Poetry is layers of response to sensory experiences. It puts into words what others may see, hear, smell, taste or touch but are unable to express verbally. Poetry presents the here and now sometimes wrapped in the past with the ability to be revealed in the future. It is the beating heart of a culture. Poetry is us.
The words of any one poet tend to influence a shifting number of people. A poet whose work is most notable above many others is that of Emily Dickinson. In On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life Of Emily Dickinson (Chronicle Books, February 18, 2020) written by Jennifer Berne with illustrations by Becca Stadtlander, we are presented with a lovely view of this woman and her work. It is a composition of moments in her life, her words and impressive images.
Soft moonlit snow draped the Dickinson House in white.
It reaches to the Fence---
It wraps it, Rail by Rail,
Till it is lost in Fleeces---
It flings a Crystal Veil
As a young girl Emily found great pleasure in all things outdoors, the flowers, insects, birds and gentle winds, but storms were not to her liking. She held great affection for her brother and her classmates at school. Although Emily grew as other children around her exhibiting their personalities, Emily was different. Emily's senses were higher tuned
Emily had a great affinity for books, all kinds of books, even those not receiving parental approval. Her gratitude for her brother's, Austin's, help in acquiring those volumes grew. Although these collected words brought her much joy, sorrow was a constant companion. Loved ones succumbed to death's call.
Life and death, opposites, raised questions for Emily. And she sought answers. She decided to place her beliefs in those things which gave her the greatest meaning. She walked her own path.
As Emily grew into a young adult, her thoughts formed written words. The written words formed poems. These poems sustained Emily in her solitude. They gave her insight into things small and large in places throughout the world.
Emily began to stay within her room and her circle of family and friends became smaller. She adored children and her dog, Carlo. She started to wear white, exclusively. Emily wrote until the day she died. It wasn't until after her death, that the magnitude of her writing was discovered by her younger sister, Vinnie. Since that day, the world has been able to celebrate the wonder of Emily's words.
Marvelous descriptions flow on every page representing the life of Emily Dickinson through the words of author Jennifer Berne. Poetry is depicting the life of a poet. Repetition of words and phrases create a soothing but informative cadence. In support of the narrative of Emily's life are her own words, at times woven into the text written by Jennifer Berne. Here is a passage.
Every day Emily's life rippled with new joys.
And swayed with new feelings.
It was clear Emily was becoming a person---
in many ways like other people---only more so.
Her happys were happier. Her sads were sadder.
Her thoughts were deeper. Her desires were stronger.
And oh, there was so much that Emily loved.
My heart grows light so fast that I could
mount a grasshopper and gallop around the
world, and not fatigue him any!
Rendered in gouache and watercolor the illustrations on the matching dust jacket and book case and on all the pages are a luminescent tribute to this woman and her body of work. They, completed by artist Becca Stadtlander, reflect the words and life of Emily Dickinson in their delicacy, elegance and historical accuracy. How perfect it is to have Emily placed on a butterfly traveling through the world of her words. The softly brushed clouds and sky extend to the left of the spine in their simplicity and beauty. The title text in a deep, nearly black blue, is varnished.
On the opening and closing endpapers are enlarged words written by Emily Dickinson in her own hand. On the verso page is a single candle burning. On the title page a small butterfly, nearly white, floats above the title text.
Each illustration, two-page pictures or single-page images, are simply masterful. Each exquisite detail completes a more breathtaking whole. They supply us with the reality of Emily's world and the fascination of her imagined realm. Several of the double-page images will leave you gasping.
Becca Stadtlander paints scenes of Emily as a child wandering among flowers with a rabbit nearby and a butterfly sipping nectar. Butterflies glide above a pastoral landscape as Emily rides upon her grasshopper with them. In one illustration Emily's eyes occupy two pages with her nose positioned in the gutter. In each of her eyes is a startling view of our natural world.
One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages. As a canvas, moving from left to right, is a swirl of darker colors shifting to lighter hues on the lower right. In this swirl are leaves, vines, flowers, and a dragonfly. They frame Emily on the left as she sits at her desk reading a book by candlelight.
Your appreciation for this woman will grow (even if you've never read one of her poems) as you read On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life Of Emily Dickinson written by Jennifer Berne with illustrations by Becca Stadtlander. At the close of the book are features titled:
About Emily's Poetry
Discovering The World Of Poetry
Books by and about Emily
Author's Note and
I highly recommend this title for all collections. Not only does it offer us a window into this woman's life, but it is a book to read repeatedly. It is the glorious calm in a storm.
To learn more about Jennifer Berne and Becca Stadtlander and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites. Jennifer Berne has an account on Facebook. Becca Stadtlander has accounts on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. There is a post about Jennifer Berne and this book at KidLit 411. This book and artwork are featured at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. There are interior pages available for you to see at the publisher's website.
There are more nonfiction titles to explore by visiting Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher. I wonder what books have been included this week by other participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.