June 19, 2009

Poetry Friday--Emily Dickinson

There's a new picture book about Emily Dickinson called My Uncle Emily (Philomel, 2009). (The "Uncle" appellation was a family joke according to the text.) My Uncle Emily's author is the prolific Jane Yolen who tells the story of six-year Gib. Gib is sent to school with a dead bee, and a small poem written by Emily Dickinson, his aunt. As he predicts, Gib is teased. A bully, Jonathan, calls his aunt "a peculiar old maid." Unable to resist, Gib
stopped Jonathan right there,
stepping up and hitting him for those words.

Overall, I like the book, but I wonder about its appeal to kids with its old-fashioned phrasing such as "put the lie to him," and "with great gusto." Certainly a child the age of Gib, six, would be lost, especially with the discussion of "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--." Yet, the book could be used to introduce Emily Dickinson to an older elementary school audience, and 3rd and 4th graders might have a meaningful discussion of truth telling.

The illustrations, by Nancy Carpenter, have the feel of a period etching. The abundant use of yellows and golds gives the book a light sunny feeling, as well as providing an aged glow.

As an adult reader, I appreciated the author's note, "What Is True About This Story," explaining Dickinson and elaborating on the lives of her nephew and his siblings. It saddened me to learn that Gib died at the age of eight.

To continue the introduction to Dickinson in the classroom, I'd suggest looking for Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson (Sterling, 1994) for a collection of illustrated poems. The book also includes an introduction, and definitions of words not familiar to today's children.

Here's a famous Dickinson poem, which is found in the Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson:

THERE is no frigate like a book
      To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
      Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take
      Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
      That bears a human soul!

Carol's Corner is hosting this week's Poetry Friday Round-Up.


  1. I agree that it sounds like a great book that might miss its audience. This is one I've got to get my hands on!

  2. That looks like a good companion for a study on Emily Dickinson. I'd enjoy looking at this different perspective on her life.

  3. Appreciate your observations and concerns. I saw another review not long ago and thought this would be fun.I think I'll ask my library to order it. Thanks.