Jul. 31st, 2017

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The gift shop at Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst had a picture book about Dickinson, Michael Bedard’s Emily, which of course I absolutely had to buy because it was illustrated by one of my all-time favorite illustrators, Barbara Cooney. So many of her books are about creation and imagination, of course she was the perfect choice to illustrate an Emily Dickinson book.

And indeed she was: her precise yet gently numinous drawings of flowers and landscapes are simply perfect for an Emily Dickinson book. The narrator is a child who lives across the street, and gazes at the house with its mysterious occupant with a brooding fascination, especially once she and her mother are invited to visit. (Not to see Emily, of course, just to play piano and chat with her sister.) So there are many pictures of the house, which you think might get dull, but each rendition is different (I particularly like the one of the house in moonlight, in the snow, and another where the narrator looks through the window at the house), and that repetition really dramatizes the fascination.

And I just really liked the text of the book too, so much that it was hard to choose just one passage to quote. But here is one:

Downstairs, Mother played. Tomorrow she would visit the yellow house. I asked her and she said that I might go. It made me feel afraid.

Perhaps the lady in the yellow house is also afraid, I thought. That is why she hides herself. That is why she runs when strangers call. But why - you cannot say. Maybe people are a mystery, too, sometimes.


***

Next week, we’re getting back to the Caldecott books! Next up is the 1989 winner, Song and Dance Man.

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