"I am a mouse, a white mouse. My name is Emmaline. Before I met Emily, the great poet of Amherst, I was nothing more than a crumb gatherer, a cheese nibbler, a mouse-of-little-purpose. There was an emptiness in my life that nothing seemed to fill."
That is, until Emmaline the mouse takes up residence in the wall of 19th-century poet Emily Dickinson's room in Amherst, Massachusetts. Emmaline spends her days happily observing the reclusive poet: "She seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at once, fluttering through the house like a ghost, stirring up a batch of gingerbread in the kitchen, or walking in the garden, lost in a reverie." The mouse's life changes when a gust of wind blows one of Emily's poems her way. She blushes as she reads Emily's evocative words that so aptly capture her own feelings, and from then on is determined to be a poet herself. The exchange of poems between the two species of poet is truly marvelous, as eight of Emily Dickinson's poems are answered by seven of author Elizabeth Spires's (an award-winning poet herself). "I'm Nobody! Who are you? / Are you--Nobody--too? / Then there's a pair of us! / Don't tell! they'd banish us--you know!" is followed by Emmaline's "It matters what we think, / What words we put in ink, / It matters what we feel / What feelings we conceal." A near miss with the family cat, an unpleasant interlude with a thick-headed editor, and even a threatening stoat keep the story moving, but the real excitement lies in the deepening friendship between Emily and Emmaline... and in Spires's inventive portrayal of the process of self-expression and the power of words. Along the way, illustrator Claire A. Nivola's sweetly skritchy sketches reflect the shy demeanor of both Emily and Emmaline. A brief portrait of Emily Dickinson concludes the book, but readers will come away with a glimpse of the poet and her work that no biography could ever communicate. (Ages 9 and older) --Karin Snelson
From Publishers Weekly
The title of this fanciful sliver of a novel is a delectable double entendre, expressing the characters of both Emily Dickinson and Emmaline, a poetry-penning mouse who lodges in the wainscoting of the poet's bedroom. Emmaline, who narrates the book, considers herself "nothing more than a crumb gatherer, a cheese nibbler, a mouse-of-little-purpose." But as the inquisitive mouse watches Emily scribbling and scratching away on small scraps of paper for much of the day and night, a gust of wind sends one of the scraps close to her mousehole and Emmaline dashes out to retrieve it. Much to her surprise, she discovers it is a poem so moving ("I felt giddy and inspired, as if a whirligig were spinning in my brain") that it prompts Emmaline to write a verse of her own. She returns both to Emily's desk, and soon the two are exchanging poems inspired by their experiences within the household (eight of Dickinson's, and eight written by Spires in the guise of Emmaline, are included). While Spires (With One White Wing) employs a formal 19th-century tone and vocabulary for her rodent protagonist, it is never stiff or off-putting, but filled with ardency and wit; the poems that Emmaline "writes" echo the style and substance of Dickinson's to a striking degree. Emmaline's newfound enthusiasm and interpretations of Dickinson's poetry will likely coincide with readers' own responses. A brief afterword with biographical information explains just how this clever novel unmasks the "mouse" who rarely ventured past her garden and invites readers into the work and life of one of America's most important poets. Final artwork not seen by PW. Ages 8-up.
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