Reviews for Voice of Her Own : The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet


Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 February 2003
Gr. 2-4, younger for reading aloud. Named for the slave ship Phillis that brought her to Boston in 1761, Wheatley became America's first black female poet. In this picture-book biography, Lasky follows Wheatley's story, from the horrors of the slave ship and the auction to the slave-owning Wheatley home, where Phillis' owners educated her as an experiment to see "if it might be possible to teach an African to read and write." Phillis mastered several languages and began to write original verse when she was a preteen, eventually publishing a volume of poems and gaining wide acclaim. In evocative language that's rich with historical detail, Lasky gives children a broader view of Wheatley's story by anchoring it within the events of the Revolutionary War. She includes an epilogue that briefly describes Wheatley's tragic adult years, but there is, unfortunately, no mention of sources or bibliography. Nonetheless, this will serve as a good introduction to Wheatley's life and times for young children, who will appreciate Lee's full-page, historically accurate acrylics. Lasky shows not only the facts of Wheatley's life but also the pain of being an accomplished black woman in a segregated world. ((Reviewed February 15, 2003)) Copyright 2003 Booklist Reviews

----------------------
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2003 Fall
Phillis Wheatley's experience of being sold into slavery and her growth as a poet are, along with some fictionalized elements, set against the events of the American Revolution. Although Lasky milks the story for sentiment and handles some of the racial issues clumsily, she does convey the extraordinary quality of Wheatley's achievements. Workmanlike acrylics illustrate scenes from Wheatley's life. Copyright 2003 Horn Book Guide Reviews

----------------------
Kirkus Reviews 2002 December #2
A sizable dose of imagination seeks to illuminate the life of Phillis Wheatley, the 18th-century slave poet, but reveals more about the author than the subject. Lasky (Porkenstein, 2002, etc.) opens the story in the hold of the slaver Phillis and then follows Wheatley's life and career as she is purchased by the Wheatleys of Boston, learns to speak, read, and write English, and begins to write and then publish her own poems. Throughout, the author imputes thoughts and feelings-"Boston was the strangest sight Phillis had ever seen"-without substantiation and even introduces dialogue which, without documentation, can only be assumed to be invented-" 'What will you call her?' John Wheatley asked his wife." Perhaps most poignantly, Phillis is presented as treasuring a memory of her mother making an offering to the morning sun; however, even in the poem to which Lasky refers for this image, it does not appear in Wheatley's own writing. Poignant indeed, but the only person the reader can be certain of treasuring this vision is Lasky herself. Lee's (Hank Aaron: Brave in Every Way, 2001, etc.) acrylics glow with color, as if themselves lit by candlelight, effectively enhancing the sentimental mood of the narrative. The representations of Wheatley are clearly based on the only known portrait of the poet, the frontispiece of her volume of published poetry; a certain lack of expression in the illustrations, however, gives her an air of inscrutability. There is not a whiff of a bibliography, not even to refer readers to Wheatley's poetry, which is widely available in print and electronic formats. An author's note describes in lofty terms her motivations behind bringing Wheatley's story to a picture-book audience: "To be voiceless is to be dehumanized. . . . Phillis's first liberation came when she learned to read and write and discovered her own voice as a poet." It is a pity that Lasky chooses to impose her own feelings and voice upon this woman whose voice she purports to celebrate. (Picture book/biography. 6-10) Copyright Kirkus 2002 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved

----------------------
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2002 November #3
Lasky (Sugaring Time) opens her lyrical portrait of Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American woman poet, in 1761; her subject is about seven years old, huddled in the dark hold of a slave ship. The narrative evokes the child's image of her mother-whom she would never see again-performing her daily ritual to welcome the sun, a memory the girl "would treasure as if it were the most precious jewel." Lasky offers similarly intimate projections throughout, affording convincing approximations of Wheatley's intelligence and sensitivity. Arriving in Boston, the girl is purchased by Susannah Wheatley, who recognizes Phillis's intelligence and teaches her to read and write, "to prove that it was not only white people who could master languages and the arts." Imagining the girl's thoughts, the author stresses the ironies of the era, such as Phillis's taking her tea alone at a side table after reciting her poems in the parlors of Boston's "finest families." Phillis's poetry expresses sympathy for the American Revolution even as "the colonies in which Phillis lived as a slave were struggling to slip the chains of their own enslavement to England"); no American publisher will print her book, but a British publisher does. Readers hear Wheatley's own voice via a few excerpts of her poetry. Lee's (Amistad Rising) large-scale, realistic acrylic paintings emphasize Wheatley's strength and constancy amidst the turbulent tenor of her times. Young readers may not appreciate the extent of Wheatley's literary contributions, but her courage and achievement are certain to leave a strong impression. Ages 8-12. (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

----------------------
School Library Journal Reviews 2003 January
Gr 4-6-Arriving in Boston in 1760 via slave ship when she was just 7 years old, Wheatley became a learned young woman who was writing poetry by the age of 12. "At seventeen Phillis became famous" when her poem honoring the Reverend George Whitefield was read in the Colonies and in England. Lasky's episodic account breaks the picture-book text into chapters that are sometimes fictionalized or speculative and other times explanatory as they sketch the poet's growing accomplishments, her brief trip to England, and the pre-Revolutionary War events unfolding around her. Narrated in simple staccato sentences, the opening slave ship scene emphasizes the starkness of this experience. Later explanations of historical events become more complex. Lasky draws numerous parallels between the poet's love of freedom and the patriots' cause and concludes with her hard at work writing into the night to describe her African roots to a British soldier. The author's focus is on the poet's intellectual accomplishments and the publication of her book-"the first ever written by a black American woman." Wheatley's adult life and early death are skimmed in an epilogue. Lee's handsome acrylic paintings, including a commanding cover portrait, convey a fine sense of the period. However, in the depictions of Wheatley, the young woman never changes much over the years. Except for a small number of manuscript reproductions, sources are not acknowledged. A bit vague and disconnected at times, this book fills a gap as few accounts of the legendary Wheatley are currently available for children.-Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.

----------------------