Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet


Image Credit: Lee & Low Books, Andrea Cheng

I never had the chance to meet Andrea Cheng but I handled her books, I sold them. I was in the same space as them. A Cincinnati author, talented and kind are some of the things people told me about her. Interestingly enough, I’ve been connected to her for quite some time though; I went to school with one of her daughters, Ann. Recently I was able to reconnect with Ann and spend time with two of Andrea’s close writer friends. Here’s what I can say about Andrea Cheng, now that I’ve read her words for myself and can reflect on her people; her voice is strong and she’s left a legacy of goodness.

Etched in Clay is poetry inspired by the historical record of an amazing man named Dave (David Drake). Dave was a skilled potter/poet who happened to be enslaved. Cheng speaks for him but doesn’t say too much. It’s just enough. We follow Dave from his teenage years fresh off the auction block to his life as a free man in his seventies. He’s sold and re-sold several times within the Landrum family to work their pottery works. His first owner, Harvey Drake, notices his talent and teaches him how to create pottery. Drake’s religious wife Sarah gives Dave a powerful tool too, a spelling book from which he learns to read and write. In his long life, he is split apart from the women and children he loves, he struggles with his lack of agency as an enslaved man and he REBELS with words and poetry. Words spill out of his head and onto his pottery. Dave finds a way to assert his worth as a human being through the liberatory act of black creativity.


Image Credit: Lee & Low Books, Andrea Cheng

Harvey Drake (like most whites at the time) is conscious of the danger in nurturing the intelligence of a slave. He’s comfortable in his power and is protective of the system that keeps his whiteness above blackness. Though Dave knows he can be lashed for knowing how to read (and showing it), he does it anyway. Even signing his name on a pot is dangerous yet he does it…and by doing so, he reflects on his legacy (his pots are made to last) and asserts HIS power. His defiance is through words.

Andrea Cheng doesn’t romanticize or soften slavery; she gives us a glimpse of Dave’s reality. I appreciate her honest characterizations of the slave masters and their disregard for Dave’s (and the other slaves’) humanity. The entire book is full of excellent characterization! A masterful storyteller has the ability to make you bubble and boil with frustration yet eagerly reach to turn the page. I wanted to keep going and see what would happen to Dave, a man who, like my ancestors, was remarkable.

The woodcuts in this book are also done by Andrea Cheng and just like the writing, they are just enough (and so much). They give us a glimpse into Dave’s life with blocky shapes, black and white lines and outlines that suggest more than tell. Not only do I recommend Etched in Clay for casual reading, I think it’s perfect for the classroom. There are so many lessons to take away and to discuss and Dave should be more well known. I hope you’ll pick up this book and enjoy.



Recommended for: Ages 11 and up
Great for: Inner Strength, Rebellion, Courage, Determination, Defiance, African American, Slavery, History, Pottery, Creativity, Poetry, Relationships, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, History-Inspired, Discussion, Classroom
Book Info: Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng, 2013 Lee & Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781600604515


ALA Youth Media Awards!


Image Credit: American Library Association (ALA)

Well guys, it’s almost that time!

Right now in Boston, the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference is well underway. Book lovers, librarians, publishing reps, authors and illustrators are talking books, giving away and signing advanced copies of books and (I’m sure) having a blast!

Perhaps the most anticipated aspect of the conference is the ALA Youth Media Awards on Monday morning. This is where they award the BIG AWARDS; Newbery, Caldecott, Geisel, Pura Belpré, Printz, Sibert, Odyssey, Stonewall, Coretta Scott King, Schneider Award and more…That’s an awful lot for one day. 🙂

**Click this link for a live webcast of the awards ceremony and a summary of all the awards**

Unfortunately, I’m behind in my Newbery reading so I have no official selection yet but if I HAD to choose, based on what I’ve read so far, I’d pick Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Why? Because though there are some issues with pacing, it’s an EPIC and unique story and I’ve seen children embrace it. I’m in the middle of The War that Saved My Life and it’s great, so I’d be happy to see that one win too. Either way, I’m celebrating all these great books.


