Review of On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson

On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson
by Jennifer Berne; illus. by Becca Stadtlander
Primary, Intermediate    Chronicle    48 pp.
2/20    978-1-4521-4297-5    $18.99

Berne’s picture-book biography is a lyrical appreciation of Dickinson’s skill with words, painting a vivid picture of the poet’s special abilities (“With the power of her words — / and the freedom of her imagination — / she tasted spices in foreign lands, / and hid inside a flower…”). Interspersed passages from Dickinson’s poems and letters serve as examples of points made in the text. They also appear throughout in Stadtlander’s sumptuous, painterly gouache and watercolor illustrations, which masterfully blend the historical and the fantastical to showcase Dickinson’s surroundings or imagination. The text itself is lengthy but full of glimpses into Dickinson’s inner life, highlighting her love of nature and books and exploring the philosophical and religious questions that influenced her behavior. Both author and illustrator rely on butterfly imagery, one of many elements emphasizing Dickinson’s “relationship to nature and the beauty of her work,” as the artist’s note puts it. Also appended are an author’s note, a reading list, and more on reading, writing, and sharing poetry. (For a more lighthearted introduction to the poet, see the picture book review on page 114 of Jane Yolen’s Emily Writes.)

From the May/June 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Cynthia K. Ritter
Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is managing editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons University.

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