Walt Whitman: Words for America

Overview


The pioneering team that brought you the Caldecott Honor-winning THE DINOSAURS OF WATERHOUSE HAWKINS focuses their remarkable skills and vision on Walt Whitman--poet, American, Civil War hero.

Did you know that poet Walt Whitman was also a Civil War nurse? Devastated by his country dividing and compelled to service by his brother's war injury, Walt nursed all soldiers-Union & Confederate, black & white. By getting to know them through many intense and affecting ...

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Overview


The pioneering team that brought you the Caldecott Honor-winning THE DINOSAURS OF WATERHOUSE HAWKINS focuses their remarkable skills and vision on Walt Whitman--poet, American, Civil War hero.

Did you know that poet Walt Whitman was also a Civil War nurse? Devastated by his country dividing and compelled to service by his brother's war injury, Walt nursed all soldiers-Union & Confederate, black & white. By getting to know them through many intense and affecting experiences, he began to see a greater life purpose: His writing could give these men a voice, & in turn, achieve his greatest aspiration--to capture the true spirit of America. Dramatic, powerful, & deeply moving, this consummate portrait of Whitman will inspire readers to pick up their pens & open their hearts to humanity.

An Honor Book for the 2005 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Booklist

November 15, 2004

Gr. 4-8. Although Whitman is most known for poetry "as free-ranging as his big, robust country," much of this treatment focuses on the writer's Civil War experiences providing company and small comforts to wounded soldiers. Lines of poetry elucidate Whitman's thoughts about the war, with the full text of the poems or sections of poems appearing at book's end. It's no surprise that this hasn't the instant appeal of Kerley and Selznick's The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Watkins 0 (2002). The vicissitudes of a poet's life are of less inherent interest to young readers than dinosaur bones, and what whisper of excitement there is in Whitman's biography, Kerley downplays by focusing on his war-scarred twilight years rather than his reverberating "barbaric yawp" against starchy literary tradition. Like his collaborator's narrative, though, Selznick's contributions reflect a keen passion for research, right down to the subtle references to early editions of Leaves of Grass 0 in the book's typeface and design. Try this sophisticated offering on readers who won't quail at the lengthy text and who will be less likely to skip the dense, illuminating endnotes. Younger readers may profit more from the more straightforward presentation of Whitman's words in Loren Long's excellent When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer0 , reviewed 0 on p.583. --Jennifer Mattson Copyright 2004 Booklist

Kirkus STARRED

Review Date: SEPTEMBER 15, 2004

A visual and textual portrait of America's most revolutionary and celebrated poet. Kerley distills Whitman's wide-ranging biography, centering on the significant themes of his life: his passion for words, America, and the common man, as well as his torment over race, democracy, and the Civil War. Beginning with the iconic 1855 cover portrait, brash, yet melancholy, the effect is outsized stateliness in which "you will feel every word . . . " and illustration. Depicting Whitman as both a literal and metaphorical journeyman, Selznick paints him hiking with the pages of his habitual notebooks floating around him, each with a word from his poetry, graphically bursting the boundaries of convention. A dramatic page-turn introduces the Civil War, the axis of Whitman's career and the nation's anguish. Two galleries of portraits based on actual daguerreotypes project the heroism of Whitman's mythic common man as encountered in military photos and in hospital wards. A cultural force rendered with power and immediacy for a new generation. (notes, sources, poetry excerpts) (Nonfiction. 9-14)

Horn Book Magazine

(November 1, 2004

(Intermediate) Focusing on the Civil War years, this movingly illustrated picture-book biography introduces one of America's most prominent writers to elementary school readers. Beginning with Whitman's work as a printer's apprentice, the story moves quickly through his early writings to his work in hospitals during the Civil War, his admiration for Abraham Lincoln, and the poetry that stemmed from his experiences. In well-crafted prose, Kerley stresses the poet's love of words and his compassion for the common people. Selznick extends the text with glorious colored-pencil drawings -- double-page spreads as well as miniatures set off with ample margins. We see the young Whitman immersing himself in crowds and delightedly running naked on the beach, and, as an older man, interviewing slaves and sharing a campfire with soldiers. The quoted lines are carefully chosen for the audience, and more complete versions of the poems are included in the back matter, which also features author's and illustrator's notes, sources, and a bibliography. Whitman lovers everywhere should give joyful thanks for this splendid presentation. Copyright 2004 of The Horn Book, Inc. All rights reserved.

