Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Phillis Wheatley: Slave and Poet

Phillis Wheatley: Slave and Poet

Robin S. Doak
Nonfiction  Series
For ages 10 and up
Compass Point Books, 2006   ISBN: 978-0756509842

Phillis Wheatley was just seven years old was she was kidnapped from her home in west Africa and brought to Boston on a slave ship. Though she had suffered horribly, she at least was not sold to a hard and cruel master. Instead she was bought by John Wheatley, whose wife Susanna needed a young girl to help her and to serve as a companion.

It did not take long for the Wheatleys to discover that their new slave was very bright and quick to learn. Being a kindly soul, Susanna agreed to allow one of her daughters to teach Phillis to read and write. This was very unusual for those times. Most slaves were taught just enough so they could follow orders. Indeed many people thought it was dangerous to educate slaves. In just over a year Phillis mastered the English language. She then went on the learn how to write, and she studied ""all kinds of poetry, from classical to modern."" She also read books about geography and history, and took on the daunting task of learning French, Greek, and Latin.

All of this amazed many of the people who met Phillis. They had no idea that a slave girl could be so clever and intelligent. When Phillis began to write her own poetry, people who read her work were forced to accept the idea that people of color could indeed do extraordinary things.

In this well written Signature Lives title the author gives her readers a picture of Phillis Wheatley's life, and she also gives them a sense of what it would have been like to be a slave in the late 1700's in America. Readers will be left with a very clear portrait of what Phillis was like, and they will see how tragic her life was in many ways.