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Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir

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In her own voice, acclaimed author and poet Nikki Grimes explores the truth of a harrowing childhood in a compelling and moving memoir in verse.

Growing up with a mother suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and a mostly absent father, Nikki Grimes found herself terrorized by babysitters, shunted from foster family to foster family, and preyed upon by those she trusted. At the age of six, she poured her pain onto a piece of paper late one night - and discovered the magic and impact of writing. For many years, Nikki's notebooks were her most enduing companions. In this accessible and inspiring memoir that will resonate with young readers and adults alike, Nikki shows how the power of those words helped her conquer the hazards - ordinary and extraordinary - of her life.

ISBN-13: 9781635925623

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Astra Publishing House

Publication Date: 03-01-2022

Pages: 336

Product Dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.00(d)

Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

New York Times bestselling author Nikki Grimes is the recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, the ALA Children’s Literature Legacy Award, and the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Her books include her critically acclaimed memoir in verse Ordinary Hazards as well as picture books Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice and Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope. She won the Coretta Scott King Award for Bronx Masquerade and earned a Coretta Scott King Author Honor five times—for Words with Wings, Jazmin's Notebook, Dark Sons, Talkin’ About Bessie, and The Road to Paris. Visit

Read an Excerpt


No one warned me the world was full of ordinary hazards like closets with locks and keys.

I learned this lesson when Mom,
without her cousin to fall back on,
left us daily with a succession of strangers while she went to work.
One woman was indisputably a demon in disguise,
full lips grinning slyly as Mom waved goodbye each morning.
“See you after work,”
Mom said that first day.
The second she was out of sight,
Demon’s smile melted like hot paraffin.
Snatching up Carol and me,
she dragged us, kicking, to the bedroom closet.
She shoved us in, quick as the witch in “Hansel and Gretel,”
jamming the key in the lock.
“You tattle to your mom about this,”
she growled, “I’ll comeback and beat the black off ya.”
Deadly threat delivered,
she left for the day.

I screamed, my puny fists pounding the door till Carol caught me by the wrists and held me still. “Shhhh,” she whispered.
“It’s okay. I’m right here.”
Once my breathing slowed,
Carol left me long enough to navigate the darkness.

She found suitcases to sit on.
Sniffling, I perched on the edge of one
and pressed my fingertips together.

“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”

I repeated those words like a chant.
I was three years old.
It was the only prayer I knew.

I should’ve prayed not to pee my pants.
The cramped and stuffy space
made me wheeze.
Brass fittings on the Samsonite case dug into the flesh behind my knees.
But worse yet,
the occasional roach skittered along my calf,
up a thigh,
and I would scratch and stomp and cry till it was off.
No one was around to wipe away my tears,
except my sister,
who had tears of her own.

Day after day,
the routine remained unchanged.
Demon locked us up in the morning,
then let us out and fed us just before
Mom came home from work.
Despite the witch’s threat,
the minute Carol saw Mom, she poured out the horrors of that first day,
but Mom waved her away with a warning to quit lying.

One afternoon,
when I thought we’d live in the dark forever,
I heard what sounded like
a familiar voice.
“Mommy?” I screamed,
afraid to believe.
But the lock turned,
the door flew open,
and I leaped into Mom’s arms.
“My God!” she said.
“How long have you two been in here?”
“All day,” snapped Carol,
keeping her distance.
“I told you!
I told you,
but you called me a liar!”

The slap of words sent
Mom to her knees, please
written all over her face.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered,
reaching for my sister.
Carol backed away.
“Jesus,” Mom said. “What did this woman do? Are you all right?”
Where to begin?
There were too many answers.
Even my big sister lacked the language needed for them all,
so we chose silence.
Besides, it was impossible to guess which atrocities
Mom was prepared to hear.

Thankfully, my sister and I
never laid eyes on that bit of walking evil again. Still,
Demon lived inside us for years,
embedded in our twin fears of the dark.