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A Wreath for Emmett Till Paperback – January 12, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 9 Up–This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literary.–Cris Riedel, Ellis B. Hyde Elementary School, Dansville, NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Gr. 9-12. "I was nine years old when Emmett Till was lynched in 1955. His name and history have been a part of most of my life," writes the creator of award-winning Carver (2001) in the introduction to this offering--a searing poetry collection about Till's brutal, racially motivated murder. The poems form a heroic crown of sonnets--a sequence in which the last line of one poem becomes the first line of the next. "The strict form became a kind of insulation, a way of protecting myself from the intense pain of the subject matter," writes Nelson. The rigid form distills the words' overwhelming emotion into potent, heart-stopping lines that speak from changing perspectives, including that of a tree. Closing notes offer context to the sophisticated allusions to literature and history, but the raw power of many lines needs no translation. Nelson speaks of human history's deep contradictions: "My country, 'tis both / thy nightmare history and thy grand dream." But there's also the hope that comes from facing the past and moving forward: "In my house, there is still something called grace, / which melts ice shards of hate and makes hearts whole." When matched with Lardy's gripping, spare, symbolic paintings of tree trunks, blood-red roots, and wreaths of thorns, these poems are a powerful achievement that teens and adults will want to discuss together. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Paperback: 48 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (January 12, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547076363
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547076362
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #299,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By N. S. VINE VOICE on May 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I cannot recall if back in 1968 my eighth-grade American history teacher Mrs. Auryansen taught us about the death of Emmett Till. But one of the things I loved most about that year of studying with an enthusiastic teacher who often made American history come alive for me was the series of quarterly independent projects we had to plan and complete. Each marking period we would have to do an American history-related visual piece as well as a written piece and an oral piece.

"BY the flow of the inland river,

Whence the fleets of iron have fled,

Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver,

Asleep are the ranks of the dead:

Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the judgment-day;

Under the one, the Blue,

Under the other, the Gray."

Whence the fleets of iron have fled,

Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver,

Asleep are the ranks of the dead:

Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the judgment-day;

Under the one, the Blue,

Under the other, the Gray."

That's the first of the seven verses of "The Blue and The Gray" by Francis Miles Finch (1827-1907). I memorized and proudly recited those seven verses to my American history class, and that memory has stuck with me.

Having just celebrated my personal half-century mark, I'm all for turning around and returning to eighth-grade. And if I could do so, this is what I would memorize this time around for one of my oral pieces:

"Pierced by the screams of a shortened childhood,

my heartwood has been scarred for fifty years

by what I heard, with hundreds of green ears.

That jackal laughter.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
A Wreath for Emmett Till is my first encounter with Marilyn Nelson; a bittersweet introduction. As a member of the Sisters~Nineties Literary Group, this book fascinates me as it is a beautiful example of poetic mastery. When our editor gives us a writing assignment for our publication, I grumble and protest, then I revel in the experience; delighting in the success of learning about the world of poetry and all its various forms. The "sankofet," created by Debra Morrowloving Sisters~Nineties founder, comes to mind as I read this book.*

Ms. Nelson's rhyme scheme is a fourteen-line sonnet on each page linking the previous poem with the next as the last line of the previous poem is the first line of the next poem on the following page. In the world of poetry, this is known as a "crown of sonnets."

Although written for children, I had to read the book twice to "feel" the horrible images that this book so beautifully captures. References to flower, plants, and trees are symbolic and make up the "wreath" for Emmett.

Please read this book and share the experience with your children. The incident is described as the motivating force of the Civil Rights Movement. It is also a wake-up call to all those who continue to live a life of apathy and denial when it comes to standing up for the legacy of the African American struggle.

*Sankofet is a poetic form of three stanzas, each with seven lines. The fourth line of each stanza is the same. The last word of each stanza is the first word of the subsequent verse, and the last line of a Sankofet is the first line in the poem. The format of the Sankofet emulates the call-and-response motif of Afrikan musical tradition with the repetition of the fourth lines. The connecting words at the beginning and end of the stanzas represent the Afrikan cycle of life concept.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is in the form of a Heroic Sonnet is a brilliantly written book. It is about giving a wreath to Emmett Till, a young child who was lynched after whistling at a white woman. Till, who normally lived in Chicago, was spending the time at his uncle for the summer. After whistling at a white woman, Briant, Milan and a third person kidnapped Emmett Till. Soon after the kidapping, they lynched him. Later in the Trial, Briant and Milan were found not guilty, though later, it was proven they were guilty. This book was brilliantly written into a heroic sonnet, each of the first lines stating: R.I.P. EMMETT L. TILL. It got me emotionally connected, displeased by the racism people had back then (i.e. allowing Briant and Millan the right to be not guilty just because Till was Black). This book was brilliantly written through the use of similies. It allowed you to invision the racism back then. The only comment I have against it is the World Trade Center reference, mentioning 9/11 hadn't happened yet. Other than that, A Wreath for Emmet Till by Marilyn Nelsen was an excellent work of poetry.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The poem is beautiful and profound, and the artwork goes along with its own story to tell. The book is an excellent addition to any collection of literature that covers America's past with racial segregation. The book may be categorized as "Children's" or "young adult" literature, but adults (like me) will find it very impressive and informative (especially since the author and artist included notes in the back of the book).
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