Book Review Wednesday: My Uncle Emily


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The spirit of poetry past comes shining through in My Uncle Emily, a 2009 release from Jane Yolen. We can always depend on Ms. Yolen to deliver a wonderfully crafted story. This one is stellar in its use of lyrical prose to capture the tone of Emily Dickinson’s poetry and time period.

Emily Dickinson’s nephew, Gilbert, is the child friendly entry point to Ms. Dickinson’s poetry. Gilbert wonders about the symbols in his "Uncle Emily’s" poetry. Gilbert must share her poetry with his class, but he is afraid the other students won’t like or understand it either. When he finally learns to decode her ideas he lights up, "like a lamp."

My Uncle Emily, has clear themes of honesty and peaceful resolution of conflict but none of them are preachy or heavy handed. The actions and reactions of the characters are true to the story and true to life. In fact, Ms. Yolen ends the book with a piece entitled, "What’s True About This Story."

Patti Lee Gauch of Philomel is the editor for this beautifully designed book. It is not often that the editor is cited in the front matter. However, Ms. Gauch is well known for her editorial achievements and her own use of lyrical prose in Thunder At Gettysburg one of the first "novels in verse."

Nancy Carpenter, a two time recipient of the Christoper Award, illustrates the book with pen and ink and digital media. The effect is of colorful engravings which perfectly fit the Amherst, Massachusettes setting circa 1881. I was especially enthalled by Ms. Carpenter’s use of negative space which frames the illustrations and focuses the reader’s attention to particular details. Her lovely muted palette, the patterning and texture, and her gestural line capture the costume, light and formality of the period.

Ms. Yolen’s book delightfully treats modern children to the spirit of poets past.

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