[review + editor chat + giveaway] Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson

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”

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friday feast: chatting with burleigh mutén about miss emily

“Truth is so rare, it is delightful to tell it.” ~ Emily Dickinson

I’ve been curious about Emily Dickinson’s relationship with children ever since learning that she used to lower baskets of gingerbread to the neighborhood kids.

That’s why I loved Burleigh Mutén’s delightful verse novel Miss Emily (Candlewick, 2014). It gave me a good sense of how Dickinson might have interacted with four of the children in her life: her niece and nephew Mattie and Ned (who lived next door at the Evergreens), and the pastor’s kids Mac and Sally, who lived across the street.

This fun and suspenseful adventure, where Emily and the children disguise themselves as gypsies to catch a glimpse of the midnight circus train, is told from Mac’s point of view. It is clear the kids all adore Miss Emily and she, them, united as they are in imaginative play and a singular brand of friendship.

Illustrations copyright © 2014 Matt Phelan

I’m so pleased Burleigh is here today to tell us more about writing and researching Miss Emily. I daresay “the children’s laughing goddess of plenty” herself would be quite pleased with this story, as it celebrates her fondness for children and the importance of remaining true to one’s inner child: therein lies the truth about who we really are and should always strive to be.

Look sharp! The circus train is here. All Aboard! 🙂

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friday feast: emily dickinson’s poetry of flowers

“Earth is crammed with heaven.” ~ Emily Dickinson

Please help yourself to Emily’s rice cakes and a cup of green tea.

Hello Spring, is that really you? 🙂

Today we’re greeting the somewhat reluctant, much-awaited season of renewal, rebirth, and regrowth with a little help from esteemed poet Emily Dickinson.

I’m sure you know she was fond of sending friends and acquaintances fragrant bouquets with notes or verses tucked in them, sometimes with a gift of food.

What could be sweeter than homemade gingerbread or coconut cake, nasturtiums and peonies from her garden, and a heartfelt verse she’d penned just for you?

From the New York Botanical Gardens Emily Dickinson Exhibit (2010)

Though she may have eschewed personal contact with people outside the family, Emily was able to sustain longstanding friendships and express romantic inclinations on her own terms. She cultivated and excelled in all three of these pursuits — gardening, baking, writing — as a normal course of each day, all of them requiring practiced skill, time and devotion.

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friday feast: black cake from the woman in white

“Fame is a fickle food upon a shifting plate.” ~ Emily Dickinson


Only authenticated daggeureotype, circa 1846-47,
taken at Mt. Holyhoke Seminary.

Most of the time, when I think of Emily Dickinson, I imagine her in a white dress, sitting at the little writing table in her upstairs bedroom at the Homestead in Amherst, pouring her heart out in a letter, or fearlessly penning another one of her flaming, pithy gems.


Dickinson Homestead, Amherst, MA (Emily’s bedroom = 2 windows, upper left).
photo by Water Rat

Somehow it never occurred to me before that she probably also wrote a fair amount of poems in the kitchen or pantry, scribbling stray thoughts down on scraps of paper or in the margins of newspapers. Surely while she was gathering, adding, or mixing ingredients, inhaling aromas fruity, pungent, spicy, or sweet –she was also mentally combining fleeting images and impressions according to her prevailing mood. Writers, after all, are usually bound by 24-hour recipes.


Handwritten manuscript of “Wild Nights.”

While Emily celebrated the domestic realm as Amherst’s most well-known recluse and eccentric, she did not hesitate to defy certain traditional expectations to meet her own ends, especially with regard to writing. In The Cambridge Introduction to Emily Dickinson (Cambridge University Press, 2007), Wendy Martin states, “Unable to have an office or workplace of her own, Dickinson created one out of the kitchen hearth, the verdant garden, and the small writing table in her upstairs bedroom.”

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