Monday, June 2, 2008

Hope is the thing with feathers

This morning, I read Jacqueline Woodson's Newbery Honor Book, Feathers. It's this slight little middle-grade book that fearlessly delves into weighty issues like hope, faith, race, belonging, and family without being heavy handed or overbearing or preachy in any way. That's no small feat.

On the very surface, Feathers is a classic story of the new kid in town who doesn't fit in. But Ms. Woodson takes that simple story to entirely new depths, so it truly becomes the story of how we are *all* that kid, trying to find our place in the world.

On her website, she sums it up simply:

Feathers is a book I wrote because I wanted to write about the many ways people find Hope in the world.
Here is the Emily Dickinson poem that is the heart of the story. The first stanza is both the epigraph and an integral part of the book. I hadn't read it in a long time, and Ms. Woodson's book has set it in a fresh light.

XXXIII

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

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