In April thoughts turn to poetry, and with poetry, thoughts often turn to Emily Dickinson whose life inspired this happy circus of a book. Almost every page of MISS EMILY by Burleigh Mutén gave me something to smile about as four children and the poet go on a small adventure. Ten-year-old Mac, a preacher’s son based on a real-life neighbor, narrates the verse novel aimed at children around his age. Characters easily shift the curtain of imagination as Miss Emily takes the role of Queen Prosperina and Mac becomes known as King Boaz the Brave. Queen Prosperina tells stories while leading the children through darkness to met night train carrying circus animals. The children feel safe with a trusted adult who follows the tradition of someone older and trustworthy, while not as dull and dependable as a parent, like Mary Poppins or the Professor in the house where children find a wardrobe that takes them to Narnia. Who’s child and who’s adult? What’s real and what’s pretend?
An invitation to imagine comes through both the beautifully-chosen words and Matt Phelan’s charming graphite illustrations. No answers are pounded, so readers can enjoy the wondering, which is heightened, not lessened, when a mishap that briefly changes the tone, but only deepens the joy, teaches Mac about when to pay attention to Consequences. This book offers both an invitation to meet a poet and a reminder to keep playing. Miss Emily tells Mac, something most of us ache to hear: “Please never improve – you are perfect now.”
Jeannine Atkins is the author of Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie and Their Daughters (Holt) and Views from a Window Seat: Thoughts on Writing and Life. You can learn more on her website at http://www.Jeannineatkins.com.