Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, August 1, 2011

Liberty’s Voice: The Story of Emma Lazarus By Erica Silverman

Liberty’s Voice: The Story of Emma Lazarus
By Erica Silverman; Illustrated by Stacey Schuett
Dutton Children’s Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780525478591
This reviewer obtained a copy of the book from the public library. 

Every time I read or hear these words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”  I get goosebumps, because I think of the millions of immigrants, over the years, who have made the United States their home, including my grandparents.The Statue of Liberty in New York City Harbor is a beacon of hope that welcomes those immigrating to the United States, promising them a new and safer life This biography is the story of the woman who wrote those famous words that have come to symbolize the promise of freedom.

Emma Lazarus was born in 1849 to a well-to-do sugar refiner. She was fortunate to have a father who believed in education for women.

“Emma loved poetry. Poets gave words such power!”

Emma wanted to be a poet too.  Could she? 

As Emma was reading a book by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a popular author of that time, these words spoke directly to her. Listen,

“…to the whisper of the voice within…”

If she listened would she find her voice? Emma found the courage to try. She wrote and wrote and wrote. I love the image of Emma, always with a notebook, finding inspiration all around her and turning it into poems.

This book highlights the amazing and productive life of this talented woman. Ralph Waldo Emerson became her writing coach, and with his help she went on to compose essays, book reviews, plays, and contributed a regular feature for the then popular magazine, The Century. Though Emma led a privileged life, she never shied away from speaking out against, what she believed was an injustice. 

Each turn of the page is another episode in Emma’s life. The double-page spreads use Schuett's brightly colored illustrations with slightly exaggerated characters that mirrors the text. Colorful swirls are on the pages where Emma is having an idea. The warm colors and smiling faces will attract young listeners.

On the last page, Silverman explains that in 1903, Emma’s poem, “The New Colossus” was engraved on a plaque that was attached to the base of the Statue of Liberty. Sadly, Emma died in 1887 and never knew the importance of her poem. Included is a bibliography and further reading.

I really liked this book a lot. However, my one frustration with all picture book biographies is exactly what makes them so appealing: the brief coverage of their topic. Here, I wanted to know more about Emma Lazarus, especially how she died. An added note giving a bit more information about Emma's life would have sufficed, as well as seeing the poem, The New Colossus, in its entirety.

5 Stars

To best promote this book, include in your display Lynn Curlee’s Liberty, Betsy and Giulio Maestro’s The Story of Liberty, and When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest, to name a few.

I found a book trailer for this book on youtube. Liberty's Voice 


  1. Oh wow, sounds like a real beauty - I have a special corner in my heart for poetry. I have to confess I have not heard of Emma Lazarus yet, so I shall definitely check this out. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I'm thinking this one would be a great book for cross-curricular connections. Interesting way to integrate social studies (history) and language arts, providing an opportunity for students to dig a little deeper into what the author was writing about.
    Thanks for this recommendation.
    Apples with Many Seeds.