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UNDER THE CHRISTMAS TREE by Nikki Grimes Kirkus Star


by Nikki Grimes & illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-688-15999-0
Publisher: HarperCollins

Grimes (Talkin’ About Bessie, p. 1530, etc.) explores the Christmas season through a poetic prism, examining both positive and negative aspects of the holiday.

In 23 poems, most focusing on one African-American family, she explores traditions such as unpacking decorations, big holiday dinners, shopping trips, playing in the snow, and ice skating. Other poems sensitively examine giving to others and the place of Jesus in the season. Grimes works effectively in a wide variety of poetic formats, from haiku to free verse to traditional rhyme schemes, with many poems in the first-person voice of the little girl shown with her mother and siblings on the rather dark cover. Many of the illustrations from rising star Nelson (Please, Baby, Please, p. 1533, etc.) are set at night and use this same subdued, candlelit effect. In the most memorable spread, the dramatic poem “Christmas Eve” captures the excitement of the special church service with the congregation “slightly giddy / And primed / For miracles.” The powerful facing illustration shows the little girl’s candle being lit by her father, passing along the flame of faith to his child. The final poem reprises this sentiment in a gentle haiku describing an angel (her daddy) kissing his daughter good-night.

Both poetry and art succeed in being forceful without being preachy and sweet without being saccharine.

(Poetry. 6-10)