The Watcher

illus. by Bryan Collier. 42p. Eerdmans. Oct. 2017. Tr $17. ISBN 9780802854452.
Gr 3–5—Drawing from Psalm 121, Grimes weaves a dual narrative around two young classmates using the Golden Shovel format. (Each poem uses the words of one line of the original psalm as its ending words.) Jordan makes good choices despite a meek and downtrodden nature. Tanya acts like a bully, her hostility rooted in self-consciousness about stuttering and academic struggles. Both are encouraged by family members to turn to God, who is always watching over them. The message is heavy at times: "where/stutterers aren't treated like spit." But Grimes's skillful use of enjambment keeps the verse fresh. The text is also a valuable study in perspective, offering insight into the character's motivations and fears. Both gravitate to an aptly named new student, "Israel." Soon after, the speakers are brought together by Jordan's commitment to choose kindness and Tanya's willingness to change. Grimes ends with a brief explanation and encourages young readers to try their hands at this poetry form. Collier's mixed-media illustrations accompany the text, incorporating paintings and also photographs of real New York City students.
VERDICT A strong portrayal of pious characteristics to foster empathy in kids; a fine addition to religious-themed poetry collections.

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