Reviews for Phillis's Big Test

Booklist Reviews 2008 February #1
Young Phillis Wheatly came to Boston as a slave in the mid-eighteenth century. Luckily, she had masters that encouraged her lessons, and as a young woman, she began to write poetry. In 1772, she was about to publish her first book of poems when publication was halted by Boston printers who did not believe it was written by a slave. This incident is the focus of Clinton's book, which emphasizes the day Phillis is to answer questions from 18 men in the colony, including the governor. Initially, the subject is promising. Although there's too much repetition about Wheatly's place in the world, Clinton ably weaves details of the woman's life into the narrative. But the book, which ends dramatically as Phillis walks into the meeting, leaves readers hanging, especially as the epilogue reveals that no record of the examination ever existed. Even more disappointing is that none of Wheatly's poetry is actually quoted. Happily, Qualls' terrific mixed-media art (paintings, drawings, collages) enlivens every page. Unusual perspectives and panoramas make eye-catching settings for an affecting Phillis, who is always at center stage. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2008 Fall
In 1772, Phillis Wheatley's poems were subjected to an "examination" by eighteen men. This book begins with Phillis's walk to the exam, then pulls back to describe her past, from girl in Africa to slave to educated and talented young woman. Qualls's acrylic and paper collages display a grace and serenity about Phillis even when she's faced with injustice. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2008 March #2
Phillis Wheatley was named for the slave ship that brought her to Boston. She was educated with the children of her masters and in her late teens, she entertained the Wheatleys' guests with recitations of her own poems. The straightforward text tells the story of how in 1772 she defended her poems to 18 white men at Harvard to prove that she, a black female teenage slave, had actually written them. Even after this, her poems were published in London rather than Boston. Qualls renders his evocative images in a richly textured palette of dusky reds and blues, blacks and browns in acrylic and collage, a powerful accompaniment to Clinton's lucid text. When Phillis recalls her journey on the slave ship, a lightly sketched montage of chained figures form the background; when she dreams, ghostly masks appear above her recumbent form. Phillis herself has almond eyes, an oval face and a beautiful mouth. A powerful introduction to the first published African-American poet. (author's note) (Picture book/biography. 6-9) Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

School Library Journal Reviews 2008 March

Gr 1-4-- This picture-book biography deals with a transformative moment in the life of Phillis Wheatley, the first African American to publish a book of poetry. In 1772, 18 members of the intelligentsia from the Massachusetts Bay Colony (including the governor) gathered to question the 17-year-old slave to ascertain the authorship of the poems she claimed were her own. An epilogue explains that no record remains of what transpired, but a document signed by those present was published with her collection of poems the following year. Clinton imagines Wheatley's thoughts as she proceeded through Boston, flashing back to her nights of intense preparation; childhood studies of English, Latin, Greek, and the Bible with the children of her master; and her arrival on a slave ship at age seven. Qualls's uncluttered acrylic and collage compositions employ strong diagonal lines, swirling ribbons of thought, and a combination of opaque images and outlined, transparent figures over washes of color to create visual interest. A warm sienna, contrasted with cool blues, grays, and browns, dominates the artist's palette. A formal tone, an occasional quaint turn of phrase, and a typeface with an irregular impression create the flavor of a time past. Clinton and Qualls offer an elegant introduction to an important individual, albeit without including any samples of Wheatley's poetry or a bibliography. Readers interested in more will appreciate Robin Doak's Phillis Wheatley (Compass Point, 2005) and Catherine Clinton's A Poem of Her Own (Abrams, 2003).--Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library

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