I can’t believe how quickly April flew by. Because today is Friday, I feel like we have a bonus day of National Poetry Month!
On her webpage, Eileen Spinelli has a list of tips for young writers. Her number one piece of advice? “Keep your eyes and ears and heart open.” There is no doubt that this is what drives Eileen’s writing as well. I first encountered Eileen’s writing in Sophie’s Masterpiece (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Sophie, the heroine of this tale, is one of the most thoughtful and caring spiders this side of Charlotte. Sophie’s kindness and generosity inspired my third grade students to learn how to knit after 9/11 and, ultimately, create an afghan that we raffled to raise money for charity.
So when I wasn’t surprised when I saw that Eileen and her husband, Jerry Spinelli, would be part of a panel hosted by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell titled “Sharing Random Books of Kindness: The Power of Story” at NCTE last November. (Read Eileen’s heartbreaking “Poem for a Bully” in this post by Mary Lee Hahn & Janet Wong about the role of poetry in literacy learning here.) The next day, I waited in line to meet Eileen at a book signing and got a copy of her latest book, Another Day As Emily (Random House, 2014).
I finally found time recently to read this charming verse novel, and I’m so happy I did. Suzy Quinn is almost twelve. She collects rocks and loves the Philadelphia Phillies. She also has a pesky little brother named Parker, who saved their neighbor’s life and is now an official hero. Feeling left out because of all the attention Parker’s getting, Suzy plunges into a project for her library’s summer program and learns all she can about Emily Dickinson. At the same time, Suzy is trying to navigate the challenges of friendship. Overwhelmed when she isn’t chosen for a part in a play and devastated when her birthday trip to a Phillies game is cancelled, she retreats to her room “…to be left alone…Forever. Like Emily Dickinson.” Suzy dresses in white, bakes gingerbread, even renames her goldfish Carlo, after Emily Dickinson’s dog.
Spinelli spins a story full of realistic details about the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Suzy’s family and neighbors remain loving and supportive, even as Suzy pushes the limits of their patience. Eventually, Suzy decides there’s more to life “than being a twelve-year old hermit.” In the process, she discovers that she “missed herself,” even though the self she missed is forever changed.
One of the magical things about books is that they let you try on different personas. Lucky readers of Another Day As Emily get to try on two through the “eyes and ears and heart” of Eileen Spinelli. What a gift!
Here is another gift from the pen of Eileen Spinelli:
“The Month of May”
May is a merry month
a flower-into-berry month,
the month to skip outdoors to play,
to tuck your winter boots away,
to honor moms and aunties too
with cards and hugs for all they do.
Read the rest of the poem here.