My Uncle Emily

Overview

This six-year-old has an uncle like no other! His uncle wears long white dresses and never smokes cigars. Gilbert's uncle is none other than Emily Dickinson . . . Uncle Emily he calls her. And how he loves her. He knows that she writes poems about everything, even dead bees.

But it's a poem about truth that, after a fracas in school, he remembers best. 'Tell all the Truth,' the poem begins. And, in finally admitting what went on that day, he learns something firsthand about her ...

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Overview

This six-year-old has an uncle like no other! His uncle wears long white dresses and never smokes cigars. Gilbert's uncle is none other than Emily Dickinson . . . Uncle Emily he calls her. And how he loves her. He knows that she writes poems about everything, even dead bees.

But it's a poem about truth that, after a fracas in school, he remembers best. 'Tell all the Truth,' the poem begins. And, in finally admitting what went on that day, he learns something firsthand about her poetry, something about her, and a good deal about the importance of telling the truth, no matter how difficult it might be.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Caldecott Medalist Yolen (Owl Moon) turns her attention to the poet Emily Dickinson and her young nephew, Thomas Gilbert ("Gib"), expanding on some real-life interactions between them to explore the role of poetry in human life. Gib feels obliged to defend his reclusive aunt's honor when a classmate makes fun of her, then can't bring himself to tell his family about the fight. Uncle Emily (their private nickname for her) can tell he's holding back and gives him a poem that explains how he can preserve his integrity-once he understands her poetic language. " 'Tell all the Truth,' it began, 'but tell it slant-/ Success in Circuit lies.' " Carpenter's crisp tableaus evoke the period with restraint: adults poised with teacups, girls in lace collars, boys in short pants. In one striking image, Gib kneels by his bed, studying a dead bee and a poem his aunt has written about it, "as if she wants me to see the world/ one small bee/ and one small poem/ at a time"-a description that might also apply to Yolen. Ages 6-8. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Horn Book
. . . the book's greatest charm may be the way its outcome arises from Emily's oblique yet penetrating wisdom, the loving family dynamics and pacific defusing of the contretemps with the bully add still more appeal.
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Yolen has based her narrator on Gib, the real six-year-old nephew of poet Emily Dickinson, whom he calls his Uncle Emily. She gives him a poem for his teacher, and he gives her a flower, as they enjoy time together. He puzzles over the poem, which he hesitates to take to his teacher. In class, the other students do not understand it. He is punished because he has a fight when Jonathan makes fun of his aunt. His family is told about it and is sympathetic, but he does not want to hurt his Uncle Emily by repeating what Jonathan said. She wants him to, "Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant—" as in a poem she shows him, and so he does, "with a certain care," which makes her smile. Full-page scenes evoke the architecture, clothing, and carriages of late 19th century New England. Carpenter uses an active black pen and ink line plus digital colors like watercolors to create appealing characters, adding a human quality to the famous poet. A note adds what is true about the story, including the complete text of the poem, which has what may be a difficult lesson in it. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal

Gr 2-5

This story is a fictionalized account of Emily Dickinson's interactions with one of her young nephews. "Uncle Emily," as Gib calls his aunt, gives the boy a poem to take to his teacher. When a classmate makes fun of his beloved aunt, labeling her "a peculiar old maid," Gib comes to her defense and gets into a fight. He is afraid to tell his family about the incident until his aunt gives him a poem called, "Tell all the Truth." In an afterword, Yolen explains that Dickinson really did give Gib a poem to take to school, and that the two were very close. The rest of the story, however, is invented. Yolen is a master of word craft and the story is beautifully told in short, rhythmic lines that read like free verse. The story highlights some of Dickinson's well-known characteristics: her white clothing, her love of gardening, and her fondness for children. Carpenter's watercolor and ink illustrations are full of light and done with crosshatching that suggests the printing technique found in late-19th-century children's books. The effect helps place the story in a historical setting. This book is similar to Michael Bedard's Emily (Doubleday, 1992). Both are written at about the same reading level, are beautifully illustrated, and give fictionalized accounts of Dickinson's relationships with children.-Donna Cardon, Provo City Library, UT

Kirkus Reviews
A six-year-old boy stalwartly defends his spinster aunt in a touching incident based on an event in poet Emily Dickinson's life. Gib and his "uncle" Emily "often laugh together about things we two find funny," but not poetry, which is "not a joke at all." When Emily gives him a dead bee and a poem about the bee for his teacher, Gib worries his classmates won't understand the poem. Gib's fears are realized when his classmate calls Emily a "peculiar old maid." Defensively, Gib hits the boy and conceals the incident from his aunt until she urges him with a poem to "Tell all the Truth." Speaking through Gib's first-person voice, Yolen artfully incorporates elements from Dickinson's poetry and life to give readers an inside look at the enigmatic poet from her nephew's fresh and loving perspective. Carpenter's nostalgic, pastel-hued pen, ink and digital-media illustrations capture the atmosphere of late-19th-century Amherst as well as Gil's special relationship with his famous aunt in this poetic vignette. (author's note) (Picture book. 6-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399240058
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/14/2009
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 6 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 10.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts.

Nancy Carpenter lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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