Birdsong, flowers blooming, “a sea of summer air.” What a singular delight to linger over this new collection of Emily Dickinson poems!
Emily Dickinson, edited by Susan Snively and illustrated by Christine Davenier, is the first book in a new Poetry for Kids series published by MoonDance Press. The 35 poems are arranged by season, beginning with Summer. And what a joyous welcome it is:
It’s all I have to bring today,
This, and my heart beside,
This, and my heart, and all the fields,
And all the meadows wide.
Who could resist such a generous invitation to tag along with Emily as she spies a skittish bird, describes what it’s like to chance upon a snake (“grass divides as with a comb”), and cheerfully provides a “recipe” for making a prairie (“it takes a clover and one bee”)?
After the carefree explorations of summer, there’s a gradual winding down as Autumn arrives, with poems about a garden preparing for the cold weather, sunsets, and the passage from life to death. Winter ruminations strike a fitting contemplative tone: snowfall magically transforming the landscape, an industrious spider spinning a web, imagining what heaven might be like.
With Spring, the welcome signs of new life, a delightful letter from a fly to a bee, and fanciful cloud gazing:
A curious cloud surprised the sky,
‘Twas like a sheet with horns;
The sheet was blue, the antlers gray,
It almost touched the lawns”
This book is a wonderful mix of some of Dickinson’s lesser known poems with iconic favorites such as “Hope is the thing with feathers,” “This is my letter to the world,” “Faith is a fine invention,” and “Because I could not stop for death.”
Readers of all ages will appreciate the sampling of lyrical, playful, thought-provoking, and sometimes somber verses that delightfully showcase Emily’s love of nature and science, her keen powers of observation and sprightly wordplay.
Christine Davenier’s whimsical pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations, with their fluid lines and charming details, are rendered primarily in blues, greens, and reds. We are drawn into a world of constant motion: whirling snow, swirling rose petals and dandelion fluff, kids ecstatically storming out of school, butterflies floating on air, and busy birds pecking and fluttering. There’s a free spirited feel to the art that’s appealing to children, while providing those already familiar with Dickinson a chance to view these poems with fresh eyes.
Davenier’s evocative images also help us visualize some of the figurative elements of Dickinson’s verse. The personified setting sun in “Blazing in gold and quenching in purple” is represented by a riot of color encircling an ecstatic, leaping child, and Davenier’s simple drawing showing rays of sunlight streaming through a winter window amplifies the reflective, wistful mood of “There’s a certain slant of light.”
I love the little girl looking eye to eye with a hedgie in “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” and the dark, heavy diagonal strokes of “giant rain” as it “wrecked the sky” in “The wind begun to rock the grass.” And of course there are the lovely endpapers of a little girl reading neath a tree during daylight, and at book’s end, the same scene at nightfall showing the same girl busy writing in a lighted window.
The book opens with a biographical introduction and word definitions appear beneath many of the poems. Back matter includes brief commentary for each poem (“What Emily Was Thinking”), a Bibliography and an Index of first lines. Overall, a wonderful introduction to Dickinson’s poetry and a lovely keepsake for Emily fans of all ages with enchanting inspiration for budding poets.
I’m so happy to welcome editor Susan Snively to Alphabet Soup today. Susan is an award winning author, poet, professor, scholar, and museum guide and discussion leader for the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts. She’s published both personal and professional essays, four books of poetry, and a novel about the love affair between Emily Dickinson and Judge Otis Phillips Lord, The Heart Has Many Doors (White River Press, 2015). She’s also the screenwriter and narrator of two documentary films on Dickinson: “Seeing New Englandly” (2010) and “My Business is to Sing” (2012).
I know you’ll enjoy hearing more about her work on this book. 🙂
🐝 CHATTING WITH SUSAN SNIVELY 🦋
Your book may very well be the first significant exposure many children will have to Emily Dickinson’s poetry. How did you go about selecting these particular poems, and which characteristics of her work do you think are most appealing to kids?
I tried to select a range of subjects and feelings familiar to children: wonder, curiosity, awe, anticipation, surprise, and love. The poems are arranged by seasons: summer, fall, winter, spring, and populated by creatures like bees, birds, snakes, crickets, and spiders. She often writes about the weather, including thunderstorms, snowfalls, bright sunny days, and the return of spring. Emily Dickinson is wonderful for kids to read aloud, with their families, friends, teachers, and each other. Her poems are full of energy and unforgettable words.
