Dyamonde Daniel is feeling just a little bit sorry for herself. Her parents have recently gotten divorced, and while she misses having her whole family together, she certainly does not miss all the shouting and fighting that her parents used to do. She misses her best friend dreadfully, though, and she hasn't made any good friends at her new school yet. She also misses having her own bedroom, instead of a pull-out bed in the living room.
Then a new kid shows up, a boy named Free. Dyamonde knows how it feels to be the new kid, so she'd like to be extra nice to him. But he won't let anyone be nice to him. He grunts when people talk to him, refuses to read aloud in class, scares the little kids by yelling at them when they get in his way, and is not at all the sort of person, Dyamonde thinks, that anyone could possibly be nice to. She doesn't realize that as she focuses more on Free's behavior and why he acts that way, she's completely forgotten about her desire to fit in and make friends, and that's when something surprising happens...
This is a delightful story about a clever, spunky little girl whose self-confidence and impulsive kindness are sure to take her far. I loved the fact that she loves to read, and knows that she is a smart kid (although she doesn't brag about it). The book is light in tone, told mostly through a very close 3rd person narration from Dyamonde's point of view, but it covers several topics that are of serious importance to children: moving, divorce, friendship, and social dynamics at school. It's never preachy or trite, though - Dyamonde's fresh voice makes these often-used themes feel new and interesting, and the characters are appealing and sure to hold the reader's attention. New York City is a colorful setting that helps bring the story to life.
The illustrations are cute, but at times the characters look like little old men and women with odd lines on their faces. I do love the cover art, though, which is bright and appealing. This is a good choice for readers who are transitioning from easy readers to chapter books (for more of these reviewed here, click on the "transitional books" tag). I like the fact that this book is about an African-American girl, but the focus isn't on race issues (not that those books aren't important, too) - it's on the everyday issues that all kids face. It's a book that brings readers of all backgrounds closer together because of how much they have in common, and it gives us a character to care about and cheer for. Dyamonde will appeal to readers who like Junie B., Clementine and Allie Finkle, and to those who enjoy school stories. This is the first book in a new series, and I am very much looking forward to Dyamonde's next appearance.
Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2009)
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Kidliterate: "I love Dyamonde and her whole little world. I love her spunk and her friendliness and her smarts and her determination. I think she’s a great character to headline a series, and I highly recommend her."
Too Many Books: "Grimes creates a strong protagonist in a familiar setting using easy to read chapters with plenty of white space. The black and white illustrations are child-like in their appeal and the patterned page borders add that little bit extra."