Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Review: On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Berne

The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson
by Jennifer Berne
Illustrated by Becca Stadtlander
Chronicle Books
Picture Book
52 pages
ages 5 to 8

FEBRUARY 18th!!!

An inspiring and kid-accessible biography of one of the world's most famous poets.

Emily Dickinson, who famously wrote "Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul," is brought to life in this moving story. In a small New England town lives Emily Dickinson, a girl in love with small things—a flower petal, a bird, a ray of light, a word. In those small things, her brilliant imagination can see the wide world—and in her words, she takes wing. From celebrated children's author Jennifer Berne comes a lyrical and lovely account of the life of Emily Dickinson: her courage, her faith, and her gift to the world. With Dickinson's own inimitable poetry woven throughout, this lyrical biography is not just a tale of prodigious talent, but also of the power we have to transform ourselves and to reach one another when we speak from the soul.

• Fantastic educational opportunity to share Emily Dickinson's story and poetry with young readers
• An inspirational real-life story that will appeal to children and adults alike.
• Jennifer Berne is the author of critically acclaimed children's biographies of Albert Einstein and Jacques Cousteau.

Fans who enjoyed Emily Writes: Emily Dickinson and her Poetic Beginnings, Emily and Carlo, and Uncle Emily will love On Wings of Words.

• Books for kids ages 5–8
• Poetry for children
• Biographies for children


Words take flight, allowing young readers not only to discover Emily Dickinson but experience the beauty and meaning behind some of her poems.

This book is a lovely way to introduce young readers/listeners to Emily Dickinson. Not only are small phrases from her various poems sprinkled between the pages, but the reader learns who she was and what her life was like. At the end, there's a short insight into how Emily's poems transcend time, tips on how readers can grab a pen and become poets themselves, as well as a meaningful note from both the author and the illustrator. These last two really add a nice touch, which older readers (as in adults) are sure to enjoy and find interesting.

Creating a biography of someone for the younger audience isn't always an easy task, but this book does a great job. It sticks to the basics of Emily's life and doesn't get lost in details. I especially appreciated that more than one page was spent on her childhood, allowing readers/listeners to connect with her before going on to her later years. Even then, the author describes Emily's life in a way which won't alienate young listeners.

Emily's poems are often more than just their superficial words...and even then, they are written in poetic and an older language style. This book has a couple of lines from her poems on every page but doesn't go into literary depth. Thank goodness. Instead, the listeners/readers can enjoy the words and language. Better yet, the author writes about Emily's life in such a way that allows the poem lines to meld in. If Emily views flowers in her garden, the poem presented speaks of flowers. This style adds depth and a little understanding without growing overwhelming. 

The younger end of the intended audience may not always catch everything, especially when it comes to the poems. But it's not necessary. The beauty of the poems flows easily and simply gives, even these readers, exposure to the poems and will draw their interest.

The illustrations round this book off with finesse. The illustrator has taken time to research the history and allows that to show on every page. Even this is never overpowering but slides naturally along with Emily's development. The scenes are simple enough that even readers today will connect with them, and they offer enough details to make each page interesting. 

Summed up, I'm giving a huge thumbs up to this one. It's not intended for really young, picture book fans but will resonate with grades K through 4. 

 And here they are...

The Author...
Jennifer Berne is the award-winning author of the biographies Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau and On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein. She lives in Copake, New York.

The Illustrator...
Becca Stadtlander is the illustrator of many children's and young adult publications, including Sleep Tight Farm. She was born and raised in Covington, Kentucky.

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