By Zetta Elliott
Illustrated by Noa Denmon
(For readers in Kindergarten–3rd Grade)
As the school year comes to an end, A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart is timely read of the type of life lesson we learn outside of school. The poem zooms into the headspace of a young boy who is living in a town where a girl is killed by police. In order to process the death, the boy attends Black Lives Matter protests and goes to a vigil to honor the life of the young girl. His words are honest, real, and thoughtful.
It is plain why Noa Denmon’s illustrations were awarded a Caldecott Honor Award in 2020 for this book. Her use of muted backgrounds that have details in the same tones as the more vibrant featured subjects in the foreground bring action and engage the reader’s attention. The images support and add depth to the boy’s journey. We see the development the boy experiences at the vigil and other protests, and what it means to become an active part of his community.
The raw quality of Zetta Elliot’s poem engages emotional response to the boy’s complex feelings. They bring you on his quest of how to go forward as he knows the child who was killed could have been him. “There is still hope inside of me/ a promise deep down inside of me/ that I will use my life to help others / & they will help me in return.” In the end the boy recognizes the role he plays in his community and his desire to make the world a better place for future children like him.
A Place Inside of Me is a beautiful poem to read on Juneteeenth, recently recognized as a national holiday. Sharing this story with your child is a way to open the door to discuss the rawer topics that can move our society forward.