Poems in the Attic

poems in the attic cover

Poems in the Attic
by Nikki Grimes
Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Readers Theater

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Illustrator Interview

Related Activities & Resources:

Author Information:
Author Website:

Author Biography:


Grimes on an Author’s Life:

Grimes’ Tips for Teachers:

Grimes’ Tips on Writing and Editing:

Grimes Interviews Elizabeth Zunon, March 31, 2015, Backstory Post:

Video Interview with the Author (58 min):

Author Interview:

Biography/Grimes’ Response:

Illustrator Information:
Illustrator Website:

Illustrator Biography:

Illustrator Portfolio:

Illustrator Facebook Page:

Illustrator Twitter Page:

Poetry Idea Machine:

Shel Silverstein Name that Poem:

Finish Shel’s Poems:

Build a Sand Castle:

Northern Lights:



Skip Rocks:

Use Chopsticks:

Set up a Tent:

Nature Crafts:

Arts and Crafts:

Fruit Leather Fortune Cookies:



Horseback Riding Tips and How-tos:

German Castles:


Air Force One:

How to Pack a Suitcase:

Let’s Explore the World!:

Interactive World Map:

World Geography Games – Different Levels:

World Map:

Tell a story using the “tanka” format that the author used for the mom’s poetry. (see author’s notes at the end of the book)

Write a poem in free verse. How does this form compare to other poems you have read or written?

Discussion Questions:

Have you been in an attic? If yes, how does it compare with a room in a house? What is stored there? What descriptive words do you think of, when you think of an attic?

Do you like poetry – reading and/or writing it? Why or why not?

Have you spent time at a grandparent’s home? If yes, what are some things you did? Did you like being there?

Has someone from another generation shared memories with you and/or shown you things they made or did when they were your age? If so, what were they? Were they things that you’ve made or do today?

Would you like to have a parent in the military? Why or why not?

Have you traveled to another country? If so, what did you like and/or not like about it?

Now that you have read Poems in the Attic, when you meet someone who has moved here from another country, will you treat them differently? Why or why not?

The little girl’s Mom kept her poems in a cedar box. Do people today use cedar boxes? Why does one choose to keep items in a cedar box or cedar closet?

Do you have keepsakes, mementos? If so, what are they and where do you keep them?

The author wrote that ‘memories can be like sandcastles the waves wash away.’ What do you think she meant? Do you agree or not?

Why do you think people often refer to children of military personnel as “brats”?

If you are a city slicker, do you make time to enjoy nature – like the girl’s Mama talked about?

Do you know about any culture besides your family’s? What traditions are important to your family?

Is there a state that you would especially like to visit? Which one and why that one?

Do you remember if anyone ever sang you to sleep? Have you ever sung anyone to sleep? Was it helpful?

What is your favorite arts and crafts project? Why is that?

Have you ever experienced snow? If yes, was it what you expected? How would you describe it?

Have you camped? What was your experience like? Would you do it again?

What memories of your childhood do you want to hold onto and remember when you are grown?

Book Talk Teasers:

Read the first poem.

Read the front flap.

Read Alikes:

African American fiction; Children’s poetry; Picture books for children; Culturally diverse; Realistic:
Grimes, Nikki. Danitra Brown leaves town. Recounts, in a series of poems and letters, Danitra’s summer at her aunt’s house in the country and her best friend Zuri’s summer at home in town. (NoveList Plus)

African American fiction; Children’s poetry; Picture books for children; Realistic fiction:
Grimes, Nikki. Danitra Brown, class clown. In this story told in a series of rhyming poems, Zuri faces her fears about starting a new school year with the help of free-spirited best friend, Danitra. (NoveList Plus)

African American fiction; Children’s poetry; Poetry; Poetry for kids and teens:
Woodson, Jacqueline. Locomotion. In a series of poems, eleven-year-old Lonnie writes about his life, after the death of his parents, separated from his younger sister, living in a foster home, and finding his poetic voice at school. (NoveList Plus)

African-American poetry; Alphabet books; Children’s poetry; Culture and customs; Poetry for kids and teens:
Bryan, Ashley. Ashley Bryan’s ABC of African-American poetry. Each letter of the alphabet is represented by a line from a poem by different African American poets, describing an aspect of the black experience. (NoveList Plus)

