A Voice of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet

Overview

"Lasky shows not only the facts of Wheatley's life but also the pain of being an accomplished black woman in a segregated world." — BOOKLIST

"We’ll call her Phillis."

In 1761, a young African girl was sold to the Wheatley family in Boston, who named her Phillis after the slave schooner that had carried her. Kidnapped from her home in Africa and shipped to America, she’d had everything taken from her - her family, her name, and her language.

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Overview

"Lasky shows not only the facts of Wheatley's life but also the pain of being an accomplished black woman in a segregated world." — BOOKLIST

"We’ll call her Phillis."

In 1761, a young African girl was sold to the Wheatley family in Boston, who named her Phillis after the slave schooner that had carried her. Kidnapped from her home in Africa and shipped to America, she’d had everything taken from her - her family, her name, and her language.

But Phillis Wheatley was no ordinary young girl. She had a passion to learn, and the Wheatleys encouraged her, breaking with unwritten rule in New England to keep slaves illiterate. Amid the tumult of the Revolutionary War, Phillis Wheatley became a poet and ultimately had a book of verse published, establishing herself as the first African American woman poet this country had ever known. She also found what had been taken away from her and from slaves everywhere: a voice of her own.

A biography of an African girl brought to New England as a slave in 1761 who became famous on both sides of the Atlantic as the first Black poet in America.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Janis Flint-Ferguson
It is 1761. A seven-year-old child born in Africa and given the name of the ship that carried her from that coast to New England, finds herself in the home of John and Susannah Wheatley. Controversy is at hand, both because Susannah believes that the African girl can be educated and because the American colonies will soon be breaking themselves free from their English governors. Susannah certainly treats her slave differently than the southern plantation owners treat their slaves. She gives Phillis books, quills, and paper, and she teaches the girl how to read and write. Phillis' intellect is allowed to shine through, and before long she is reading the Bible and copying the verses from it. But the verses she will become known for are those of her poems. Her first is a poem about a ship that was almost lost off the coast of Cape Cod, published in 1767. Susannah has Phillis read her poetry as entertainment in the fancy homes of Boston. As a result, Phillis lives in between two worlds; she is free like the white, nor is she treated like the black slave. Friends of Reverend George Whitefield arrange for her to visit England, and they help to get her book of poetry published in 1773. Despite political turmoil in the colonies, Phillis's book is sold at home after her return from England. Lasky's narrative and Lee's illustrations are informative and engaging, making this a must-have for middle school classrooms and libraries. Part of the "Candlewick Biographies" series. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson
The Washington Post
Lasky's lyrical text combines perfectly with Paul Lee's illustrations to convey Wheatley's remarkable spirit, as well as the tumultuous times in which she lived. — Karen MacPherson
Publishers Weekly
PW called this picture-book biography of the first published African-American woman poet a "lyrical portrait. The large-scale, realistic acrylics emphasize Wheatley's strength and constancy amidst the turbulent tenor of her times." Ages 8-12. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Kidnapped from her African family and sold as a slave in Boston in 1760, Phillis (named for the ship bringing her to America) is purchased by the slave-owning Wheatleys. Mrs. Wheatley senses Phillis' intelligence and begins to teach her to read and write as an experiment to see if Africans could. Phillis learned not just English but several other languages as well and began to write poems as a preteen. While single poems by her were printed in American newspapers, American publishers refused to publish her poems as a book. A determined Susannah Wheatley sent Phillis to England, where the book was published. Lasky ties Phillis' story to the events unfolding around her regarding the American Revolution. Indeed, the theme of many of the poems is a love of freedom or feelings about oppression. Unfortunately, Lasky's episodic telling is filled with fictionalized thoughts and feelings, as Lasky imagines they would have been. There is a very brief mention of Phillis' adult life and early death. No sources are mentioned and there is no bibliography, not even books or websites where readers may read Phillis' poems for themselves. Lee's large acrylic paintings convey an accurate sense of the period, but Phillis herself seems unchanged through the years. Lasky's and Lee's end notes make it clear that Wheatley's courage, intelligence, determination and love of freedom led them to this work. Although this is a sentimental, imaginative biography, it has relevance for young people today as an introduction to a remarkable woman. 2003, Candlewick Press,
