STARRED REVIEW
March 2020

On Wings of Words

By Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander
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The life of Emily Dickinson is in good hands with picture book biographer Jennifer Berne (On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein). 

On Wings of Words is a reverent tribute to Dickinson’s singular contributions to the world of poetry. Although it begins with her birth and ends with her death, it also describes the discovery, made by her sister after her death, that Dickinson left behind hundreds of poems. “Today almost every library, every bookstore, every school in every city, state, and country has Emily’s poems,” Berne writes.

Writing in a format that resembles Dickinson’s verse (including the occasional use of dashes), Berne even incorporates a few excerpts from her poetry. She avoids sentimentalizing or pathologizing Dickinson’s personality and work. Employing sensory prose and conveying a sense of wonder for her subject, Berne emphasizes Dickinson’s love of nature and literature and, later, her earnest search for answers to life’s sorrows. 

Becca Stadtlander’s detailed, folk art-style illustrations capture Dickinson’s world and bring shape to the metaphors Berne employs to signify Dickinson’s growth as a poet. Many butterflies, as well as other creatures in flight, flutter across these pages, emphasizing how her poems flew “on the wings of Emily’s words.” The backmatter includes an explanation of how Berne defines poetry; a note on how to read, write and share poetry; and a refreshing admission that “no one fully understands or gets everything out of Emily’s poems on the first reading.”

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On Wings of Words

On Wings of Words

By Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander
Chronicle
ISBN 9781452142975

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