Thanks a Million

Thanks a Million
Nikki Grimes and Cozbi Cabrera
Greenwillow, 2006

One of my favorite poems is “Messenger,” by Mary Oliver (found in her collection, Thirst). In it, she writes:

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Gratitude. I would love to say that it’s the fundamental posture of my life. At this point, let’s just say that it’s my highest aspiration. It’s a habit to be cultivated. And as I’m working on it myself, I’m trying to help my kids along the way too. So I was thrilled – grateful even! – to stumble across Thanks a Million at our local library branch last week.

Thanks a Million is a collection of poems about gratitude. What I love is how Grimes’ poems take seriously the whole range of children’s thanks: there are poems about weekends, ball games with dad, and a new friend in the lunchroom. Those simple moments are treated with as much respect as the thanks given by children who have lost parents, been embarrassed in front of classmates, or are sleeping in a homeless shelter. On setting the book down, the reader walks away with the sense that there is blessing everywhere, if only we know how to look.

And oh, the illustrations. They are vibrant, sensitive, and beautiful. The interplay between images and language is wonderfully done. Both my literate five-year old and her wiggly two-year-old brother were happy to sit and take in the poetry, and they were arrested by the illustrations. As we’re approaching the Thanksgiving holiday, this is a wonderful volume to spend some time with, and to spur us on towards becoming people whose work is gratitude.

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4 thoughts on “Thanks a Million

  1. We know of Grimes’ faith from her other books that we’ve reviewed here, but it’s not front and center in ALL of her books. How does it come through in this one? Is there a sense that the gratitude offered up in the book is directed to God?

    • Good question. I probably should have been more explicit about the way the poems function in my review.

      While there’s one poem that gives explicit thanks to God, the others are more about gratitude towards other people: the effects of gratitude; how gratitude can be shown and lived out; how gratitude can transform our experience. So while gratitude isn’t necessarily directed towards God, I think this volume is a wonderful exploration of the varieties of gratitude that children, especially, show. It respects their gratitudes (and struggles with gratitude, too). And, as poetry, the book offers kids a visceral way of looking at and being in the world.

      That’s a fundamentally theological posture that is important, to me, to pass along to my kids – despite the fact that the book doesn’t mention Jesus. Thoughts?

  2. This sounds great. I have been learning about gratitude through the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. She takes on the hard questions of pain in the world, the goodness of God, having eyes to see, viewing things in a childlike way, humility, etc. Her own life was deeply transformed by gratitude and by learning to fight for joy. Mine has been affected by her poetic and profound writing, and I have read it 3 times and given away many copies. Now I want to read this book of poems for children. We need these reminders and examples of seeing and living rightly, of honoring God by giving thanks in all things, and of being a people transformed by grace. Thanks, Sarah!!

    • Thanks, Ann! I like this book because I feel like it offers something similar to kids, in a really simple and straightforward way. The poems are pretty direct and really accessible – but there’s depth underneath. I’ll be curious to know what you think, if you read it!

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