— Peg Glisson
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-Arriving in Boston in 1760 via slave ship when she was just 7 years old, Wheatley became a learned young woman who was writing poetry by the age of 12. "At seventeen Phillis became famous" when her poem honoring the Reverend George Whitefield was read in the Colonies and in England. Lasky's episodic account breaks the picture-book text into chapters that are sometimes fictionalized or speculative and other times explanatory as they sketch the poet's growing accomplishments, her brief trip to England, and the pre-Revolutionary War events unfolding around her. Narrated in simple staccato sentences, the opening slave ship scene emphasizes the starkness of this experience. Later explanations of historical events become more complex. Lasky draws numerous parallels between the poet's love of freedom and the patriots' cause and concludes with her hard at work writing into the night to describe her African roots to a British soldier. The author's focus is on the poet's intellectual accomplishments and the publication of her book-"the first ever written by a black American woman." Wheatley's adult life and early death are skimmed in an epilogue. Lee's handsome acrylic paintings, including a commanding cover portrait, convey a fine sense of the period. However, in the depictions of Wheatley, the young woman never changes much over the years. Except for a small number of manuscript reproductions, sources are not acknowledged. A bit vague and disconnected at times, this book fills a gap as few accounts of the legendary Wheatley are currently available for children.-Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sizable dose of imagination seeks to illuminate the life of Phillis Wheatley, the 18th-century slave poet, but reveals more about the author than the subject. Lasky (Porkenstein, 2002, etc.) opens the story in the hold of the slaver Phillis and then follows Wheatley's life and career as she is purchased by the Wheatleys of Boston, learns to speak, read, and write English, and begins to write and then publish her own poems. Throughout, the author imputes thoughts and feelings-"Boston was the strangest sight Phillis had ever seen"-without substantiation and even introduces dialogue which, without documentation, can only be assumed to be invented-" 'What will you call her?' John Wheatley asked his wife." Perhaps most poignantly, Phillis is presented as treasuring a memory of her mother making an offering to the morning sun; however, even in the poem to which Lasky refers for this image, it does not appear in Wheatley's own writing. Poignant indeed, but the only person the reader can be certain of treasuring this vision is Lasky herself. Lee's (Hank Aaron: Brave in Every Way, 2001, etc.) acrylics glow with color, as if themselves lit by candlelight, effectively enhancing the sentimental mood of the narrative. The representations of Wheatley are clearly based on the only known portrait of the poet, the frontispiece of her volume of published poetry; a certain lack of expression in the illustrations, however, gives her an air of inscrutability. There is not a whiff of a bibliography, not even to refer readers to Wheatley's poetry, which is widely available in print and electronic formats. An author's note describes in lofty terms her motivations behind bringing Wheatley's story to apicture-book audience: "To be voiceless is to be dehumanized. . . . Phillis's first liberation came when she learned to read and write and discovered her own voice as a poet." It is a pity that Lasky chooses to impose her own feelings and voice upon this woman whose voice she purports to celebrate. (Picture book/biography. 6-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763664275
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 9/11/2012
  • Series: Candlewick Biographies Series
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 48
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Kathryn Lasky is the author of many books for children, including SUGARING TIME, a Newbery Honor Book; SHOW AND TELL BUNNIES and SCIENCE FAIR BUNNIES; and VISION OF BEAUTY: THE STORY OF SARAH BREEDLOVE WALKER. Kathryn Lasky says she was drawn to Phillis Wheatley’s story because she was fascinated by the relationship between the writer’s voice, her identity as a slave, and freedom.

Paul Lee is a painter and freelance illustrator. He has illustrated the acclaimed AMISTAD RISING by Veronica Chambers, and THE GOOD LUCK CAT by Joy Harjo. While working on A VOICE OF HER OWN, Paul Lee had to do considerable research to make sure the illustrations were historically accurate - research that even entailed renting costumes from a local opera house.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2003

    Phillis Wheatley

    It was said that Phillis Wheatley was born in Senegal, Africa. She was sold to John Wheaktley as a young person. They taught her to read and write. She published her first poem when she was 14 years old. She was very, very important to the revolutionary war

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