A Wreath for Emmett Till

( 3 )

Overview

In 1955, people all over the United States knew that Emmett Louis Till was a fourteen-year-old African American boy lynched for supposedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. The brutality of his murder, the open-casket funeral, and the acquittal of the men tried for the crime drew wide media attention.

Award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson reminds us of the boy whose fate helped spark the civil rights movement. This martyr's wreath, woven...
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A Wreath for Emmett Till

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Overview

In 1955, people all over the United States knew that Emmett Louis Till was a fourteen-year-old African American boy lynched for supposedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. The brutality of his murder, the open-casket funeral, and the acquittal of the men tried for the crime drew wide media attention.

Award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson reminds us of the boy whose fate helped spark the civil rights movement. This martyr's wreath, woven from a little-known but sophisticated form of poetry, challenges us to speak out against modern-day injustices, to "speak what we see."
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Nelson's (The Fields of Praise) brilliant heroic crown of sonnets serves not only as an elegy for Emmett Till, the African-American boy from Chicago brutally killed at age 14 while he was visiting Southern relatives in 1955, but also as a compelling invitation to bear witness. As the poet explains in a foreword, a heroic crown of sonnets is comprised of a sequence of 15 interlinked sonnets; each takes the last line of the previous sonnet as its first line, and the form results here in a eulogy both stately and poignant. One especially effective example of this transition occurs when the word "tears" moves from verb to noun: "A mob/ heartless and heedless, answering to no god,/ tears through the patchwork drapery of our dreams" ends one sonnet, which leads into the next, "Tears, through the patchwork drapery of dream,/ for the hanging bodies, the men on flaming pyres,/ the crowds standing around like devil choirs." Both the book's heartrending topic of murderous racism and the linguistically complex form require a sophisticated reader. Nelson's text suggests that readers must acknowledge their inhumanity so that they can make different choices: "If I could forget, believe me, I would," says the narrator. "Emmett Till's name still catches in my throat." For his first book for children, Lardy's remarkable paintings capture the rising emotion and denouement of the historical event, and both text and art weave together the repeated phrases and colors that create a powerful, graceful whole. On a stark blood-red page, the five murderers appear as black crows, while Emmett's face looks directly at readers through a circle of barbed wire thorns. The image is later echoed with the ring of wildflowers that compose a brightly-colored funereal wreath. As if anticipating questions about the book's startling literary allusions and visual symbolism, author and artist both provide explanations. While the book does not flinch from depicting atrocity, in the end, it offers readers hope: "In my house," the narrator says, "there is still something called grace,/ which melts ice shards of hate and makes hearts whole." For those readers who are ready to confront the evil and goodness of which human beings are capable, this wise book is both haunting and memorable. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literary.-Cris Riedel, Ellis B. Hyde Elementary School, Dansville, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Only Marilyn Nelson can take one of the most hideous events of the 20th century and make of it something glorious: An intricate cycle of 15 sonnets-an Heroic Crown, in which the last sonnet is made up of the first lines of the previous 14. As she considers the lynching of Emmett Till, she uses the traditional "language of flowers," plaiting rosemary for remembrance, heliotrope for justice, daisies for innocence through her wreath. Individual poems speak in the voices of a witnessing tree and of Mamie Till Mobley, and broaden the mourning to include all victims of violence. It's a towering achievement, one whose power and anger and love will make breath catch in the throat and bring tears to the eyes. Children's book newcomer Lardy's illustrations are bold and powerful, appropriately choosing disturbing imagery over depictions that are more realistic. The poem is followed by a brief account of Till's lynching, glosses on the individual poems and an essay from the artist explaining his choices of imagery. The latter two are rather unfortunate additions, as the words, purified in the crucible of the form, speak eloquently enough on their own. (Poetry. 12+)
From the Publisher
“These poems are a powerful achievement that teens and adults will want to discuss together.” Booklist, ALA, Starred Review

"Only Marilyn Nelson can take one of the most hideous events of the 20th century and make of it something glorious: An intricate cycle of 15 sonnets—an Heroic Crown, in which the last sonnet is made up of the previous 14. . . . It's a towering achievement, one whose power and anger and love will make breath catch in the throat and bring tears to the eyes." Kirkus Reviews, Starred