Please tell us about the first time you read one of Emily’s poems and what effect it had on you. Have you been a fan of her work since childhood?
I was a lucky kid, because my mother read to me, and she liked reading poems. I believe I was eight (a long time ago!) when I first heard Emily Dickinson, possibly “A bird came down the walk.” Her language is not like anybody else’s, and I became hooked for life.
What is your favorite poem in the book and why?
My favorite poem today—it changes frequently—is “Safe in their alabaster chambers.” It is about the dead lying in their tombs, but the language is so elegant and beautiful, the sense of awe and peace so striking, that it takes away fear and replaces it with wonder.
Safe in their alabaster chambers,
Untouched by morning and untouched by noon,
Lie the meek members of the resurrection,
Rafter of satin and roof of stone.
Grand go the years in the crescent above them;
Worlds scoop their arcs, and firmaments row,
Diadems drop and Doges surrender,
Soundless as dots on a disc of snow.
In what ways do you think Christine Davenier’s paintings capture the spirit of the poet?
I love Christine Davenier’s illustrations. They are full of dance-movements, and the colors suggest a range of emotions complementing the poems. “Blazing in gold and quenching in purple” fairly leaps off the page, and “From all the jails the boys and girls” pulses with the wild energy of kids let out of school. Davenier also invents some unexpected images, as in “There is no frigate like a book,” where a girl on a book floats down a stream, while watched kindly by a monkey, a snake, a tiger, and an exotic bird. I am thrilled by her work.
Which is your favorite illustration and why?
It’s so hard to choose. Besides the ones mentioned above, I can’t resist the little bird in “Hope is the thing with feathers.” The bird is so vulnerable, pelted by rain and darkness, but it has a darling red head, that captures the bird’s courageous singing in the midst of a storm.
Did you learn anything new about Emily’s life or work as a result of editing this collection? What was your favorite part of working on this project?
I keep learning the same lessons over and over: that Dickinson is inexhaustible, emotionally profound, and full of fun. Several poems I chose, like “The cricket sang,” “I went to heaven,” and “I send two sunsets,” weren’t new to me, but working on this book, I found them fresh and thought-provoking.
How has Emily influenced your own work as a poet?
Every poet I know who reads Dickinson finds that she inspires the aliveness of language. She can also compress a vast experience or emotion into a few words. Best of all, she keeps me quite humble.
What are child visitors to the museum most curious about when it comes to Emily’s life at The Homestead? What about adult visitors?
Children love to hear about Emily’s dog Carlo, a large brown dog who was her constant companion for 16 years. They like to hear about her schooling, her neighborhood, her brother Austin and sister Vinnie, and of course they love the fact that she made excellent gingerbread. Adults want to know about the same things, but also subjects, like her health, her writing habits, her love life, and her death. Every visit brings forth new questions.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about this book?
The poems have some unusual words in them, so I provided some definitions of these words. A section called “What Emily Was Thinking,” gives brief notes on the poems, meant to guide readers into her language.
Thank you so much for visiting, Susan!
Everyone, enjoy this Winter poem:
It sifts from leaden sieves,
It powders all the wood,
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.
It makes an even face
Of mountain and of plain, —
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again.
It reaches to the fence,
It wraps it, rail by rail,
Till it is lost in fleeces.
It flings a crystal veil
On stump and stack and stem, —
The summer’s empty room,
Acres of seams where harvests were,
Recordless, but for them.
It ruffles wrists of posts,
As ankles of a queen, —
Then stills its artisans like ghosts,
Denying they have been.
POETRY FOR KIDS: Emily Dickinson
edited by Susan Snively
illustrated by Christine Davenier
published by MoonDance Press, October 2016
Poetry for ages 8+, 48pp.
**Starred Review** from Kirkus
📕 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 📘
For a chance to win a brand new copy of Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson, simply leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EST) Wednesday, February 8, 2017. You may also enter by sending an email with “EMILY” in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Winner will be announced next Friday. Good Luck!
Check out Susan’s novel:
♥ See also:
- Emily Dickinson’s Poetry of Flowers (+ Rice Cake recipe)
- Author Chat with Burleigh Muten about her verse novel Miss Emily
- “The Emily Dickinson Black Cake Walk” by Sandra M. Gilbert
The inimitable Penny Parker Klostermann is hosting the Roundup at a penny and her jots. Tap dance on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being sharing in the blogosphere this week. Have a nice weekend!
*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, original text copyright © 2016 Susan Snively, illustrations © 2016 Christine Davenier, published by MoonDance Press. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.