Garvey’s Choice

This must be the week of music—although music’s impact on the main character’s life in Garvey’s Choice is shown to us in a very different way than we saw in Passing the Music Down. In Garvey’s Choice, we see how music can empower people and help them when they are struggling.Garvey's ChoiceNikki Grimes tells the story of Garvey, a young boy who is trying to connect with the father who wants Garvey to be the athlete he has no interest in being. Garvey’s interests are books (particularly science fiction), astronomy, and music. And food. He eats to comfort himself after he has disappointed his father and also simply because he likes what he is eating.

Which leads to Garvey’s other challenge: he is very overweight, and that leads to him being bullied at school. At first, he arrives at school “armed with earphones” so he can’t hear the name-calling, but the principal soon tells him that earphones are not allowed at school. So he is forced to listen to all of the painful taunting as he walks through the halls between his classes.

At home, his sister calls him names too:

My tongue does a dance / when Mom’s spicy lasagna / is passed round to me. / “Leave us some, little piggy,” / says Angela with a grin.

Not every cut bleeds, / so maybe Sis doesn’t know / how deep the wound goes. / A second heaping serving’s / not enough to heal my hurt.

In between big bites, / I hum to the jazz playing / on the radio, / the melody soothing me, / wherever words left splinters.

Not long after the school year starts, Garvey’s best (only) friend Joe encourages him to join chorus. Garvey is reluctant—afraid of what his dad and other kids will say. But when the school switches Joe to a different lunch period and Garvey is left all alone, he decides to give chorus a shot.

In chorus, Garvey makes a new friend who helps him to accept himself for who he is. Garvey learns to speak up for himself, letting his sister know how being bullied about his weight makes him feel:

Sis falls through the door, / juggles backpack and groceries. / “Hey there, Chocolate Chunk. / “How ’bout giving me a hand?” / Call me that one more time and …

The terrible sound / of teeth grinding fills my ears. / Tears aren’t far behind. / I bite my lip and whisper, / “My name is Garvey. Got it?”

Angela withers. / “I’m sorry, Garvey,” she says. / “I was just teasing.” / “Yeah? So why am I bleeding?” / Pow! Maybe she gets it now.

Not only does he learn to stand up for himself, Garvey finds his own voice and pride in his abilities. Just as importantly, music finally gives him a way to connect with his father.

Ms. Grimes wrote Garvey’s Choice entirely in the ancient Japanese poetry form of tanka. Tanka means “short poem” in Japanese. Each tanka is five lines long; however, the line-by-line syllable count can vary (and some American poets do not follow syllable counts at all).  Ms. Grimes followed a strict syllabic count of five-seven-five-seven-seven for the five lines in each tanka. She wrote between one and three of these five-line tankas for each poem. The tanka poem structure was a very effective way to tell Garvey’s story.

Ms. Grimes has a website and blog at According to the biography on her website, she prefers the title Poet over Storyteller. She has written many novels and books of poetry for children and young adults.

Have you read any great books lately?

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