Jump Back, Paul: The Life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar

illus. by Sean Qualls. 128p. bibliog. chron. index. notes. Candlewick. Sept. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763660703. LC 2014952480.
RedReviewStarGr 5–8—Derby asks, "Did you ever hear anyone whose way of talking was kind of like that poem? I'm guessing not. Seems to me, first thing you know we're all going to talk like the reporters and the pretty people they call anchors on TV—everybody all the same." Paul Laurence Dunbar's numerous poems were not "all the same": many were formal and even quaint, written in standard English, while other, more popular pieces were set down in dialect. Both sorts are deftly inserted into Derby's chatty, grandmotherly narration, which nicely blends a bit of conjecture and detailed explanations of Dunbar's life, times, and poetical influences. Taken from the familiar repetition in Dunbar's "Negro Love Song" ("Jump back, honey, jump back."), her title becomes a handy repeated exclamation ("Only sixteen years old and already a published writer! Jump back!"). In his brief but remarkable life, Dunbar (1872–1906) encountered rampant racism following the Civil War and the resulting Emancipation Proclamation, and Derby covers plenty of ground in just seven readable chapters. Her book is a short but rich introduction to American history as well as to Dunbar's personal and working life. His early love of poetry, prolific writing, popularity, encounters with Frederick Douglass and other famous figures, romance with Alice Moore, and early death from tuberculosis are recounted and depicted in full-page and smaller black-and-white scenes, skillfully sketched and shaded in pencil and acrylic by Qualls.
VERDICT This multifaceted account is likely to require some introduction and context. However, it offers fine possibilities for middle school teachers and some inspiration for young writers and readers of poetry.

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