Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

My uncle Emily

My uncle Emily

Jane Yolen
Illustrator:  Nancy Carpenter 
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Penguin, 2009   ISBN: 0399240055

Thomas lives next door to Emily Dickinson, the poet. They are great friends, sharing private jokes together. Though Emily is Thomas’s aunt, he calls her Uncle Emily. That is the kind of funny and loving relationship they have.

One day, Emily gives Thomas one of her poems and a dead bee to take to school. No one understands her poem, or the importance of the bee, and at recess, one of the boys makes fun of Uncle Emily and calls her a name. This is more than Thomas can stand, and he and the boy, Jonathan, have a fight. Thomas knows all too well that his Uncle Emily would not have wanted him to fight on her behalf. She is “the kindest creature,” who “would not hurt a fly.” If he tells her, will Uncle Emily be disappointed in him? Will she cry?

This beautifully lyrical story is based on real events that took place in Emily Dickinson’s life. She really did give one of her nephews a dead bee and poem to take to school, although we do not know how the little boy’s class reacted. As children read this story, they will come to appreciate how precious the truth is, and how important it is to tell the truth at all times– though there is nothing wrong with doing so “with explanation kind.”

Nancy Carpenter’s lovely multimedia illustrations perfectly resonate with the text, and they capture the magic of Emily and Thomas’ relationship.