Miss Emily, by Burleigh Mutén, illustrated by Matt Phelan published in 2014 by Candlewick Press
“Please sit down,” Miss Emily urged. “I have News and a Plan,” she said, tilting her head toward the house, nodding her slowest of nods, so we knew without words that it was a Secret Plan.
“Now, My-Mice-on-Christmas-Morning, you four dearest happy friends, it is my great joy to inform you of the vast surprise that rushes roaring toward us this very moment!”
Miss Emily is the reclusive, playful, creative genius, Emily Dickinson of Amherst, Massachusetts, our beloved poet.
Her audience is a batch of neighborhood children — Mac and Sally, Ned and Mattie, whose friendship Miss Emily welcomes.
The Secret Surprise is… a circus coming to town! A circus of rubbery-trunked elephants and rumbling tigers, a curious hippopotamus and plump Miz Rozalia, the fortune-teller.
Miss Emily and the band of four hatch a mischievous plan: dressed as their gypsy alter-egos, they’ll sneak out at midnight to greet the train, to glimpse these exotic performers the moment they alight in town. For Miss Emily shuns the gaze of the townspeople, stays covertly in her Mansion and garden. She will not attend a circus performance, yet her vibrant spirit yearns to take in this fantastical sight.
Things seem to be going swimmingly on the night of adventure, until a bit of disaster strikes. Owning up to secrecy and foolishness, learning to make the best of circumstances, and treating dear Miss Emily to the performance of a lifetime, ensue in this satisfying, warmhearted novel in verse.
Mutén’s portrayal of Dickinson is tender and kind, spirited and imaginative. In light strokes, she paints an endearing picture of her and the camaraderie she enjoys with these young kindred spirits, whose understanding and youthful unselfconsciousness make them safe companions for Emily.
Matt Phelan’s loose, soft, graphite illustrations are, as always, beautifully rendered, capturing the personalities and period of the story perfectly.
About 125 sparse pages plus historical notes, it’s a super pleasant read for boys and girls, ages 8 and up.