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by Jane Yolen & illustrated by Gary Kelley

Age Range: 10 - 14

Pub Date: Dec. 15th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-56846-215-8
Publisher: Creative Editions/Creative Company

A sonnet sequence encapsulates the biography of one of America’s most intriguing poets, Emily Dickinson.

Loosely following Shakespearean and the occasional Petrarchan rhyme schemes, Yolen cleverly adopts personae of important figures in Dickinson’s life—including the voice of the poet herself—to reveal key elements of her biography. Aiming to “tell the truth” of Dickinson’s life, Yolen effectively conveys the importance of family and nature, privacy, imagination and independence in Dickinson’s famously unconventional existence. Averse to traditional schooling and organized religion, the poet reveals: “I learned the spelling of the bee, / The mathematics of the rose / … / I found more in the books of air; / My higher education won / From every bird found flying there.” Yolen also offers a sympathetic portrait of Dickinson’s reclusiveness—“What need for me an open door / When in myself is so much more?”—and idiosyncratic dress: “sometimes a white dress is only that, / It keeps the daily choices few.” Accompanying the sonnets, Kelley’s dark and chunky pastels underscore Dickinson’s interior life. Occasionally, attempts to echo Dickinson’s poetic surprises yield muddled results, as in “Hedges,” where Yolen’s Dickinson depicts her shrubs as: “My soldiers, steady in a row, / Their helmets verdigrised by God, / Wearing epaulettes of crow.”

Overall, though, these poems, illustrations and substantial notes combine well to lend a rounded portrait of this American poet every young reader needs to discover. (Picture book/poetry. 10-14)