Review of Rise!: From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou

Rise!: From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou
by Bethany Hegedus; illus. by Tonya Engel
Primary, Intermediate    Lee & Low    48 pp.
8/19    978-1-62014-587-6    $20.95

In propulsive free verse and vibrant illustrations, Hegedus and Engel present the life and legacy of Maya Angelou (1928–2014). The book opens with three-year-old Maya and her brother traveling alone by train from St. Louis to live with their paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. There they find stability and love, yet also injustice: “Hate and love, / love and hate: / the seesaw of the South.” When Maya is six they return to St. Louis, where she is “hurt” by her mother’s boyfriend (the appended timeline specifies sexual abuse). She returns to Stamps, mute, and eventually finds solace, first in books, then in “the power of the spoken word.” Angelou survived childhood anguish to thrive and to triumph, becoming a performer, dancer, journalist, activist, poet, mother, and humanitarian. Engel’s warm, swirling acrylic and oil paintings illustrate the various moods of the story, from the anticipation of journey and discovery to the looming shadow of young Maya’s abuser to the passionate work of the civil rights movement — and the metaphorical cage Angelou finds herself in after tragedy. The thoughtful back matter includes a detailed biographical timeline, photographs, an author’s note, websites of sexual assault organizations, selected bibliography, and quotation sources about this “phenomenal woman.”

From the November/December 2019 Horn Book Magazine.

Claudette S. McLinn
Dr. Claudette S. McLinn is current chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee.

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