The Belle of Amherst leads some young friends on a grand adventure.
Drawing on Dickinson’s playfulness and delight in children, Mutén fashions this light verse story told from the perspective of young MacGregor “Mac” Jenkins, the pastor’s son who lived across the street from the Dickinson residence (in real life) and was a playmate of the poet’s niece and nephew. With the help of Phelan’s wispy, textured drawings, Mutén imagines the famously reclusive poet playfully disguised as “Proserpina—Queen of the Night,” leading her tiny band of “Amherst gypsies” on a midnight quest to spy the arrival of the Great Golden Menagerie and Circus at the Amherst train station. Both poet and children thrill at the opportunity to meet a fortuneteller and witness the unloading of exotic circus animals, but as they speed home to avoid being recognized, Mac falls and injures himself. Mac’s resulting convalescence, landing him “housebound / like a winter bee in the hive,” draws not only an unprecedented visit from “Miss Emily,” but the chance for her to treat Mac and friends to another tale. It also gives Mutén an apt occasion to weave in a bit of actual correspondence from the poet to the children outlining her wish: “Please never improve—you are perfect now.”
Uplifting and clever, Mutén’s tale also includes a layer of biographical detail sure to tantalize Dickinson lovers everywhere. (biographical notes, bibliography) (Verse novel. 8-12)