Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Women's History Month Book Review: Emily and Carlo, by Marty Rhodes Figley (Charlesbridge, 2012)

Recommended for ages 6-adult.

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I've never been a big fan of Emily Dickinson--I've always found her poetry challenging and thought of her as the reclusive, dour-looking New England spinster that we've all seen in photographs.

What a different Emily we encounter in the wonderful new picture book, Emily and Carlo, by Marty Rhodes Figley.  When Emily's siblings both left the Dickinson home, we learn that her father brought her home a big, black, slobbery puppy (probably a Newfoundland) to entertain her and keep her company.  She named him Carlo, after one of the dogs in Jane Eyre, and thus began a wonderful friendship that lasted sixteen years.  Figley's text combines excerpts from Dickinson's poems and letters with narrative that brings to vivid life Emily and Carlo's close relationship over the years.  With the big dog by her side, the normally shy Emily explored the town of Amherst and the woods and meadows nearby.  Through the book, we see Emily and Carlo grow older together, with the inevitable loss that must come when Carlo dies.  The author writes in simple but eloquent text:

"Emily missed her best friend.  Carlo was her only dog for sixteen years.  She never had another."

There are not that many picture books for children that are based on scholarly papers published in academic journals.  Emily and Carlo is one, however; Figley is not only a member of the Emily Dickinson International Society, but also the author of an academic paper on Emily and Carlo that was published in The Emily Dickinson Journal.  

Back matter includes an Author's Note, additional biographical information on Dickinson, sources of quotations, and a brief bibliography.  

After reading Emily and Carlo, I am eager to rediscover Emily Dickinson's poetry, and I'm sure many sensitive young readers would feel the same.  The book provides a fresh perspective on this celebrated author, one that makes her accessible to children and adults alike.  This would be a terrific book to use in conjunction with a lesson on Emily Dickinson and her poetry, or just to read and enjoy for its luminous watercolor artwork by Catherine Stock and its quietly moving text about the powerful love between a dog and its owner.   

To learn more about Emily and Carlo, check out Marty Rhodes Figley's post on Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month.

Would you like to win a copy of this book along with a prize pack of other new women's history picture books?  Leave a comment on Marty Rhodes Figley's post or any other on Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month.  Each comment you leave gives you an entry to win!


PragmaticMom said...

Emily Dickinson did seem like she was a bit elusive but that she liked children. It's nice to see this side of her! The dog angle would also appeal to kids. I can probably get my 4th grader to read this, and she's resistant to poetry right now.

Tammy Flanders said...

Thanks for the recommendation. Looks like a great addition for the Doucette Library (university curriculum library).
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