This blog is a continuation of a class assignment for the TWU course 5603, Literature for Children and Young Adults. Subsequent entries are for TWU course 5653, Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults. The new entries are for TWU course 5663, Poetry for Children and Young Adults.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Meet Danitra Brown

Meet Danitra Brown
By Nikki Grimes
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

cover image retrieved from

Grimes, Nikki. 1994 MEET DANITRA BROWN. Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard Books. New York. ISBN: 0-688-12073-3

Plot Summary
Everyone should be so lucky as to have a best friend like Danitra Brown. At least that’s the message our narrator, Zuri Jackson, conveys throughout the poems that bring Danitra to life for the reader. Beginning with “You Oughta Meet Danitra Brown,” Zuri marvels at her friend’s never-give-up attitude. Danitra is a girl who knows what she wants and is willing to do what it takes to get it. She’s smart, confident, and a true-blue friend. Danitra is not concerned by what others say, as evident in “Coke-bottle Brown,” an account of a taunting name that is thrown her way. Danitra simply ignores the teasing, remarking to Zuri, “I’ve got no time for Freddy’s mess. Let him call me silly names, ‘cause I could not care less.” Zuri marvels at Danitra’s possible link to nobility in “Purple,” and her determination to win a Nobel Prize in “Stories to Tell.” The girls share typical childhood escapades throughout the book, knowing that both the good times and bad are better because they each have a best friend to experience them with.

Critical Analysis
Nikki Grimes deftly employs a variety of poetry formats to tell the story of her title character. From the simple, rhythmic jump rope rhyme that appears second in the book to introduce the reader to the narrator to the differing rhythms of the poems that demonstrate the attachment of the two main characters, readers young and old will enjoy and appreciate the simple arrangement of the poetry. Nothing here is forced; rather, each poem seems to flow, capturing the mood of the narrator as she moves from incident to incident, recounting both daily life and significant events. Cadence and rhyme give life to this fine collection of poems. Occasional use of slang and made-up words are not a deterrent to the flow and understanding of the poems. Ms. Grimes accomplishes her purpose using simple words, packed together for just the right punch. Emotions are real and justified; sadness turned to joy in Mom and Me Only, hurt turned to vindication in Sweet Blackberry, loyalty and devotion in You Oughta Meet Danitra Brown and New Beginnings.

The rich illustrations of Floyd Cooper add life to the delicious verbal descriptions in this collection of poems. Cooper captures the spirit and depth of each of the characters in Grimes’ work. The soft, dreamy watercolors convey the feeling that everything in the world will be all right as long as these two girls are together.  There is a comfortable feel in the artwork, like distant foggy memories floating at the back of your mind in the zone of contentment. The illustrations span the entire two-page spread, like they are wrapping the reader in their arms, pulling you into the story. Minute details complete the visual effect: a knowing look in one of the characters’ eyes, glasses askew in Bike Crazy, the ever-present purple in Danitra’s clothing.

Meet Danitra Brown allows the reader to escape into the world of two young girls through vivid imagery and satisfying word choice. Readers can relate to the commonplace events and emotions brought to life in Ms. Graimes’ poetry. The book is both relaxing and fulfilling. Though only thirteen poems are held within this volume, it achieves a completeness that leaves the reader with an appreciation for skillful styling in storytelling.

Review Excerpts
"Grimes creatively uses the voice of Zuri Jackson to share tales of the girls' moments of admiration, pain, self-assurance, pride in their cultural heritage, sadness, disappointments, play, and their thoughts and feelings about future dreams and aspirations. Cooper's distinguished illustrations in warm dusty tones convey the feeling of closeness. The poignant text and lovely pictures are an excellent collaboration, resulting in a look at touching moments of friendship with universal appeal."
School Library Journal v. 40 (May 1994) p. 108           Barbara Osborne Williams, reviewer

"Zuri admires Danitra's independent spirit and is quick to defend her friend when she is teased about her thick glasses. Danitra is equally considerate of Zuri's emotions. . . . One of the most poignant poems, which explores Zuri's sensitivity about her skin color, is 'Sweet Blackberry.' Zuri's mother offers this retort when kids at school tease her: '“Next time, honey, you just say,/ The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”' Floyd Cooper's full-color paintings throb with the energy of a big city and with the warmth and exuberance of the girls' dynamic relationship."
The Horn Book v. 70 (July/August 1994) p. 467          Ellen Fader, reviewer

*     The poems of this book are wonderful connections to the meaning and value of friendship. Encourage children to write poems of their own that introduce a person who is special to them.
*     A variety of poetry formats are used in this collection. After initial instruction in poetry formats and characteristics, challenge students to identify the format (rhyme and rhythm scheme) of each of these poems.
*     The third poem, “Coke-bottle Brown,” is an excellent resource to be used to illustrate the concept of turning the other cheek when someone is ugly to you. Share this poem and launch a discussion of how to handle bullies who try to control people through words.
*     This book is an excellent example of friendship through thick and thin. Pair this with picture books about enduring friendships, such as Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by P. Kahumbu, Fancy Nancy and the Boy From Paris by Jane O’Connor, Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel, or the James and Martha books by James Marshall.

*     Other books by Nikki Grimes:
Bronx Masquerade
Jazmin's Notebook
Danitra Brown, Class Clown
Danitra Brown Leaves Town
Meet Danitra Brown
Hopscotch Love
Under the Christmas Tree  
What is Goodbye?
Talkin' About Bessie
Aneesa Lee & the Weaver's Gift
From a Child's Heart
A Dime A Dozen
My Man Blue
Come Sunday
At Break of Day
Shoe Magic
A Pocketful of Poems
Wild, Wild Hair
Portrait of Mary  
Malcolm X: a Force for Change

*     Other books illustrated by Floyd Cooper:

Grandpa’s Face
Laura Charlotte
Coming Home
Be Good to Eddie Lee
The Girl Who Loved Caterpillars
Freedom School, Yes!
Jump! From the Life of Michael Jordan
Mississippi Morning
The Most Precious Gift
Shake Rag
Tree of Hope
Miz Berlin Walks
On Mardi Gras Day
Satchmo’s Blues
Caddie the Golf Dog
Gingerbread Days
Brown Honey & Broomwheat Tea
I Have Heard of a Land
Chita’s Christmas Tree
Papa Tells Chita a Story
It’s Kwanzaa Time!
Imani’s Gift a Kwanzaa
Coyote Walks on Two Legs
African Beginnings
Bound For America
A Child is Born
Granddaddy’s Street Songs
Sweet, Sweet Memory
Daddy, Daddy Be There
Pass It On
How Sweet the Sound
Ma’Dear’s Aprons
Martin Luther King & His Birthday
Far Away Drums
Happy Birthday Dr. King
One April Morning
Meet Danitra Brown
Danitra Brown Leaves Town
Pulling the Lion’s Tail
When Africa Was Home
From Miss Ida’s Porch
City Scenes
Story of Jackie Robinson
Reflections of a Black Cowboy, ‘Cowboys’
Reflections of a Black Cowboy, ‘Pioneers’
Reflections of a Black Cowboy, ‘Buffalo Soldiers’
Reflections of a Black Cowboy, ‘Mountaineers’
I Have a Dream
The Greatest Table
Tough Boy Sonatas
Prudence Crandall
Becoming Billie Holliday
The Blacker the Berry…
Willie and the Barnstorming Allstars

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