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Phillis's Big Test

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  92 ratings  ·  30 reviews
In 1773, Phillis Wheatley published a book of poetry. It was a great accomplishment that made her very famous.
Only a year before, Phillis had had to take a test to prove that she was the actual author of these poems, because Phillis Wheatley was a slave.
Who would believe that an African girl could be the author of such poetry?
Phillis did! She believed in herself, and took
Hardcover, 32 pages
Published March 21st 2008 by HMH Books for Young Readers
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A riveting and inspiring picture book biography. In 1773, Phillis Wheatley was the first African American to have a book of poetry published. However, before being granted publication, the young slave girl had to undergo a test to prove she was the author of these poems. Eighteen of Boston's city officials and leaders conducted the examination before unanimously signing a document that proclaimed Phillis a poet.

Favorite quotes:

"Why should she have to defend her own verse?"

"She did not know why
Phillis Wheatley has always been a hero of mine, having studied her work as a child, as a native Bostonian, and as a poet.

This book is a simple introduction to Phillis's life and work. My favorite thing about the book is that it centers Phillis's resistance -- her use of her own voice, mind, and words to express herself, to seek her own literary justice, and to gain her own freedom.

However, the book has three major problems. -- 1) The reader gains no information about the harsh realities of Phil
Mar 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Phillis Wheatley was born in 1754 in Africa, and arrived in Boston in 1761 aboard the slave ship “Phillis.” Barely eight years old, she was placed with other slaves on the auction block, and purchased by John and Susanna Wheatley, who named her after the ship. Her masters were more kind than many, however. Although Phillis served as a housemaid, the family’s daughter Mary befriended her and began to tutor her. Phillis did so well she soon learned not only English but Latin, religion, and literat ...more
Elissa L
Nov 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Phillis's Big Test focuses on a very particular event in Phillis Wheatley's life--the day she had to prove she was the author of her poems to a panel of white men--and then expands on her life from there, giving her backstory. The white characters in the book are portrayed perhaps a little too perfectly, considering that they were the owners of a human being; the sentence "She survived only by the kindness of her masters" particularly made me cringe. However, the illustrations are gorgeous and r ...more
This book serves as a great introduction to lessons on at a variety of levels including: poets, racism, slavery, stereotypes, colonial era, philosophy and the role of a historian and historical research. The introduction and the epilogue provide the information to start a host of discussions about what we know of the past and how people thought in a particular time period. Blending imagination, research on Phillis Wheatley's life and work, and a more modern sense of self dialogue, author Catheri ...more
Jul 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Phillis Wheatley was such an unlikely and unbelievable author that she was forced into a lengthy cross-examination by eighteen of the most learned and powerful men of the time to prove she in fact penned her own work. Why? Because the year was 1772 and Phillis was a teenage slave girl.

I had never heard of Phillis Wheatly before her briefly being mentioned in an adult biography on George Washington. I was so please to find this picture book at the public library to share her story with my daught
Erin Sterling
In 1773, an African slave girl named Phillis Wheatley in Boston published a book of poetry, only after having to take a huge test to prove that she was the author. This book is the story of the day leading up to the big test, but it ends sort of strangely, on a cliffhanger. The drawings are simple, with a muted color palette.
Jul 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful book. My Caldecott guesses are always wrong, but I loved the illustrations and the text was fabuluous. My girls (6 and 8) wrote "what happens next" chapters to this and we presented it as a puppet show on 4th of July. ...more
Dec 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
My kids and I read this book yesterday. The historical meaning was powerful! Hundreds of years later, we have a black President-elect; time moves slowly in this country.
Sammy Santos
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is an inspiring tale of a young, enslaved girl who fought for her poetry to be published under her name. In 1773, it was unheard of for a slave girl to have an education, not to mention write poetry as beautiful as Phillis's. Therefore, when it came time that her poetry had the means to be published, Phillis had to face a court of 18 white men that would judge whether or not her work was truly her's.
The follows Phillis on her walk to the courthouse to be interrogated about her poetry.
May 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In 1773, Phillis Wheatley became the first African American to publish a book of poetry and soon after she traveled with her poetry and became the most famous black person on both sides of the Atlantic.
But in 1772, Wheatley's book almost didn't get published, because printers in colonial Boston could not believe an African-born enslaved girl wrote such wonderful verses all by herself. To prove her poems were her very own, the teen poet agreed to be questioned by eighteen of the most learned and
Jan 01, 2020 rated it liked it
Short story on the early life of Phillis Wheatley, whom Wikipedia calls the ‘first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry’, and her relationship with the Bostonian Wheatly family. Good setup, though the book ends rather abruptly, before what would have been the logical moment of vindication.

