Jump Back, Paul: The Life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar by Sally Derby



Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

jump back paul

Jump Back, Paul: The Life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar
Author: Sally Derby
Illustrator: Sean Qualls
Published September 22nd, 2015 by Candlewick Pres

Goodreads Summary: Discover the breadth and depth of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poetry—and learn how it reflects his singular life as a late-nineteenth-century black man.

Did you know that Paul Laurence Dunbar originated such famous lines as “I know why the caged bird sings” and “We wear the mask that grins and lies”? From his childhood in poverty and his early promise as a poet to his immense fame and his untimely death, Dunbar’s story is one of triumph and tragedy. But his legacy remains in his much-beloved poetry—told in both Standard English and in dialect—which continues to delight and inspire readers today. More than two dozen of Dunbar’s poems are woven throughout this volume, illuminating the phases of his life and serving as examples of dialect, imagery, and tone. Narrating in a voice full of admiration and respect, Sally Derby introduces Paul Laurence Dunbar’s life and poetry to readers young and old, aided by Sean Qualls’s striking black-and-white illustrations.

My Review: I came into this book not knowing much about Paul Laurence Dunbar aside from knowing that the line “I know why the caged bird sings” was written by him which inspired Maya Angelou’s autobiography’s title; however, I didn’t know much else about his life or his poetry. Derby’s book does a fantastic job remedying that. Not only are you exposed to more than 20 of Dunbar’s poems, you are exposed to them in very specific ways as Derby tells Dunbar’s life story. Each poem’s inclusion is purposeful and perfectly timed. When finished, I wanted to read more of Dunbar’s poems and actually hear some of them being performed (his dialect poems are screaming to be read aloud). Qualls also does a brilliant job, as always, illustrating the tone of the text in beautiful black-and-white drawings.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book not only can be used to share information about Paul Laurence Dunbar’s life and his poetry, but it also includes fascinating information about what it was like to live after the Emancipation Proclamation then after Plessy v. Ferguson.

First, in an English classroom, this text truly puts Dunbar’s poems in a perspective which will allow more depth when analyzing. The way Derby set up the narrative of Dunbar’s life around his poems helps the reader understand the underlying meaning of his poetry even better than they would with a cold read.

Also, cross-curricularly while studying Dunbar’s poems, during history, a tie-in to this tumultuous time period would be easy and effective.  The time period that Dunbar lived in is not often discussed as it is a time after slavery but before segregation that many students may not know about.

Discussion Questions: Who do you think had the biggest influence on Dunbar becoming a poet?; Do you think Dunbar’s father’s absence affected how he was as a husband to Alice?; How do you think Frederick Douglass influence Dunbar?; How was the voice that told the story chosen by Derby? Do you think the way she structured and told the story was helpful in understanding Dunbar’s life and poetry?

We Flagged: “You never heard of the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar? Child, where’ve you been? I got to have a word with you. Why, back in the day, you’d have whole families sitting around listening while one of them performed “When Malindy Sings” or “Little Brown Baby” or “A Negro Love Song” (which folks most always call “Jump Back, Honey”).”

Read This If You Loved: Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poetry, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Henry Aaron’s Dream by Matt Tavares, The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Candlewick for providing a copy for review!!**

15 thoughts on “Jump Back, Paul: The Life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar by Sally Derby”

  1. Beautiful. I confess, I had never heard of Paul Laurence Dunbar, but I certainly want to read more of his poetry. I love picture books about artists and creators – it’s so inspiring to introduce children to adults who have made their passions their life. Thank you for sharing!


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