The Watcher: Inspired by Psalm 121

For those unfamiliar with "golden shovel" poems, here's how they work: choose an existing poem, then create a new poem by ending each line with the exact words, in order, of the original poem. Here, Coretta Scott King Award winner Nikki Grimes opens with Psalm 121, and alchemizes the verses into The Watcher, a contemporary narrative about a bully and her victim who learn how to be friends.

Jordan cowers and shivers in fear of Tanya, who has been "tease[d]... into meanness." When Israel, a new "kid with a weird accent" joins the class, Jordan warns him, " 'Do not/ trust Tanya!' " Jordan watches, and begins to see beyond Tanya's "pricks like a splinter." She steals because she's hungry. She growls because she's ashamed. She pushes because she worries about her ailing grandmother. Tanya gazes back, and notices Jordan doesn't laugh at her stutter. He smiles when she's angry. He sits with her when she's alone. He stays when she's afraid.

Guiding these former enemies toward cautious friendship is Psalm 121's good Lord, the titular Watcher nudging the children toward small acts of kindness that inspire leaps of faith. The psalm is Christian-specific but Grimes's message is all-encompassing, emphasizing understanding and caring. That empathy gets further embellished by four-time Caldecott Honoree Bryan Collier's (I, Too, Am America) extraordinary collages that combine photographs and drawings, close-ups and landscapes, highlighting how different children all have the similar need to be respected, cherished--and watched over. Hopeful and affecting, Grimes and Collier's third collaboration provides exquisite affirmation of the healing power of forgiveness and compassion. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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