Review: 'On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson'

Book Title: On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson (available here)

Author: Jennifer Berne

Illustrator: Becca Stadtlander

Publisher: Abrams and Chronicle

Publication Date: February 2020

Most Suitable For: EYFS & KS1

Reviewed By: Jenny Holder

Emily Dickinson lived a quiet life in New England in the 19th century, but her poetry has had an impact upon millions around the globe. On Wings of Words is a beautifully illustrated biography of the life of Emily Dickinson that uses extracts from her writing to demonstrate her feelings, her faith and her quiet courage. Jennifer Berne’s biographical writing has a lyrical quality that reflects the nature of Dickinson’s poetry. We follow the young Emily from her happy childhood to her later days where she dressed in white and was seen by the people of the town as strange. We see how poetry helps her process her emotions and to explore nature and her own inner world. Becca Stadtlander’s artwork evokes the historical period in which Dickinson lived. Her illustrations are based upon images and artefacts from that time, allowing for historical accuracy where possible. However, the illustrations not only depict Emily’s life but also help to represent some of the more abstract images and themes in her poetry. Butterflies are used as a recurring image that show her relationships with nature and faith. At the end of the book, Jennifer Berne provides a guide to Emily Dickinson’s poetry for those who are new to it. Encouragingly, she explains that no-one understands everything about these poems the first time that they read them and that instead, the joy of Dickinson’s work is that they change and evolve as our experiences of the world grow. She also suggests accessible ways in which young readers can begin to get to grips with poetry. On The Wings of Words is a stunning picture book biography that would help children begin to engage with classic poetry.


You can order On Wings of Words online or from your local bookshop or library.

Many thanks to the publisher for sending us a review copy of this book and to Review Panel member Jenny for reviewing it.

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