Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2014


Marilyn Nelson's book, "A Wreath for Emmett Till", (2005) was named a 2006 Coretta Scott King Honor Book and given the 2006 Printz Honor Award. "A Wreath for Emmett Till" tells the story of a 14-year-old African American boy who was lynched in 1955. Within 15 sonnets accompanied by illustrations by Philippe Lardy, Nelson not only provides an account of Till's experience but also describes the wreath of flowers that she would create to honor him. In this article, Kelly Wissman explores how Nelson provides guidance to young readers in ways that make reading this text "bearable." Wissman first provides an introduction to the field of trauma studies and considers how Emmett Till's lynching is an example of historical trauma. Next, she includes perspectives from Nelson on the inspiration for and purpose of her poem, and then provides a close reading of the sonnett sequence to show how her text guides the reader in witnessing and commemorating this trama. Acknowledging that America's traumatic racial history can cause considerable uneasiness within classrooms and schools, Wissman concludes by considering how the very form and content of "A Wreath for Emmett Till," and Nelson's own experiences in talking with young people about it, provide insights to educators wishing to share this text with young readers, and assist them in responding to historical atrocities. When asked "what knowledge are we trying to teach when we ask children to read stories about incidences of horror?," possible answers might include a more complex understanding of American racial history, a way to understand the individual and collective forces in traumatic events, and the potential power of readers to engage in acts of commemoration and creation toward a more just world.


Publisher Acknowledgment:

This is the Publisher’s PDF of the following article made available by Johns Hopkins University Press © 2014: Wissman, K. K. (2014). “Let me gather spring flowers for a wreath”: Writing about historical trauma for young people in A Wreath for Emmett Till. Journal of Children’s Literature,40(1), 5-13.



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