Book Review: Emma’s Poem–The Voice of the Statue of Liberty

Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty (Houghton Mifflin, 2010)

Written by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola

I must confess: I’ve been researching Emma Lazarus for about ten years. Since the Statue of Liberty’s 100th anniversary in 1986, only two books for kids about Emma appeared. One was a fictionalized account of her life, which to me was sacrilege, so I didn’t read it. The other is this new picture book by Linda Glaser.

The good things

I applaud that the book was written at all. More people, including adults, should know who Emma Lazarus was. In her day, she was well known and highly connected. Ms. Glaser has produced a highly readable account of Emma, her work with the immigrants, and the creation of “The New Colossus” (“Give me your tired, your poor…”). She was able to collapse Emma’s somewhat complex life into just a few pages. She established:

  • Emma was a woman of means
  • Emma was of a different class than the immigrants she helped
  • The immigrants inspired Emma to write “The New Colossus”
  • Emma did not live long
  • Emma’s poem has a legacy

The not-so-good things

A few things really bothered me:

  • Mentioning on page 8 of the book that Emma was Jewish—why not page 1?
  • Illustration of Emma’s house with the number 36 (for 36 W. 14th Street)—she didn’t live there when she wrote the poem. She lived at 18 W. 10th St. (New York City).
  • “Emma didn’t live to see the statue erected”—She was still alive when the statue was erected and dedicated (October 1886), but she was in Europe. She might have seen the statue when her ship came in to New York harbor at the end of July in 1887. She died in November 1887.
  • Emma probably passed the statue’s right arm and hand in Madison Square Park on a regular basis after it was shown at the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition.
  • “In time, Emma made friends with many of them.” Did she really make friends with the Russian Jewish refugees? I’ve never seen this documented. Did she care about them? Yes. Did she give money to them? Yes. Did she help to find them homes and jobs? Yes. Did she befriend them, invite them over to her house for tea? Don’t think so.
  • Typos (I found two)

Things I wished were mentioned

Of course, a picture book only has so much room. Still, I think Ms. Glaser could have addressed the following:

  • These immigrants were Russian Jewish refugees, not just Eastern European.
  • They were arriving at the rate of 2,000 a day and New York did not know what to do with them. That’s why they were housed in temporary housing on Ward’s Island where Emma visited them.
  • Emma twice refused to write for the Bartholdi Pedestal Auction, until a friend asked her to think about her work with the Russian Jewish immigrants.
  • Emma started a column to help the immigrants.
  • Emma founded a society that led to the creation of a vocational training school for the immigrants.
  • Emma argued for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
  • The friend who helped get the poem inscribed on a plaque was Emma’s sister’s friend. And, notably, this friend did not act alone. She reached out to Emma’s longtime friend and editor, and the two worked tirelessly over the course of two years to get the sonnet inscribed on a bronze plaque.

There is a passion and fire to Emma that did not come through in these picture book pages.

Overall

I am glad the book was written and published. It’s a start. There’s more to come…

Overall rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

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About Barbara Krasner

History writer and award-winning author Barbara Krasner writes Jewish-themed poetry, articles, nonfiction books, and novels for children and adults.
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6 Responses to Book Review: Emma’s Poem–The Voice of the Statue of Liberty

  1. Lisa Silverman says:

    Hi Barbara,
    What a thoughtful and thorough review! I am glad I found your blog and will bookmark it on my google page! See you soon at the Highlights Conference,
    Lisa

  2. I love this review. It could have only been written by an expert on Emma Lazarus. I look forward to reading a more detailed book about this fascinating woman.

  3. Great review! It could have only been written by an expert on the life of Emma Lazarus. I look forward to reading a more detailed account of this fascinating woman.

  4. Pingback: Welcome to the first Jewish Book Carnival! «

  5. Marie says:

    I love your review of this book; you brought up a lot of points I missed when I read it. Thank you for such a thorough review and for contributing it to the Jewish Book Carnival!

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