African-American poetry; American poetry; Children’s poetry; Culture and customs; Picture books; Poetry for kids and teens:
Hughes, Langston. Langston Hughes. A brief profile of African American poet Langston Hughes accompanies some of his better known poems for children. (NoveList Plus)

African-American poetry; American poetry; Children’s poetry; Culture and customs; Poetry; Poetry for kids and teens:
Hughes, Langston. The dream keeper and other poems. A lavishly bound new edition celebrates the colloquial and complex works of one of this country’s most important African-American authors and demonstrates to young people that poetry is about them. (NoveList Plus)

African-American poetry; Children’s poetry; Poetry for kids and teens:
In Daddy’s arms I am tall: African Americans celebrating fathers. A collection of poems celebrating African-American fathers, by Angela Johnson, E. Ethelbert Miller, Carole Boston Weatherford, and others. (NoveList Plus)

African-American poetry; History books; Poetry for kids and teens:
Shange, Ntozake. We troubled the waters. Poetry and paintings in tribute to the many individuals who acted with courage for justice and change during the civil rights movement. (NoveList Plus)

African-American poetry; Poetry; Poetry for kids and teens:
African American Poetry. Presents a collection of poems by African-American poets, including Lucille Clifton, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Elizabeth Alexander. (NoveList Plus)

American poetry; Children’s poetry; Culture and customs; Poetry for kids and teens:
Myers, Walter Dean. Angel to angel: a mother’s gift of love. An illustrated collection of poems about African American children and their mothers. (NoveList Plus)

American poetry; Children’s poetry; History books; Poetry for kids and teens:
Hand in hand: an American history through poetry. A collection of poems and lyrics from several songs provides a look at our country, from colonial times to the present. (NoveList Plus)

American poetry; Children’s poetry; Poetry for kids and teens:
Nye, Naomi Shihab. A maze me: poems for girls. Written for a young female audience, a collection captures the wide array of coming-of-age emotion, drama, angst, and joy through poems dealing with friendship, school, community, love, and family. (NoveList Plus)

Salting the ocean: 100 poems by young poets. Offers one hundred poems on the self, places to live, families, and the imagination, written by children in the poetry workshops given by Naomi Shihab Nye in various schools over a quarter century. (NoveList Plus)

Autobiographies and memoirs; Biographies; Narrative nonfiction for kids and teens; Poetry; Poetry for kids and teens:
Engle, Magarita. Enchanted air: two cultures, two wings, a memoir. Offers an account of the first fourteen years of the author’s life in poems, telling of her time spent between her mother’s native Cuba and her home in Los Angeles, until the revolution in Cuba dramatically alters relations between the two countries she loves. (NoveList Plus)

Autobiographies and memoirs; Biographies; Narrative nonfiction for kids and teens; Lyrical:
Woodson, Jacqueline. Brown girl dreaming. In vivid poems that reflect the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, an award-winning author shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South. (NoveList Plus)

Bilingual materials; Children’s poetry; Poetry for kids and teens:
Janeczko, Paul B. A foot in the mouth: poems to speak, sing, and shout. Presents a selection of children’s poetry specifically meant to be read aloud. (NoveList Plus)

Historical fiction; Novels in verse; Culturally diverse:
Lai, Thanhha. Inside out and back again. Through a series of poems, a young girl chronicles the life-changing year of 1975, when she, her mother, and her brothers leave Vietnam and resettle in Alabama. (NoveList Plus)

Picture books for children:
Derby, Sally. Sunday Shopping. Sunday nights are special for Evie and Grandma. That’s when they go on their weekly shopping spree. Grandma flips open the newspaper to see what’s advertised, and the imaginary tour of neighborhood stores begins. Toting a wallet filled with colorful pretend bills, Evie and Grandma take turns buying whatever catches their fancy. A big chunk of ham, a sofa with a secret, and a dress with spangles are just a few of the treasures they purchase. Most special of all is the jewelry box Evie chooses for the gold heart necklace Mama gave her before leaving to serve in the army and the bouquet of flowers Evie leaves as a surprise for Grandma. (NoveList Plus and Goodreads)

