Reviews for My Name Is Phillis Wheatley : A Story of Slavery and Freedom


Booklist Reviews 2009 September #1
In the same fictionalized biography format as Cooper's My Name is Henry Bibb: A Story of Slavery and Freedom (2009), this small, powerful narrative tells of a young slave's triumphant journey to freedom, but it never denies the cruelty and ongoing oppression she faced. Phillis Wheatley grew up to be a famous American poet, and her first-person narrative begins in 1773, when she was 19 and read her work to wild acclaim in London. She remembers the murderous raid on her home in Senegal, though, and in brutal detail, she recounts the slave ship that brought her to Boston Harbor, where she was auctioned off. Bought by a kind white woman, Wheatley proves herself to be a prodigy at 12, fluent in many languages, her poetry published everywhere. The paradox of revolutionary politics will grab readers. There are abolitionists, but many white revolutionaries, including Thomas Jefferson, own slaves. Wheatley is her mistress' little pet, treated with great kindness, and yet she is not free. Her poetry is woven into the biographical details, and the haunting personal story opens up the history. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Spring
These books examine the different paths taken by their subjects from servitude to independence. Wheatley describes the African American poet's life from slave to celebrated world traveler; Bibb tells of the abuse and oppression Henry faced before escaping to Canada. In both volumes, the first-person narration and invented dialogue can be stilted. [Review covers these titles: My Name Is Henry Bibb and My Name Is Phillis Wheatley.] Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2009 October

Gr 5-8--Part historical fiction and part informational biography, this novel about the poet's life and times is told in the first person and captures both the struggles and achievements of Wheatley's remarkable life. Starting in Africa before she is captured by slave traders, the book recounts Penda Wane's memories of her family and her early education as a griot, a traditional role passed down in her family. The story moves quickly as she describes the deplorable conditions aboard the slave ship and then being sold to the Wheatley family on the docks of Boston, but the pacing slows noticeably in the second half of the book. The Wheatleys' experiment to see if a slave can be educated begins Phillis's other life, in which she grows to become a well-known poet, both in the colonies and in England. The mounting tensions of the American Revolution and the colonists' desire for freedom provide a backdrop that mirrors Phillis's own yearning for freedom and identity throughout her life. The writing is generally strong and engaging, drawing readers immediately into Wheatley's agonies of being forcibly taken from her home as a child, but the voice is of an adult remembering her youth, and not that of a child telling her story. Pair this book with Kathryn Lasky's A Voice of Her Own (Candlewick, 2003) or Maryann Weidt's Revolutionary Poet (Carolrhoda, 1997) to give a complete picture of this unique individual.--Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA

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