(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In Nikki Grimes’s Bronx Masquerade, Mr. Ward’s English class has been studying the Harlem Renaissance. He has assigned an essay, but an essay seems to be an inappropriate assignment to at least one of his students: Wesley “Bad Boy” Boone. Wesley would rather write a poem, thinking it would be more in keeping with the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance. Mr. Ward allows Wesley to write a poem and even to read it aloud in class. He must still write the essay, however. Wesley’s poem starts a trend, and soon his “homey” Tyrone brings in a poem of his own to read. Before long, other students in class want to read their poems, and Open Mike Friday is born.

The eighteen voices representing the students in Mr. Ward’s English class are quite diverse, including young men and women who are black, white, and Latino. They range from the quintessentially “cool” to the naturally “nerdy.” On the surface, the students seem very different; each wears a mask in order to portray the person they want the world to see. Beneath their masks, they share common feelings: fear, insecurity, the need for love, a lack of identity, and a struggle for recognition.

The students’ poems gradually pierce their masks, exposing their deeper identities to their classmates. The hotshot basketball player, seemingly confident and in control, is revealed as a secret bookworm who loves to learn. The meek, needy, overweight girl becomes a loving, giving, caring young woman her classmates had never before noticed.

Poetry has a transforming effect, and it becomes a positive force that reaches beyond the school and into the students’ extracurricular lives to affect their families and their community. Grimes’s novel alternates between poems written by the students and short character sketches of each student. In addition, Tyrone injects his own comments after every poem, reacting on behalf of the class.


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Bloom, Susan P. Review of Bronx Masquerade, by Nikki Grimes. Horn Book Magazine 78, no. 2 (March/April, 2002): 213. Claims that the novel succeeds despite its somewhat excessive optimism, because its compelling characterization breeds sympathy in readers.

Evarts, Lynn. Review of Bronx Masquerade, by Nikki Grimes. School Library Journal 48, no. 1 (January, 2002): 132. Compares Grimes’s style to that of Mel Glenn, but emphasizes the originality of her decision to combine both poetry and prose narrative in the same text.

Grimes, Nikki. “An Interview with Poet Nikki Grimes.” Interview by Sylvia M. Vardell and Peggy Oxley. Language Arts 84, no. 3 (January 1, 2007): 281. In this interview Grimes emphasizes the extent to which poetry is incorporated into children’s everyday lives, in the form of nursery rhymes, schoolyard chants, and so on. She says that poetry in children’s literature therefore begins with a strong foundation on which to build.

Roback, Diane. Review of Bronx Masquerade, by Nikki Grimes. Publishers Weekly 248, no. 51 (December 17, 2001): 92. Notes that each character is strong enough to hold his or her own as a protagonist, but that the ensemble format prevents them from receiving as much time as they deserve.

Wysocki, Barbara. Review of Bronx Masquerade, by Nikki Grimes. School Library Journal 52, no. 11 (November, 2006): 66-67. In this review of the audiobook version of Grimes’s novel, Wysocki asserts that the book may encourage teens both to become poets and to communicate honestly with one another.