From the Publisher
Mutén’s consciously mannered style lends the story a quaint tone. Dickinson seems oddly charming, her whimsy leavened by warmth and appealing humor. … The illustrations... are well suited to the spare text: Phelan... wisely choose line drawing and grisaille; both eschew color. This is as it should be, when feeling comes through words.
—The New York Times Book Review
"Miss Emily" is Emily Dickinson, and Mutén’s novel, appropriately penned in free verse, presents the poet as an engaging, warm, and somewhat whimsical personality. ... Phelan successfully uses softly muted black-and-white pencil sketches to capture this suspenseful tale of a midnight adventure. They gently imbue this charming story with a wonderful mix of humor and daredevilry.
—School Library Journal
Uplifting and clever, Mutén’s tale also includes a layer of biographical detail sure to tantalize Dickinson lovers everywhere.
[T]his slim verse novel celebrates the joys and troubles of a simpler time. Mutén’s free verse moves apace, capturing both the romance of the adventure and the plain beauty we associate with Dickinson’s poetry. For their part, Phelan’s graphite sketches, each identified by the line of text it depicts, convey an atmosphere of old-fashioned zeal. Based on actual relationships and events, this fantastical outing will foster curious readers’ imaginations
The tale has a measure of old-fashioned charm.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
This charming story, based on true events, is appropriately told in free verse. ... Lovely.
—The Plain Dealer
Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
What will young readers make of this odd but charming story set in nineteenth-century Amherst, in which the title character is, indeed, poet Dickinson? If they are familiar with her poems, they will not be surprised by her imaginative and exuberant adventures including her niece and nephew and two youngsters from across the street. Biographies emphasizing her later reclusiveness may, on the other hand, make the tale somewhat unexpected. Four lively children receive an invitation from Miss Emily and hasten to her side, learning that the circus is arriving in town. Her plan is for them to meet at midnight and creep to the railroad station to watch the unloading. Told by MacGregor Jenkins, the pastor’s boy, the tale unfolds like a Romantic poem with roaring train, horses and elephants, tiger and rhinocerosand gypsies who tell fortunes. Unfortunately, reality intrudes when Mac falls and sprains his ankle. The truth must be told to his parentsMiss Emily takes responsibility. Despite this setback, the indomitable adventurers do get to see the circus, later becoming stars in a circus of their own, when Miss Emily (alias Queen Prosperina) swings across the Dickinson barn on a rope, flying high. Historical notes identify famous circus performers of the time and the real children, whom Dickinson loved. Her note to them is authentic: Please never grow up…Please never improveyou are perfect now. So is her poem “We never know how high we are,” which seems written for the occasion. Phelan’s impressionistic ink and pencil drawings suggest a remoter time, while capturing the drama of imaginative play. Readers ready for other adventures might try Phelan’s graphic novel Around the World (Candlewick, 2011) about sailor Joshua Slocum, reporter Nelly Bly, and wheelman Thomas Stevens. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft; Ages 8 to 12.
School Library Journal
Gr 3–5—"Miss Emily" is Emily Dickinson, and Mutén's novel, appropriately penned in free verse, presents the poet as an engaging, warm, and somewhat whimsical personality. In this story, readers meet her through the eyes of her four young neighbors who gravitate to her garden for fun and adventure. Whether they must "slither like slugs" or pretend to be a band of Gypsies, Miss Emily always has surprises in store. She encourages the children to sneak out of their houses late at night because the traveling circus is coming to town. She wants them to experience the magical sight of the animals being unloaded, feel the excitement as the tents are set up, and be mesmerized by the fortune-teller. Of course, the adventure goes awry, and the children's escapades are discovered, but in the end, Miss Emily takes responsibility for the plan and saves the day. Phelan successfully uses softly muted black-and-white pencil sketches to capture this suspenseful tale of a midnight adventure. They gently imbue this charming story with a wonderful mix of humor and daredevilry. Miss Emily is a welcome middle grade novel for emergent readers as well as those who are more proficient. It draws readers in, captures their imagination, and does not disappoint. The inclusion of historical notes and a bibliography may prompt further inquiry by a new generation of Dickinson lovers. The light verse also makes for a wonderful read-aloud choice or can be used to enhance a poetry lesson.—Carole Phillips, Greenacres Elementary School, Scarsdale, NY
The Belle of Amherst leads some young friends on a grand adventure. Drawing on Dickinson's playfulness and delight in children, Mutén fashions this light verse story told from the perspective of young MacGregor "Mac" Jenkins, the pastor's son who lived across the street from the Dickinson residence (in real life) and was a playmate of the poet's niece and nephew. With the help of Phelan's wispy, textured drawings, Mutén imagines the famously reclusive poet playfully disguised as "Proserpina—Queen of the Night," leading her tiny band of "Amherst gypsies" on a midnight quest to spy the arrival of the Great Golden Menagerie and Circus at the Amherst train station. Both poet and children thrill at the opportunity to meet a fortuneteller and witness the unloading of exotic circus animals, but as they speed home to avoid being recognized, Mac falls and injures himself. Mac's resulting convalescence, landing him "housebound / like a winter bee in the hive," draws not only an unprecedented visit from "Miss Emily," but the chance for her to treat Mac and friends to another tale. It also gives Mutén an apt occasion to weave in a bit of actual correspondence from the poet to the children outlining her wish: "Please never improve—you are perfect now." Uplifting and clever, Mutén's tale also includes a layer of biographical detail sure to tantalize Dickinson lovers everywhere. (biographical notes, bibliography) (Verse novel. 8-12)