Emily Dickinson In Picture Books

While gathering books from the library for Women's History Month, I came across two picture books about poet Emily Dickinson.  I had so many books to cover for WHM already, but I decided to wait until April to read these with the girls.  After all, what is National Poetry Month without a little Emily Dickinson?

My Uncle Emily by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter.
Philomel, 2009.

We checked My Uncle Emily out before, but the girls were small enough that they don't remember.  Since that time, the book appears to have gone out of print, which is such a shame.  Jane Yolen is such a wonderful writer, and she takes a small amount of known information about her subject and imagines a day in the life of Dickinson and her young nephew.

Thomas Gilbert Dickinson, called Gib, lived with his family next door to the Dickinsons in Amherst.  He and his "Uncle" Emily were especially close.

In real life, it is known that Emily gave Gib a poem and a dead bee to take to his teacher at school.  Emily Dickinson was already very reclusive, but she was popular with children.  She would often lower a basketful of gingerbread from her bedroom window for the neighborhood kids.

Yolen imagines a scenario in which another boy picks a fight with Gib over Emily and her strangeness.  Both boys wind up in trouble and are punished.  However, when the time comes to write "thank you" notes to Emily, the naughty boy's note, written in verse, is one of the best of the bunch.

Gib tells his older brother about the incident.  He warns Gib not to tell Uncle Emily, as it might spoil the day. Instead, Gib recounts the day as a success, leaving out the fight.  Emily knows Gibb too well, though, and asks him to tell her what else happened that day.  Gibb runs outside in tears.  Later, Emily finds him, and presents him with one of her most famous poems.

I remember that the first time I checked out this book, it was to see more of Nancy Carpenter's work.  As you can tell from these pictures, she is a fabulous illustrator of picture books - one of my favorites.  In the author's notes, we discover that young Gib died of typhoid only two years after bringing the bee poem to school.  You can read more about Jane Yolen's writing of the book here.

Emily and Carlo by Marty Rhodes Figley, illustrated by Catherine Stock.
Charlesbridge, 2011.
 Another beloved companion of Emily Dickinson was her dog, a Newfoundland named Carlo, after a dog in Jane Eyre.  

Emily and Carlo tells how Emily Dickinson was happy to spend her days at home, writing poetry.  When she was 19, however, the house seemed very empty.  Her sister went away to school, while her brother was busy at college.  Her father presented her with a large puppy to keep her company.

The book quotes letters and poems Emily wrote, referring to her beloved pet.  With Carlo, Emily found the courage to go into town and take walks in the countryside.

Gib and his older siblings make an appearance in the story.  When Emily's brother married, he built his grand house, The Evergreens, next door to the Dickinson family home.  Carlo loved to play with the children.

When the pair stayed at home, she would write poems, such as this one.

Emily and Carlo were only separated when Emily had to go away to see a doctor for her eyes.  She did not want Carlo to be confined in the small room where she knew she'd be staying.

Eventually, the inevitable happened.  Carlo grew old and slow, and eventually, he died.

Emily Dickinson never had another dog.  She seldom left her house now, but the memory of Carlo and their explorations lingered in her poetry.

Emily and Carlo is a touching story about the love of a pet, and the use of Dickinson's own words is lovely. Let's not forget to give a shout-out to the artist, too!  Catherine Stock, who also illustrated The Daring Miss Quimby (featured here last month), is marvelous.

For more on Emily Dickinson, visit the Emily Dickinson Museum website.  You can also find her poetry on Poets.org, the website for the Academy of American Poets.

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  1. I recently found My Uncle Emily too—a great find! Just the title makes it impossible not to open up and read. :)

  2. this is WAY cool, had no idea these books existed!!! lovely. no idea that Emily had a dog. Amazing finds!!!!

    1. Both are quite lovely! I'm not sure they give that much information about Emily Dickinson, but at least when the girls read or hear a Dickinson poem, they can say, "Oh, yeah, she gave a dead bee and poem to her nephew to give to his teacher!" Or, "the poet with the big dog!" Little things like that? ;)

  3. How sweet. I had no idea. You always find the coolest books.

    1. What I have is a decent internet connection and 24-hour access to Polaris on our library website. While I miss the tangibility of the old card catalog system, it's so awesome to hunt around for interesting books after the kids are in bed. "OOoo, do they have any books about this? By this author?" Throw in all the awesome book blogs and articles and Pinterest, I can be glued to Polaris for hours...

  4. Me too, I had no idea! I love Emily Dickinson, these books seem so beautiful and I love the illustrations in both! Thanks for sharing :)


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