The WatcherNikki Grimes; Illustrated by Bryan Collier. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017. 42PP ISBN: 978-0-8028-5445-2. US$17.00 

Book Review: The Watcher


Do you know a child who is being bullied? Do you know of a bully? This is a book that they might appreciate. The book is based on Psalm 121, which appears at the beginning. The text is that as found in the New International Version. The author, Nikki Grimes, describes the form of the book as “the golden shovel”, a form in which the lines of the psalm provide the end of each line of the text. For instance, the first verse appears like this:

Some days, even the ant towers over me, and I
cower in a forest of grass, waiting for the fear to lift
like fog, so I can be brave, rise up.
But the class bully growls my name, and I shiver in my
sneakers, feel the wet fill my eyes.
Then I remember how Mom told me to
roll my fear like a ball, toss it high in the
air where you can catch it, and fling it to the hills.

The speaker is a boy called Jordan, who is picked on by his class mate, Tanya. But Tanya, who speaks alternately, has problems of her own, and these cause her to bully other children. The problems that Tanya faces are gradually revealed. Meanwhile, Jordan has some challenges and temptations, unrelated to Tanya’s treatment of him, to face as well. When a geeky new boy called Israel joins the class, Jordan befriends him and warns him against Tanya.

Jordan begins to change his strategy in relation to Tanya, and gradually befriends her. Both come to realise that the Lord of the Psalm is with them and will watch over them always. The book is illustrated by Bryan Collier, a painter who has won several awards. Grimes herself is an award winning author of children’s books.

The book, which is recommended for six to ten-year-olds, concludes with an invitation from Nikki Grimes to the reader to try his or her own hand at writing a “golden shovel” poem. This might provide an interesting template to try out with a Sunday School class, or a group of children in the context of some religious education. The book itself might be used for a children’s talk in church.

The book appears in the imprint of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Derek Tovey is the book review editor for Stimulus.

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