We are excited to join Kidlit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year. For November-December, we are featuring Paranormal Fantasies: Dragons and Unicorns, Vampires and Elves.
As such, we are also sharing picture book biographies of word weavers, fantasy makers, or whose magically-erudite ideas shaped people’s consciousness.
I dimly remember reading Ralph Waldo Emerson when I was an undergraduate student and studiously examining Self-Reliance among his other essays. At the time, I had little idea of the man he had been. This PBB written by Barbara Kerley made me understand the man behind the lofty thoughts and ideas, as well as the socio-political zeitgeist that provided the much-needed context for his written reflections.
The story began with a description of what life was like for him as a boy and how he always longed for a home, as his family moved from one place to the next with his parents struggling to make ends meet. Rather than focus on his early life difficulties, which I am sure would likewise be a fascinating read, the story revolved more on Emerson’s love for books and reading and how he documented his thoughts in a journal which he named The Wide World.
He sounded like a man who knew his own mind, decisive in building a life around the things he loved most: reading books, writing, sharing his thoughts with people, and surrounding himself with like-minded individuals. His vision of his home is not one that is filled with material riches or expensive things, but one that is filled with “character”:
“But we shall crowd so many books and papers, and, if possible, wise friends, into it that it shall have as much wit as it can carry.”
I also particularly liked how he made himself of such service to his community, that he inevitably became quite indispensible around Concord, Massachusetts. He was generous with his time as he threw garden parties for the school children of the town and walked around the orchard with his young children. No task was perceived as too menial for him, as he rounded up wayward hogs as the appointed hog reeve. When his ideas reached thinkers from the other side of the world, he did not just receive visitors from around town but from all over the globe.
Clearly, he was a man who was beloved by the people who knew him. Most erudite individuals are often portrayed to be quite insufferable in real life, but Emerson apparently was not one of those thinkers who thought too highly of themselves. When tragedy struck in the year 1872 (Emerson was 69 years old), it tested the very fabric of what Emerson held dear in his life – his accumulated knowledge, his years of thinking, and the life he has devoted around books and ideas.
How his entire community made him feel better and lifted his spirits is the part that made me tear up in the book. I also loved the endpapers that are filled to the brim with all of Emerson’s quotable quotes:
Teachers would be happy to note that there is a detailed Author’s Note found at the end of the book, including possible extension activites that inspire young readers to think of ways to build their worlds around the things they love. The list of activities are also anchored around some of Emerson’s most famous quotes. As a researcher, I appreciated how meticulous and thorough the authors’ citations are in their list of sources for each of the quotes that they used. Truly, this is what a PBB should look like.
A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. Published by Scholastic Press, 2014. Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Reading Challenge Update: 273 (25)