Picture books for children; Culturally diverse:
Pena, Matt de la. Last stop on Market Street. A young boy rides the bus across town with his grandmother and learns to appreciate the beauty in everyday things. (NoveList Plus)

Picture books for children; Poetry; Poetry for kids and teens:
Frank, John. Lend a hand: poems about giving. A picture book collection of poems centered on spontaneous acts of kindness, representing diverse voices and topical themes. (NoveList Plus)

Book Reviews:

Poems in the Attic.
By Nikki Grimes. Illus. by Elizabeth Zunon.
2015. 48p. Lee & Low, $19.95 (9781620140277). Gr. 2–5.
First published April 15, 2015 (Booklist).

A book about discoveries, this celebrates poetry and the quixotic life of a military family. A young girl responds in free verse to the poems she uncovers in the attic, poems her mother wrote in tanka (a form of Japanese poetry) about the wonder of her experiences living throughout the world. The mother’s voice dominates through longer poems and Zunon’s larger illustrations, but the daughter’s poems appear first on each page, and the connection between the poems is heartfelt. Their love of language and the natural world bind them together. There is also a rhythm to their experiences as well (the daughter writes of sand castles, and the mother, of a grunion run). Notes encourage readers to try their hands at either poetic form, while the pictures, a combination of acrylic, oil, and collage, encourage interest in the many places described. Pair with How I Discovered Poetry, by Marilyn Nelson (2014), for a slightly older audience interested in writing poetry and understanding the turmoil and adventure of being raised in a military family.Edie Ching


Horn Book:
Poems in the Attic
by Nikki Grimes;
illus. by Elizabeth Zunon
Primary, Intermediate     Lee & Low     48 pp.
5/15 978-1-62014-027-7     $19.95     g

On a visit to her grandmother’s house, a little girl finds her mother’s stash of childhood poems in the attic. The poems written by the mom in this story are tanka poems, an ancient Japanese form made up of five lines each and with strict syllable requirements. The daughter is a poet, too, and her poems about the experience of finding and reading her mother’s work appear in free verse on left-hand pages (the mother’s poems are on the right, italicized). Each page turn is like opening that old box in the attic—you never know what is coming next. The poems reflect the mother’s childhood travels as an Air Force brat—her family was stationed in a variety of places, from Los Angeles and Alaska to Japan and Portugal. The little girl learns tidbits about her mom’s childhood and then creates her own handmade book, including both her poems and her mother’s. Pink-toned acrylic and oil illustrations are enhanced by cut-paper and fabric collage, allowing readers to imagine seeing the aurora borealis in Alaska, go hiking in Germany, or smell the cherry  blossoms in Japan. The final spread is acelebration of love and poetry as the girl is reunited with her mother. Young poets (and their parents and grandparents) will be inspired to write poems for future generations; the author’s note and notes on the poetic forms will help them get started. ROBIN SMITH (May/June 2015 Horn Book Magazine)


School Library Journal:
Poems in the Attic
Gr 1–4—During a visit to Grandma’s, a seven-year-old girl discovers a stash of poems in the attic written by her mother as a child. Each subsequent set of pages pairs a poem written by the girl with one by her mama. An air force brat, Mama wrote a different entry in each new place her family was stationed, showcasing the experiences of her “childhood on wings,” from painting luminarias in New Mexico to kayaking in Virginia to catching cherry blossoms like snowflakes in Japan. Her writing also touches upon painful situations, such as leaving her friends behind when she moved and missing her father when he was away. The daughter’s poems compare her and her grown-up mother’s lives with the experiences detailed by Mama as a girl (“It’s funny to think of Mama/making a mess with arts and crafts”). Sweet and accessible but never simplistic, this collection captures the experience of a military childhood with graceful sophistication. Grimes uses different styles of poem for each voice (free verse for the daughter and tanka poems for the mother), a choice that she discusses in an explanatory note on poetry forms that will serve budding poets and teachers alike. Rendered in acrylic, oil, and collage, Zunon’s warm, vibrant illustrations complement the text perfectly. Readers with an especially keen interest in the locations highlighted can look to a complete list of Air Force Bases appended. VERDICT A gem of a book.—Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, Montclair, NJ