Saturday, 9 August 2014

Miss Emily

Miss Emily by Burleigh Muten, illustrated by Matt Phelan (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 19.95
ISBN 9780763657345
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Almost everyone knows the poet Emily Dickinson. In this verse novel, we get an insight into her private life and her incredible enjoyment of life which she shared with her nieces, nephews, and their friends with whom Emily spent a great deal of time in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Theirs was a world of make-believe and imagination. Filled with adventure and daring, the story portrays a freedom and way of life unknown to children of today. Play and invention, and the art of storytelling fill the pages. The properness of the era, the regard one person had for the other, and the gentility of life one hundred years ago is strongly represented.

The story is told from the point of view of the youngest member of the group Mac Jenkins, son of Pastor Jenkins, a close friend of Emily’s. Mac later became a writer and wrote several books on Emily Dickinson.

This is an adventure filled with delight and memories. Emily takes her band of young friends on a secret midnight excursion to see the circus arrive by train. Dressed as Amherst gypsies, the outing becomes a play, as do most of their get-togethers. The real gypsies discover the group and draw them into their circle for an added experience. They slip back into the night as quietly as they came, trying to keep their outing a secret.

But a fall causes Mac to sprain his ankle and their escapade is uncovered. Instead of punishment, the Pastor takes the children to the circus. It becomes a night to remember.

It is beautifully told in perfect prose by the gifted Burleigh Muten, a member of the Emily Dickinson International Society, and stunningly interpreted by the highly acclaimed author-illustrator, Matt Phelan. Their collaboration has created a collector’s delight.


The characters in the book were real people. A short biography in the historical notes at the end allows us to learn something about their lives. Included is a rich bibliography. 

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