Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Emily Sonnets: The Life of Emily Dickinson

The Emily Sonnets: The Life of Emily Dickinson

Jane Yolen
Illustrator:  Gary Kelley 
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 8 and up
Creative Editions, 2012   ISBN: 978-1568462158

Poet Jane Yolen has long loved the poems written by Emily Dickinson. and she feels a closeness to Emily even though they live “two towns and slightly more than fifty years apart.” In this unique book, Jane Yolen tells Emily’s story from six points of view. We hear the ‘voices’ of Emily, her sister Vinnie, her niece Mattie, her friend Thomas, an unknown critic, and Jane Yolen herself.

The tale begins with Emily telling us how “cold as winter’s core” her mother was and how close Emily was to her older brother and her younger sister. Both her brother, who “stove so hard my life to save / From drowning in that icy wave,” and her sister seemed to recognize Emily’s sensitive personality.

From Vinnie we hear about how Emily scribbles poetry on “chance slips” of paper. In these poems, “Her perceptions all drawn line by line,” Emily reveals little parts of herself, but she does not choose to share them with the world.

To Emily’s niece Mattie, Emily is “Like Queen Mab who endless reigns, / Upon the hillside.” She is a magical being who is neither an adult nor a child. Emily is the one who spends time with Mattie and the other children, who gives them treats and takes their side.

Vinnie is the one who, when Emily is gone, finds Emily’s poems and decides that they must be saved and “published for the ages.”

Adults and children alike will be moved by the power and beauty in these poems. Jane Yolen captures how Emily felt about her own life, and how others felt about her and her incredible gift. We see how Emily chose to live a quiet life without a husband or children, and how much she was loved and admired by those who knew her. We also appreciate why, to so many, her words are a gift, “a fine embrace.”

At the back of the book Jane Yolen provides her readers with further information about Emily Dickinson’s life, her work, and her legacy.