School Library Journal

STARRED November 1, 2004


Publishers Weekly
The creators of The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins open this innovative, intriguing biography with an anecdotal look at the poet's early years as a printer's apprentice in Brooklyn, where his love of words was born. By the age of 19, Walt was writing and printing his own newspaper. With a lyricism and an ardor that echoes Whitman's own, Kerley writes of his passion for both language and for "rambling," the latter luring him onto Manhattan's city streets ("in these ordinary Americans he saw the true spirit of the nation") as well as the countryside (in "every leaf and blade of grass, he felt America's grace and vigor"). The heart of this story centers on the wrenching though inspiring effects the Civil War had on Whitman who, too old to enlist in the Union army, traveled to Virginia to stay with his wounded younger brother, then spent years caring for other hospitalized, often dying soldiers-the source of some of his most memorable verse. The elegant design of the paper-over-board volume features a die-cut cover image of the poet that echoes the dust jacket of the original 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, as well as text set in Whitman's favorite typeface (also used in Leaves) arranged in vertical or horizontal panels-or set directly into the art. Selznick's versatile illustrations encompass a stark realism (sepia-toned daguerreotypes of Civil War soldiers, based on actual photographs) and surreal whimsy (as Whitman walks in the country by moonlight, the sky above is filled with open notebooks bearing words from his writing). Copious quotes from his poems and correspondence let Whitman's eloquent voice resonate through the pages, and bountiful source notes remove any doubt of these talented collaborators' affection and admiration for their subject-their enthusiasm is convincing and contagious. Ages 7-10. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Incorporating many actual quotes from Whitman's correspondence, poems, and other writings into text and pictures, this book is a bold introduction to the person who changed poetry forever. Kerley respects the reader but makes Whitman and his times understandable for those with a rudimentary knowledge of the Civil War, Lincoln, and the havoc wreaked by the War Between the States. Some of the most moving passages and illustrations are ones that convey the poet's compassion for injured soldiers dying far from ones who love them. Whitman's love of all humankind, his sensuous enjoyment of nature, his outreach, and the composition of his poem "O Captain, My Captain" are included. The text ends with the open-handed invitation: "Whoever you are now I place my hand upon you that you be my poem." In extensive author and illustrator notes, both creators reveal the sources of their inspiration, cover more completely the trajectory of Whitman's life, and give the reader a deeper sense of Whitman's admiration for Lincoln. It is especially telling to see what Selznick drew upon to create his powerful images and montages and children will look again with deeper appreciation after reading these notes. In an effort not to shortchange Whitman's poetry, Kerley has included eight longer excerpts from "Leaves of Grass." As an introduction to "The Good Gray Poet," this book succeeds on every level. Older readers who wish to learn more about Whitman should search out Catherine Reef's 1995 biography, Walt Whitman. 2004, Scholastic, Ages 9 to 14.
—Susan Hepler, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 4 Up-An exuberant picture-book biography that focuses on Whitman's formative years and his selfless work as a Civil War nurse. Delightfully old-fashioned in design, its oversized pages are replete with graceful illustrations and snippets of poetry. The brilliantly inventive paintings add vibrant testimonial to the nuanced text. Kerley likens the poet's restless energy to the nation itself: "Walt wrote poems as free-ranging as his big robust country. More than anything, he hoped to become the voice of America." When the conflict begins, the artist supplies a somber-hued gallery of soldiers posed in their uniforms. As the war wears on, Kerley notes the fondness Whitman held for his embattled president, whom he'd often see on the streets of the capital. Forced to return home because of his health, he heard news of the war's end, and a few days later, of Lincoln's death. Kerley observes that at this point Whitman turned again to poetry to help himself, along with the nation, resolve his grief and turn toward peace and rebuilding. There are several excellent biographies for older readers that serve the needs of report writers. Libraries will want to add this unabashedly glowing tribute as well for the infectious zeal both author and illustrator bring to their subject and his writings, excerpts of which can be found woven seamlessly into the text and the art.-Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A visual and textual portrait of America's most revolutionary and celebrated poet. Kerley distills Whitman's wide-ranging biography, centering on the significant themes of his life: his passion for words, America, and the common man, as well as his torment over race, democracy, and the Civil War. Beginning with the iconic 1855 cover portrait, brash, yet melancholy, the effect is outsized stateliness in which "you will feel every word . . . " and illustration. Depicting Whitman as both a literal and metaphorical journeyman, Selznick paints him hiking with the pages of his habitual notebooks floating around him, each with a word from his poetry, graphically bursting the boundaries of convention. A dramatic page-turn introduces the Civil War, the axis of Whitman's career and the nation's anguish. Two galleries of portraits based on actual daguerreotypes project the heroism of Whitman's mythic common man as encountered in military photos and in hospital wards. A cultural force rendered with power and immediacy for a new generation. (notes, sources, poetry excerpts) (Nonfiction. 9-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780439357913
  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/28/2004
  • Pages: 56
  • Sales rank: 315,486
  • Age range: 7 - 10 Years
  • Lexile: AD970L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 12.30 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author


Barbara Kerley's award-winning biographies—including WHAT TO DO ABOUT ALICE? and THE EXTRAORDINARY MARK TWAIN (ACCORDING TO SUSY), both illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, and THE DINOSAURS OF WATERHOUSE HAWKINS and WALT WHITMAN: WORDS FOR AMERICA, both illustrated by Brian Selznick—are consistently praised for their lively prose, meticulous research, and artistic presentation style. Kerley lives in Portland, Oregon. You can visit her online at www.barbarakerley.com.

In addition to The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick is the illustrator of the Caldecott Honor winner, The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, and The New York Times Best Illustrated Walt Whitman: Words for America, both by Barbara Kerley, as well as the Sibert Honor Winner When Marian Sang, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, and numerous other celebrated picture books and novels. Brian has also worked as a set designer and a puppeteer. When he isn’t traveling to promote his work all over the world, he lives in San Diego, California, and Brooklyn, New York.

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