How do you summarize a life like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s for a picture book biography? Barbara Kerley did it by choosing one theme–Emerson’s desire for a home–and follows it throughout his life. We see him longing for a home as a child, building a home and community with his wife, losing his home to a fire, and in old age finding his home restored by the community he had built. It’s a hopeful, lovely message.
And it is brilliantly executed. The quotations–how could there not be quotations in a book about Emerson?–are seamlessly incorporated into the text:
He wandered the narrow noisy streets of Boston dreaming of “a home, comfortable and pleasant.”
And they settled into, as he put it, “the lukewarm milky dog days of common village life.”
Kerley zeroes in on memorable details and renders them with an ear tuned to reading aloud:
Every morning, Mr. Emerson ate pie made from his own apples for breakfast.
The book is filled with delightful lists:
[He shared] the names of birds and varieties of pears: Bluebird, bobolink, robin, thrush. Flemish Beauty, Andrews, Bartlett, Dix.
Edwin Fotheringham’s whimsical illustrations amplify the excellent prose. A great read!
A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. Scholastic: 2014