In times of grief, I've found there is one thing that helps me tremendously: reading poetry. Specifically the poetry of Emily Dickinson; and even more specifically, her poem that starts with the line "After great pain, a formal feeling comes—" I've come back to this (and other) Emily Dickinson poem many times for its wisdom and acceptance of pain, and its ability to comfort the reader with both.
It was my great pleasure, then, to delve into the life of one of my favorite poets through Jennifer Berne's deftly told On Wings of Words: the Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson, illustrated with whimsy and detail by Becca Stadtlander.
The book tells Emily Dickinson's story, from birth to death and beyond, with snippets of her inimitable verse throughout. It's told fairly chronologically, but it also meanders in the same way Emily's poetry takes you on a circuitous journey of the soul. All while being accessible for a young (and sophisticated) reader.
Emily was an unusual person with an extraordinary creative mind, but oftentimes she was completely ordinary—just like all of us. She loved her family and friends, she explored nature, she loved books, she felt deeply; and through these acts, highlighted in the book, young readers will surely see themselves in Emily.
I could imagine a child being inspired by Jennifer's words, Becca's art, and Emily's words (in italics below) combined:
"She became a bird, a worm, a ghost, a god.
A beggar, a king, a somebody, a nobody."
Who are you?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! They'd banish us—you know!
This is my favorite spread from the book, showing Emily atop a leaping grasshopper.
It was Emily's own words that soothed her during tough times, just as her words do for so many of us now. Immerse yourself in Emily's world with this fantastic picture book biography,
You can find On Wings of Words: the Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson:
- through your independent bookstore here, here, or here
- through Barnes & Noble here
- through Books-a-Million here
- and if you're in the UK (like me), you can find the book at Waterstones, Foyles, and Hive (which is kinda like indiebound). Hive also has the ebook here.
And please check out my other picture book reviews:
Number 7 Evergreen Street
How I came to be writing these reviews
On Wings of Words: the Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson, written by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander
Published by Chronicle Books
Hardcover ISBN 9781452142975
Ages 5 - 8
$18.99 USD / £13.99 GBP