Just a sample of books being considered for the Newbery Medal!

I already posted about my Caldecott Medal Prediction (Float by Daniel Miyares!) I’ve been certain about that for a while…You can read that post here! I’d love to see Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle or Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh win the Pura Belpré!


Image Credit: Simon & Schuster, Daniel Miyares

There are so many cool books up for the Newbery award this year. The School Library Journal’s blog Heavy Medal does an awesome Mock Newbery and it’s fun to see what people think deserves to win. Check out that post here.

Here are some titles that people are loving:

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson (I think this is more suited for the Printz (YA award)! For a more mature reader)

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton

Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin

Finally, one of the biggest take aways from all this Newbery and Caldecott excitement is the potential for learning in the classroom. Teachers can read the books throughout the year, hold Mock Elections and finally hold an Awards Ceremony Watch Party in class! This might even get your reluctant readers excited about reading! Here is a great post about Mock Elections around the country. Get inspired!

Happy Reading and YAY for Monday Morning!


Specs for Rex

Image Credit: Bloomsbury, Yasmeen Ismail

Image Credit: Bloomsbury, Yasmeen Ismail

I remember when I started wearing glasses in the 8th grade. I wasn’t too thrilled about having a pair of weird things on my face all the time. Most of us have gone through a stage in our life when we didn’t like something about our appearance. In the cute picture book, Specs for Rex, Rex is SUPER DETERMINED to get rid of his bright red glasses.

Rex tries every way possible to hide his new glasses. He even puts them in his jelly sandwich at lunchtime! During Art time, he makes a mess painting his glasses in order to turn them into sunglasses. Thanks to his teacher, he gets a boost of confidence when he realizes just how helpful brand new glasses can be. Ismail’s vivid watercolor illustrations are great; they’re perfect for portraying Rex’s messiness while he romps through his classroom. This is a great book for children who are feeling a little self conscious. It reminds them that it’ll all work out in the end!

Recommended for: Kindergarten and up
Great for: Colors, Friendship, Confidence, Classroom, Community, Discussion, New Glasses
Book Info: Specs for Rex by Yasmeen Ismail, 2014 Bloomsbury, ISBN: 9781619637108

Maddi’s Fridge

Maddi's Fridge

Image Credit: Flashlight Press, Lois Brandt/Vin Vogel

Childhood hunger is a huge problem in the U.S. In 2014, 15.3 million kids lived in food insecure households; read more about it here. This is why books like Maddi’s Fridge are important. They are conversation starters and get kids thinking about how they can be more informed and how they can help those they care about. Diversity in children’s books, in my opinion, also includes books that “expand minds” and teach children about social issues. In many classrooms around the country, there are children like Maddi and close friends like Sophia. Brandt addresses these issues and includes helpful information at the end of the book about childhood hunger and how to help.

In Maddi’s Fridge, Maddi and Sophia are best friends but one day Sophia notices Maddi only has a bottle of milk in her fridge and a loaf of bread. Maddi is embarrassed and makes her promise not to tell anyone. When Sophia gets home, she can’t help but look at the abundance of food in her fridge and think about her friend’s situation. Sophia keeps trying to bring food to school for her friend but…some foods aren’t meant to be kept in a backpack all day! Maddi also helps Sophia in the best way a friend can; through encouragement and support. This is one of my favorite books about friendship because it is quietly powerful and memorable. Vogel’s bright comic-style digital art illustrations add a charm to the book. Teachers and parents, keep an eye on this book for your little ones.

Recommended for: All ages especially 1st grade and up
Great for: Social issues, Discussion, Diversity, Classroom, Volunteering, Friendship, Poverty, Homelessness, Sharing
Book Info: Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt/Illustrated by Vin Vogel, 2014 Flashlight Press, ISBN: 9781936261291