Michael Bedard was born and raised in Toronto, where he still lives. His novels include Stained Glass, A Darker Magic, Painted Devil, and Redwork, which received the Governor General's Literary Award and the Canadian Library Association's Book of the Year Award for Children. He has also written several acclaimed picture books, including The Clay Ladies, which received the Toronto IODE Book Award, and Emily, a story about Emily Dickinson, illustrated by Barbara Cooney. Barbara Cooney traveled the world, lived in a house by the sea in Maine, and made the world more beautiful through her art. She was a two-time Caldecott Medal winner, for Chanticleer and the Fox in 1959 and Ox-Cart Man in 1980. Her beloved book Miss Rumphius was the winner of the American Book Award in 1982. Barbara Cooney died in 2000 at the age of eighty-two.
This fictionalized encounter between Emily Dickinson and a young neighbor is, like a Dickinson sonnet, a quiet gem: unassuming upon first glance, it is in fact deeply lustrous, with new facets becoming apparent the longer one looks. The narrator and protagonist is a child who has just moved into the house across the street from ``the Myth.'' She accompanies her mother to Emily's house one day, where she makes her a gift of lily bulbs and receives a poem in return. Bedard's unnamed narrator speaks with the piercing clarity and insight particular to sensitive children. As she contemplates her fear of meeting the reclusive poet, she realizes that ``perhaps the lady in the yellow house is also afraid''; she intuitively responds to the hidden life mysteriously contained in the dull, dead bulbs; and she makes a simple but profound connection--``Maybe people are a mystery, too''--that allows her to reach out to her strange, largely hidden neighbor. While, laudably, the story in no way depends upon familiarity with Dickinson's life or work, the fullness of Bedard's accomplishment is most clearly evident in relation to the latter. He uses diction and imagery that might have been the poet's own: strong, sure language whose force derives from its very economy; small but potent details from nature and domesticity. Judiciously employing alliteration, rhyme, assonance and echoes--``Like flakes of flowers the words fell to the sheets. I listened to them fall and fell asleep''--his prose moves with the rhythms and lyricism of poetry, yet retains a child's straightforward, unselfconscious voice throughout. Caldecott Medalist Cooney's oils richly capture the story's subtly shifting moods, from the utter stillness of a street bathed in moonlight and swaddled in snow to the vigor of a sun-flooded room full of growing plants. They visually extend the text's Dickinsonian personification of nature (``There was no one there but winter, all in white'') and contain skillful echoes of their own: at different points in the story the child and poet are shown sitting alone on the landings of their respective houses, a visual reinforcing of their special kinship. And in their tranquil beauty these paintings testify to the mysteries and wonders of even the everyday. Ages 5-8. (Nov.)
Gr 3-5-- A young girl whose family has just moved into the neighborhood describes her first encounter with the inhabitant of the yellow house across the road. Called ``the Myth'' by some, deemed crazy by others, she is, in fact, the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson. An air of mystery surrounds the woman as the child overhears her parents discussing their neighbor. When the girl's mother is invited to the yellow house to play the piano, curiosity deepens. The first meeting and special gifts exchanged between the girl and the poet are described in this imaginative and unusual picture book. In keeping with a story about a poet, the language of the text is lyrical. The effect, however, is to make the young narrator seem much older than Cooney's wonderful oil paintings suggest. The illustrations convey a sense of place and time long ago, from drawing rooms to clothing. This is a picture book to read aloud and share with older children, both because of the sophisticated language and the nature of the story. For what are youngsters who have never heard of Emily Dickinson to make of her eccentricities? Those who are beginning to encounter her poetry will find that Bedard's charming story demystifies the person and offers some understanding of her odd behavior. --Linda Greengrass, Bank Street College Library, NY
"This fictionalized encounter . . . is, like a Dickinson sonnet, a quiet gem: unassuming upon first glance, it is in fact deeply lustrous, with new facets becoming apparent the longer one looks.."--Publishers Weekly
"In this imaginative and unusual picture book . . . the language of the text is lyrical . . . The illustrations convey a sense of place and time long ago, from drawing rooms to clothing. This is a picture book to read aloud and share...[Readers] will find that Bedard's charming story demystifies the person and offers some understanding of her odd behavior."--School Library Journal "Two time Caldecott award winning illustrator Barbara Cooney's richly detailed oil paintings enhance the moving story of Dickinson's extraordinary private life."--Children's Literature