Phillis's Big Test

by Catherine Clinton and Sean Qualls

The works of Phillis Wheatley, the first published African American poet, were highly... read more

The works of Phillis Wheatley, the first published African American poet, were highly regarded at the time they were written. But some also considered them suspect. How could a young female slave have penned such beautiful verse? Catherine Clinton recalls Phillis Wheatley’s examination before a group of men to prove she was the author in this fascinating picture book history. As Phillis worriedly awaits the test, she reflects upon the events that led her to that day. Born in Africa, she had been a child when she came to the Wheatley household as a slave, purchased as a “gift” for Master Wheatley’s wife. Phillis became close with the family and was educated by the Wheatley’s children. From Bible stories to sonnets, and in English, Greek, and Latin, Phillis’s young mind was inspired by all she was taught, and soon spun words into poems of her own. It is the realization that the poems she has created can never be taken from her—she holds them in her memory and her heart—that gives Phillis the confidence to face the examining board in this richly imagined story based on fact. Sean Qualls’s acrylic and collage paintings pair marvelously with Clinton’s elegant and pensive words in a work that offers young readers a glimpse at the life of a lesser-known literary figure as well as a look at larger issues such as racism and sexism. (Ages 6–10)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2009

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