Emily Writes: Emily Dickinson and Her Poetic Beginnings

Holt. Feb. 2020. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250128089.
Gr 1-6–Incorporating bits from Emily Dickinson’s poetry and what is known of her adult life, Yolen imagines an afternoon with four-year-old Emily. Slipping into her father’s study, young Emily “discovers a scrap of paper under father’s desk, some chance slip.” (Adult Emily refers to her odds and ends of used writing paper as “chance slips.”) This is a cheerful, deeply thoughtful child. “Perhaps, she thinks, I will make a poem.” And so she does. Emily tries to tell her rhyming three-word bit—“frog and bog”—to her inattentive father and then her fretful mother, and finally succeeds down in the kitchen with friendly Mrs. Mack. (Readers learn more about Mrs. Mack in the author’s note.) Once these two share laughter and a bit of cake, Emily goes out to the garden where her story becomes more complex and romanticized: “...she has not told her poem to the flowers yet...the garden makes her feel all sunny, like a poet...She thinks about the real and the unreal. Perhaps poems are the in-between.” Emily goes on to find an envelope and consults Mrs. Mack about a word to rhyme with envelope. Yolen’s cleverly constructed scheme will intrigue adult Dickinson fans. French illustrator Davenier’s multimedia sketches provide simple, deft views of characters and settings. Yolen’s substantial author’s note tells much about Emily Dickinson and excerpts poems. A bibliography of adult and scholarly sources includes a few titles accessible to children.
VERDICT Some parents might share this with children learning to read and write. It could also spark good discussion with older students studying Dickinson in poetry units.

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