Out of the Dark

Written by Nikki Grimes
Photography by Sherry Shahan

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“I had to beat back a lot of darkness in my life to find my way to the light. My pen was a secret weapon in that battle.”

In two simple sentences Nikki Grimes gives us the essence of her new book. The author graciously lets the readers into her life because, as she says, her journey out of the darkness may encourage others not to give in to despair: “…maybe somewhere in the story you will see yourself.” And an exhortation to write: “If you do, run and grab your pen and capture the moment on the pages of your own writer’s notebook.” The message of the book is to define your path and keep at it, no matter what comes your way.

The early years were hard. Her parents went through cycles of separation and reconciliation, and Nikki and her older sister Carol were shipped from one relative to another. Circumstances conspired to send the two sisters to foster homes. Finally, the author found stability: “… linger in the warm memories of that house, that home, those people who opened their hearts to me.” It was there that she began to write.

Through the darkest times there were mentors who stood by her. Her high school teacher encouraged her to survive and thrive; at James Baldwin’s feet she learned not only the craft of writing but also of being true to herself; and her father encouraged her to learn whatever caught her fancy. He believed that no learning was ever wasted. She took to the theatre and sees now that it helped her develop a keen ear for dialog as a means of imagining the character’s whole being.

Chapter 5 is an excellent writing primer for writing instructors and educators. “I approach books like a jigsaw puzzle,” she says, each chapter like a piece of the story with its own narrative arc: its beginning, middle and end. “The truth is, you can only write a book one word, one sentence, one page at a time.” Hearing a well established author say that gives weight to the words. Writers can adopt the ‘put together the puzzle pieces’ strategy to focus on the small task on hand. Write an essay sentence by sentence, a story paragraph by paragraph and a book chapter by chapter; small puzzle pieces prevent you from being overwhelmed.

This is a strategy that would benefit third through fifth grade readers, while showing the older students pathways to success not only in writing, but in life. A valuable addition to all libraries and classrooms and reading lists.

Additional Resources:
Biography: http://www.nikkigrimes.com/bio.html
Teacher Tips: http://www.nikkigrimes.com/teacher.html
Reading Rockets Video Interview: http://www.readingrockets.org/books/interviews/grimes/
IRA Favorite Teacher Breakfast: http://www.scholastic.com/browse/media.jsp?id=826

Title: Out of the Dark
Author: Nikki Grimes
Photos by: Sherry Shahan
Publisher: Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc.
Reviewer: Anjali Amit
Paperback: 56 pages
ISBN: 978-1-57274-977-1
Genre: Nonfiction
Lexile Score: 960

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