Tag Archives: African-American

Perfect Pairing – of Female Poets

I can’t think of a better way to start off a celebration of Women’s History Month than with two picture books that celebrate two American female poets.

My Uncle Emily 

Author: Jane Yolen

Illustrator: Nancy Carpenter

Publisher/Date: Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group/2009

Ages: 6-8

Themes: poetry; Emily Dickinson

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This six-year-old has an uncle like no other! His uncle wears long white dresses and never smokes cigars. Gilbert’s uncle is none other than Emily Dickinson . . . Uncle Emily he calls her. And how he loves her. He knows that she writes poems about everything, even dead bees. But it’s a poem about truth that, after a fracas in school, he remembers best. “Tell all the Truth,” the poem begins. And, in finally admitting what went on that day, he learns something firsthand about her poetry, something about her, and a good deal about the importance of telling the truth, no matter how difficult it might be.

Read a review at Publisher’s Weekly.

 A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Author: Alice Faye Duncan

Illustrator: Xia Gordon

Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books/2019

Ages: 5-8

Themes: poetry; Gwendolyn Brooks; biography; Pulitzer Prize; African-American

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks.
Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.
With a voice both wise and witty, Gwendolyn Brooks crafted poems that captured the urban Black experience and the role of women in society. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago, reading and writing constantly from a young age, her talent lovingly nurtured by her parents. Brooks ultimately published 20 books of poetry, two autobiographies, and one novel. Alice Faye Duncan has created her own song to celebrate Gwendolyn’s life and work, illuminating the tireless struggle of revision and the sweet reward of success.

Read a review at Chapter 16 by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, where she features illustrations from the book.

I paired these books because they explore the lives and poetry of two important women from two different eras of American history, but in quite different ways. In My Uncle Emily, Yolen sets up a fictionalized interaction between poet Emily Dickinson and a favorite nephew that centers on Dickinson’s poem, “Tell All the Truth”. Despite the fictional treatment, however, Yolen reveals the truth in Dickinson’s poetry and sheds light on the importance of family to Dickinson. In A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks, Duncan recounts the life of Brooks, starting in childhood, with lyrical text that weaves Brooks’ poetry into the narrative. Poetry is front and center in both picture books, not surprisingly, given the centrality of poetry in the subjects’ lives and in the lives of these gifted authors.