Author: Marilyn Nelson
Illustrator: Philippe Lardy
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Audience: Youth 14-18 and adults
Summary: This book is a collection of sonnets that the author put together to speak about the tragic lynching of Emmett Till, a young African American who was visiting relatives in Mississippi in the summer of 1955. The boy was accused of whistling at a white woman, dragged from his home and murdered. Those that committed the crime were found not guilty. The final sonnet is composed of the first lines of the preceding sonnets. Notes are included in the back of the book to further explain each sonnet. There is also a reference to a PBS website which offers additional resources that can be used to explore the life and death of Emmett Till.
Literary elements at work in the story: The primary literary element at work in this book is the author’s use of fourteen sonnets to tell the story of the Emmett Till. Different layers of his life are captured in each sonnet. Illusions to other poets such as Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and Shakespeare can also be found in the author’s words.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economic ability: These sonnets were composed about a boy who lived at a time in history when African Americans were viewed as an inferior race. Schools, businesses, and even restrooms were segregated. Although Emmett Till’s story happened at a particular time in history, it still resonates with the reader in light of the broken world in which we all live.
Scripture: Romans 12:1-2, Micah 6:8, Ephesians 4:14-15, Romans 15:5-6
Theology: Christians are called to live their lives as the transformed and redeemed children of God that they are. Our actions towards others should be grounded in justice, kindness, and humility. When we choose to “speak what we see”, we are speaking the truth in love and growing up into the image of Christ. Living in harmony with one another glorifies God.
Faith Talk Questions:
- What do you think Emmett’s mother meant when she shared this Mississippi anecdote with him: “Some white folks have blind souls.”?
- How can hate “slaughter” innocence? Can you think of examples of this occurring in our world today?
- Why do you think the author compares writing “an obituary of a life lived well and wisely” to the victimhood of Emmett Till?
- How does the story of Emmett Till mirror that of Christ?
- The author describes grace as something which “melts the ice shards of hate and makes hearts whole.” What does this mean in light of humankinds’ sinfulness?
- What does it mean to “speak what we see”? How can we as Christians do that in our neighborhoods and communities?
- Why do you think that people such as those who lynched Emmett Till would be afraid?
Review prepared by Marcia Rauch, MACE, Entering cohort Fall 2006