.
Hughes, Langston. 2012. I, Too, Am American. Ill by Bryan Collier. NY: Simon and Schuster.
Myers, Walter Dean. 2006. Jazz. Ill by Christopher Myers. New York, New York: Holiday House.
Rochelle, Belinda (ed). 2001. Words with Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Vardell, Sylvia. 2008. Children's Literature in Action. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.