Borrowed via the Internet Archive at:
Nicholas & Megan Clinch
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, year-1
By divine providence, my oldest read this aloud right after we read from Ezra 1-2, about the Hebrew exiles being allowed to return to rebuild Jerusalem. Our sons, transitioning into years 1-2, have delightfully insightful questions about slavery not only in the colonial era but also the ancient world. Parallel readings are really helping keep me from moralizing or preaching... we can take small bites, narrate, empathize in age-appropriate ways, & I'm forever grateful for library picture books li ...more
Melissa Nikohl
Jan 17, 2020 rated it did not like it
This book was horrible! The author made it seem like slavery wasn't that bad. She wants you to believe that her OWNERS were good people. Anyone who felt it was okay to own people were bad people. What a disrespectful depiction of Phillis Wheatley's life. ...more
A Esq 0
Mar 13, 2019 rated it liked it
The text is a bit wordy for children, but I checked it out for the art, and I think Qualls' style works well to depict Phillis's serene confidence. ...more
Valerie Basham
Oct 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a well written children’s picture book about Phillis Wheatley.
A picture book biography about Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American to publish a book of poetry. Her authorship was called into question and Wheatley was required to testify in front of 18 of the most educated and powerful men in colonial Massachusetts.

The text covers the basics of Wheatley's life leading up to the cross-examination. An epilogue informs readers about its outcome and the remainder of Wheatley's life.

Acrylic and paper collage artwork gives reader a powerful visual of the
Marigold Bookhound
When Phillis Wheatley, an enslaved house servant in Boston, learned to read and write and wrote numerous fantastic poems, the most powerful white men in Boston did not believe she had written her own work. They tested Phillis on her literacy in court. Phillis’s strong will and identity as both a reader and a writer helps her persist through this tedious, sexist, and racist trial.
The writing as well as the illustrations of this book seem to walk hand in hand. Gentle and also fierce, imbuing Phill
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
I'm giving this a 3 overall, because I didn't like the illustrations, but a 4 for text, which was interesting. This book is about the time leading up to slave-poet Phillis Wheatley's examination by a group of men to determine if she, a black woman, could really have written the poems she claimed were hers. The pictures were lifeless and inadequate to illustrate the text. A disappointment, but still useful for the information about her life. Pair it with Kathryn Lasky's A Voice of Her Own: the St ...more
Jul 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What a hero, a young slave girl published her own poems in 1773, but only after she had to prove she was the poet to a group of 18 old white guys. They made her appear before them to examine and grill her to see if one such as her was capable of writing such poetry. She passed with flying colors and paved the way for women and people of color to create art in this new nation.

So happy to learn about her with my 6 year old daughter. We can't wait to find Philis's poems.
Mar 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Many (not enough) know about Phillis Wheatley published a book of poetry but even less know that she had to take a test to prove that she was the author of the poems. People simply did not believe that an African girl could accomplish writing a book. But she did. A nice picture book introduction to a very talented lady.
Aug 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: children-s-books
This book was enjoyable to read. The plot focused on Phillis having to prove that she wrote her poetry to a group of intimidating professionals who questioned and disputed her abilities to write, being a black female.
Mar 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-book
The story was easy to follow and full of details.
Feb 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Great book. My one request: When you write a book about a poet, include at least a little of their poetry, please. The illustrations are interesting.
Kimberly Wright Oelkers
Apr 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: diverse, picture-book
Just in time for my 4th graders unit on writer's biographies. ...more
Jul 22, 2014 rated it liked it
It was about one important detail in her life--the test to prove that she wrote her poems.
Apr 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Ponderous - but definitely intrigued me to learn more about
Phillis Wheatley
rated it it was amazing
Oct 30, 2018
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Professor of history at Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Specializes in American history, African-American history, the Civil War, and women's history. Previously taught at Brandeis and Harvard universities. Born in 1952, grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. Studied sociology and history at Harvard, earned a master's degree from Sussex and a doctorate from Princeton. ...more

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