"This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. . . . This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attentionto the horrifically ugly events." School Library Journal, Starred

"A moving elegy indeed. . . . Nelson's penetrating elequence ensures that the lyricism marries and draws strength from the structure rather than simply serving it, and the dramatic directness of the address would make these poems powerful indeed for recitation of readers' theater." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Emmett Till's murder by white racists in 1955 was so brutal that his mother let his tortured body testify to the ugly facts in an open-casket funeral. . . .
The elegant formality of the text, with its subtle power of tone and diction, is accentuated by Lardy's stylized, symbolically abstracted illustrations." Horn Book

"[S]ophisticated poetic form." Book Links January 2008 Book Links, ALA

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547076362
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/12/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 48
  • Sales rank: 480,092
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Product dimensions: 7.80 (w) x 7.30 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Marilyn Nelson is the author of Carver: A Life in Poems and Fields of Praise. She has won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award, a Newbery Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Honor. Marilyn lives in Storrs, Connecticut, where she is a professor of English at the University of Connecticut.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2008

    A reviewer

    A Wreath for Emmet Till tells the tail of a young African American fourteen year old boy, Emmet Till, and how he was brutally lynched by two men for whistling at a white woman. Despite Emmet¿s uncle standing against these oppressors and testifying against them, the men were still acquitted, but not before the trial drew the attention of the entire world. This book explains this story through the use of 15 interlinked sonnets, fourteen-line rhyming poem in iambic pentameter, in which each one begins with the last line of the one preceding it, creating a heroic crown of sonnets. The book is beautifully written and captures the pain and sorrow of this horrific act and in the process illustrates the extremes that racism can bring. He text may seem like it is lacking historical evidence or it may seem as though it is very general and more focused on beauty in writing than giving the cold hard facts as backup, however upon further examination the book is filled with historical references that are blended perfectly into the metaphors and other rhetorical devises of the book. This can be seen in the third sonnet of the poem in which the author says that Emmet Tills name still catches in the throats of people ¿like syllables waylaid in a stutterer¿s mouth.¿ This refers to the fact that Emmet had a problem with stuttering so his mom told him to whistle in order to get a word out. He was lynched for whistling at a white woman which is the focus for this book. In the ninth sonnet Nelson makes several references to historical events. The first of these references is the mentioning of matches which hints to the genocidal attacks on Rwanda¿s Tutsi people by their Hutu neighbors. ¿Plies of shoes¿ references the Nazi gas chambers. ¿Bulldozed mass graves¿ references the genocidal attacks of Serbs on Yugoslavia. Finally ¿the broken towers¿ alludes to the World Trade Center. Nelson makes all of these references in order to juxtapose them to the horrors of what happened to Emmet Till. The deeper meaning of these references can all be found in the back of the book adding to the historical accuracy and proving the book is meant to be interpreted in that way. While this was just one boy what happened to him managed to shock both whites and blacks leading to a stronger movement for equality, and his savage killing among other things lead to activists becoming more violent towards their oppressors who committed crimes like these. There is a slight interpretational bias due t the fact that the poems simply reflect the perspectives of people who are on the side of Emmet and not the men that killed him however in this case it is blatantly obvious that the killing was unjust and an act of racism which cancels out any bias that could have occurred. This text could have a strong affect on the reader¿s historical understanding because while it is comprised of poems and not written in a dry fact filled form like a text book is, the true message about racism is in this book. By describing this one event in the manner that it does it ends up summarizing racism in the U.S. as a tree that grew from toots that were nourished through blood. I would honestly give this book a 5. I would give it this high score because it manages to say so much with so little actual text like all good poetry should upon first glance it may seem shallow but with further interpretation and several readings the true brilliance of this book begins to shine. The only thing I would say negatively is that it is obviously comprised of poems so it is not meant for everyone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2014

    Emmet Till boy murdered in1955 at fourteen years

    Its a sad poem about an innocent boy doing nothing and he was lynced

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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