Book Review: My Uncle Emily by Jane Yolen
While the work of American poet Emily Dickinson may be difficult for some readers to fully wrap their heads around, My Uncle Emily tells a tale of honesty that could hit home.
As spelled out in the afterword, some elements of this story are real, some are fictionalized. The main character here is not Emily Dickinson, but her nephew Gilbert (“Gib”). After “Uncle Emily” gives Gilbert a poem to bring to class, he is bullied on the playground. Gib defends Uncle with his fists, but in doing so hurts his ankle and gets in trouble with his teacher. That evening, when Emily asks about his limp, Gilbert only tells half the story. Emily, using her poem “Tell all the Truth”, helps Gib to share the rest of the tale.
Author Jane Yolen employs a free-verse style that reads nicely for adults, but could trip up younger readers. This book may be at its best in a read-aloud setting, where the phrasing and pacing can flow more smoothly.
Nancy Carpenter’s (17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore) pen and ink and digital media illustrations have an old-fashioned quality that fits well with the story. This attention to detail makes for a cohesive reading experience.
While My Uncle Emily works as an introduction to Dickinson and her work, this is more a story of truthfulness. I’m not sure if young readers will leave with a better understanding of her poetry, but it may spark the interest in some for further exploration or classroom discussion.
Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.
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About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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