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[Nonfiction Wednesday] “Chance Slips” and Poetic Beginnings in an Imagined Biography

"Emily Writes: Emily Dickinson And Her Poetic Beginnings" by Jane Yolen and Christine Davenier.

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Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2020 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.

While this story is not straight-out nonfiction, it is an inspired and imagined biography grounded on actual research. It is comforting to read Emily Dickinson’s poetic beginnings through the eyes of another poet, Jane Yolen, with lovely illustrations by French artist, Christine Davenier.


Emily Writes: Emily Dickinson And Her Poetic Beginnings (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Jane Yolen Illustrated by Christine Davenier
Published by Henry Holt & Co. (2020)
ISBN: 1250128080 (ISBN13: 9781250128089)
Borrowed from NLB Singapore Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

This story provides a brief but lyrical snapshot of Yolen’s vision of what Emily’s childhood must have been like, based on historical records, Dickinson’s own poems and journals, and biographies written about her.

I was especially taken by this image of Emily collecting scraps of discarded paper (described as chance slips of paper) from her distant Father’s desk, and how she would scribble random words that she would string together as a three-word rhyming poem.

Emily’s budding love for turns of phrases, sounds, and her fascination with the outdoors and nature have been beautifully and softly depicted here – illuminated in muted tones and colours, depicted with subtlety and nuance. Just look at the phrase and the matching image above:

She thinks about the real and the unreal.

Perhaps poems are the in-between,

just as she is in between Austin and Vinnie.

The emotional detachment of both parents have likewise been captured here: the father’s unavailability and the mother’s frail health. Yet, there is also the presence of Mrs. Mack, comforting, attentive, and supportive. What also made this story stand out for me is the Author’s Note found at the end, indicating Yolen’s feelings of shared intimacy with Emily Dickinson, especially as she spent a great amount of time in Dickinson’s homestead, even crafting poems from Emily’s bedroom.

This is a lovely, subdued story that pays tribute to one of the most reclusive female poets who ever lived – definitely a worthy addition to anyone’s bookshelf.


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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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