A Wreath for Emmett Till

A Wreath for Emmett Till

3.3 3
by Marilyn Nelson, Philippe Lardy

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A martyr's wreath, woven from a little-known, sophisticated form of poetry, is about the life of Emmett Louis Till, an African American boy lynched for supposedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955. 2006 Printz Honor Award.


A martyr's wreath, woven from a little-known, sophisticated form of poetry, is about the life of Emmett Louis Till, an African American boy lynched for supposedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955. 2006 Printz Honor Award.

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+)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.00(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.25(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

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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