"I want my epitaph to testify that I have been a loving mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend; and I have taught, written, and lived with joy."
— Penelope Niven
Praise for Carl Sandburg: Adventures of a Poet

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

With grace and insight, Niven funnels the prodigious scholarship of her adult title Carl Sandburg, A Biography into a welcoming, child-friendly story; her thoughtful presentation almost mirrors the accessibility for which Sandburg was dubbed the "Poet of the People." Each spread embraces a single aspect of Sandburg's life and presents a related excerpt from his writing. On the left of the spread, supple, anecdote-filled prose chronicles, for example, the teenage Carl's two-mile walk to work as a "milk slinger" (milk deliverer). "On icy winter days, he trudged along the gravel bed of the railroad tracks. Carl's feet nearly froze... He was always glad when spring came." On the facing page, the poem "Just Before April Came" implicitly connects that experience to his art. Niven adds historical context too, linking events of the Spanish-American War to the poet's time as a soldier and to the verses of "New Feet," his meditation on how "empty battlefields keep their phantoms." Nadel's (Hour of Freedom: American History in Poetry) period-flavored, crosshatched watercolors suggest similarly attentive research, their crisp images drawn from family and archival photographs. On the excerpt pages, straightforward, full-page depictions flesh out the poems, while a spot illustration brightens the pages with biographical exposition. A timeline, cleverly organized around a series of railroad ties, displays pivotal events in the poet's life and in the world around him.

School Library Journal

Pairing readable, carefully selected biographical details with a specific poem or prose excerpt on facing pages, this book makes Sandburg accessible to young readers. In "A New American," they learn that "Carl's feet nearly froze because there wasn't enough money to buy warm boots. He was always glad when spring came," which infuses the jubilant poem "Just Before April Came" with insight. "Family Man" reveals his love for his "homeyglomeys" (wife and three daughters). The accompanying poem, "Little Girl, Be Careful What You Say," is tender and wise advice, "-for words are made of syllables/and syllables, child, are made of air-/and air is so thin-air is the breath of God-." Other roles are examined, including poet, soldier, vagabond, reporter, musician, storyteller, historian, dreamer, and pen pal, and each one is accompanied by an important piece of Sandburg's writing. Nadel's masterful watercolor-and-crosshatch illustrations give additional visual information. A spread of "Illustration Notes" at the end of the book examines the historically accurate, well-researched aspects of the art, providing "some biographical context for select illustrations." This is truly a gem, with broad appeal for readers well beyond childhood.


Niven spent more than 14 years preparing her adult book Carl Sandburg (1991). In this handsome picture-book biography, she draws on her extensive research to present bits of Sandburg's life and work that will have special appeal to children. An opening spread briefly reviews Sandburg's life from his birth on a corn-husk mattress to his earning the title "Poet of the People." Subsequent pages tell Sandburg's story using his various identities, "New American," "Vagabond," "Soldier," "Journalist," "Family Man," "Poet." Each spread comprises Niven's distilled, anecdotal prose, a selection of Sandburg's writing, and detailed pen-and-watercolor images. Nadel's fine draftsmanship and beautiful compositions, including portraits of Sandburg, will delight many readers, and the book's creative, accessible format allows children not only to learn about Sandburg's life and accomplishments but also to come away with a strong sense of the man: his mischievous humor, his devotion to his family, and his powerful vision. A time line matching Sandburg's life with historic events reminds young readers why historical context is important: "Just as one person can help change the world, world events can change individual lives."