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The kind folks at Candlewick sent me a copy of this splendid novel in verse for middle grade readers, and I have been a bit remiss in not posting about it before now. I blame my own (dis)organizational issues, as it was in a pile where it did not belong, and I found it while tidying the small bookcase in question just the other day. But truly, I digress.

Besides, there's no such thing as a BAD time to sing a book's praises, is there?

Burleigh Mutén has done a lot of homework, which you can tell from her assured story-telling and from the lengthy-for-such-a-thin-book bibliography in the back, but you will be happy to know that she has not shared all of her facts and details with you in crafting this story. The book is both about and not about Emily Dickinson. It is, in fact, more about MacGregor ("Mac") Jenkins, the minister's son who lived across the street from the Dickinson mansion in Amherst, Massachusetts, than it is about Miss Emily herself.

Turns out that when her brother's children were young (before Dickinson's probable epilepsy worsened and nephew Ned's made itself manifest, and long before Mabel Loomis Todd moved to town and took up with Emily's brother), Aunt Emily liked children. Not just her nephew, Ned, (other information I've read seemed to say she had little time for her niece, Mattie), but also for the children who lived across the street, Mac Jenkins and his sister, Sally.

Mutén paired information she learned about Dickinson's open and friendly relationship with the children from across the street with information about the kids all reenacting the circus in the upstairs hall at her brother's house and concocted a story in which Miss Emily sneaks out at night with the children to watch the circus animals and people disembark from the train.

It's a clever set-up, and provides a playful view of Dickinson, who is depicted as a down-to-earth, social creature rather than a cloistered woman who kept herself apart from all society.

The book is a breezy read, made so by the slim lines of the text down the page. It is helped along by occasional pencil drawings by Matt Phelan. The Introduction of the book makes clear that the author has taken liberties, saying, "Although the characters and circumstances of this story are based in reality, I too have accepted childhood's invitation to lay a veil over reality for a bit of dedicated play." My one quibble, and it is kind of a minor one, is that there is no information in the back matter that makes clear which parts are reality (the circus came to town, the kids reenacted it in the upstairs hall at Emily Dickinson's brother's house), and which are fiction (I'm thinking most of the rest of it?). But since there is so much historical information in the back of the book, complete with a bibliography, I thought it would have been nice to have that particular information.

My thanks to Ms Mutén for her story, to Matt Phelan for his illustrations, and to Candlewick for sending me this lovely middle grade novel in the first place.





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