Rise: From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou – Bethany Hegedus

Rise!: From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou by Bethany Hegedus, Tonya Engel
Published by Lee & Low Books on June 25, 2019
Genres: Children's, Children's Educational
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Writer, activist, trolley car conductor, dancer, mother, and humanitarian--Maya Angelou's life was marked by transformation and perseverance. In this comprehensive picture-book biography geared towards older readers, Bethany Hegedus lyrically traces Maya's life from her early days in Stamps, Arkansas through her work as a freedom fighter to her triumphant rise as a poet of the people. A foreword by Angelou's grandson, Colin A. Johnson, describes how a love of literature and poetry helped young Maya overcome childhood trauma and turn adversity into triumph. Coupled with Tonya Engel's metaphorical and emotive illustrations, this biography beautifully conveys the heartaches and successes of this truly phenomenal woman, and is a powerful tribute to the written word.

Maya Angelou is best known as a poet and, within that, best known for the poem—and the line—“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” What few might know, however, is the personal experience that gave depth and nuance to Angelou’s famous poem. In Rise: From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Bethany Hegedus pens a thoughtful, poetic tribute to Angelou and her history. Intended for children—perfect for elementary age—Rise contains beautiful illustrations by Tonya Engel and the lyrical cadence of spoken-word poetry that makes it something worth reading aloud.

I actually listened to the audiobook version of this book, then went back to a physical copy so that I could see it with the illustrations. The audio version is more than just a reading, but manages to capture the ethos of the work as a whole, using background sounds and music to bring the book to life, functioning as the “illustrations” of the audio version. In fact, the audio version as seen more acclaim than the print version, as a 2021 Audie finalist and the winner of AudioFile Earphones award.

Hegedus presents a simple biography of Angelou, working carefully through her life in a way that’s both accessible and appropriate to elementary aged children. Angelou experiences both racism and sexual abuse and Hegedus manages to write about those things in an oblique way that is appropriate for her age range without glossing over the injustices in Angelou’s life.

The back matter includes an extensive timeline, making this more than just a one-time read but a book perfect for elementary class projects. From beginning to end, Rise is the definitive introduction to Maya Angelou for young readers.