NightLights

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Image Credit: Nobrow, Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Gorgeous.

NightLights is a new graphic novel about a magical girl who draws outside of the lines. Sandy has trouble fitting in; she’s a day-dreamer, a creative-type, and is misunderstood by not only her peers but her teachers.

Sandy has power. She takes the lights that appear in her bedroom and turns them into whimsical creatures. In her dreams she interacts with them and doodles them in the morning (and during class). Her classmates bully and tease her for having her head in the clouds until one day, a new girl named Morphie befriends her and tells her how good her art is. Interestingly enough, Sandy is the only person who can see Morphie but as she grows closer to the magical girl, she starts to feel uneasy.

Morphie is a greedy being; greedy for Sandy’s delicious & beautiful drawings. Even worse, Morphie begins to make Sandy question her creativity and independence; “And once you realize that you need me to tell you how brilliant you are, nothing will keep us apart!” she says.

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Image Credit: Nobrow, Lorena Alvarez Gómez

Morphie…is Sandy’s insecurity.

This story excellently explores the emotional difficulty of “not fitting in.” Sandy doesn’t think linearly; her mind blossoms with color and creatures and magic and so she has trouble in her rigid Catholic school. Insecurity slowly starts to creep in. As she battles herself, she finds strength by embracing her creativity (and even her insecurity and fear). This is such an important message for readers of all ages.

Alvarez creates a setting inspired by her hometown of Bogotá, Colombia (but dipped in colorful fantasy that rivals Miyazaki). NightLights works well as a graphic novel; each panel’s dialogue and illustration are well crafted. Her attention to detail and use of color is amazing! She weaves reality with fantasy to create a world that is both beautiful and terrifying. Readers will feel uneasy when Sandy interacts with Morphie & the twisted monsters she’s forced to create. They’ll also feel proud of her as she explores the beauty of her mind. I had a really great conversation with illustrator Erin Baker who pointed out the motif of “eyes” in this book. Sandy’s eyes are extremely expressive and the eyes of her fantasy creatures are fascinating and creepy.

There’s a lot packed into this graphic novel and I’m really excited for it to release in the United States. I hope you’ll check out NightLights!

Recommended for: 3rd Grade and up
Great for: Inner Strength, Insecurity, Determination, Power, Diversity, Community, Family, Confidence, Creepy, Fantasy, School Life, Daydreamers, Creative Thinking
Book Info: NightLights by Lorena Alvarez, 2017 Nobrow, ISBN: 9781910620137

Lift Your Light a Little Higher

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Image Credit: A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)), Heather Henson/Bryan Collier

Because of slavery, we simply don’t know as much as we should about extraordinary Africans in the Americas. But luckily, in this renaissance of children’s literature, we’re getting some amazing books about slavery & slaves’ lives, written by #ownvoices and by non-PoC. Two great ones that come to mind are Etched in Clay by the late Andrea Cheng & Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford & Gregory Christie.

I’ve been reflecting on slave stories and slavery for several reasons. One; I recently had the pleasure of hearing Ta-Nehesi Coates speak about the lasting effects of slavery on the fabric of America. Two; the other day, someone asked me about children’s books that are helpful for easing into a discussion about slavery with a white child. While it’s very understandable to want to shield your child from the horrors of slavery, it’s quite a position of privilege to be able to. Black children don’t have that privilege. That being said…there are several books that introduce slavery from a position of humanity and hope. Lift Your Light a Little Higher is one of those books.

Stephen Bishop was extraordinary. He was an adventurous cave-explorer and guide who happened to be enslaved. As a tour guide of the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, he had a great sense of pride and agency; underground was his world. He was incredibly knowledgeable of the cave’s winding trails & dangerous chasms and he even discovered new creatures! Lift Your Light a Little Higher takes us back to around 1840 and is in first person; Stephen leads the reader on a journey while reflecting on his life, enslavement and legacy. Though he’s proud of being known far and wide, he says “…being known is not the same as being free.” When it comes down to it, he’s still a slave. He longs to read and write and eventually leaves his mark on stone for all to see; an assertion of his power.

Henson does a great job of using known information about Stephen to create a book that honors his spirit and voice. She lifted her light to shine on Stephen, creating a book that, I think, he would be proud of. I interpret this book as Henson telling his story while simultaneously telling the reader about her journey to uncover his story; lines like “sometimes you just got to go beyond what’s written down to get to what’s been left untold” suggest this. I also like how she comments on indigenous peoples’ presence in the caves and on the land. Stephen is aware, as a black, enslaved man, that he is on indigenous land and contemplates his legacy.

 

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Image Credit: A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)), Heather Henson/Bryan Collier

Collier’s art is, as usual, powerful and creative. His collages takes us deep inside the dark and mysterious caverns. Stephen’s big brown eyes and confident expression visually show us his strength. Collier uses many beautiful shades of brown to create the peaceful interior of the caves that Stephen found respite within. I always really enjoy Collier’s art; there’s so much depth to it.

Before reading this book, I didn’t know Stephen Bishop and now I do (and so will many children). When I travel down to Mammoth Caves, I’ll look for him and while in his space, I’ll think of him and the legacy he left for all to see. He was of the shadows but shone brightly! People of color always find a way to persevere despite oppression; part of his rebellion was his determination to learn and leave his mark as…S-T-E-P-H-E-N.

This book is sure to create lots of important conversation in classrooms and households about black history. I especially hope that it’s being used in Kentucky classrooms!

 
P.S. Be sure to also check out Heather Henson’s book, That Book Woman; it’s one of my favorites. Also click here to learn a little more about black history at Mammoth Caves.

 

 

Recommended for: 1st grade and up
Great for: Role Models, Inner Strength, African American, U.S .History, Black History, Determination, Slavery, Slave Narratives, Family, Curiosity, Kentucky
Book Info: Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen-Bishop: Slave Explorer by Heather Henson/Illustrated by Bryan Collier, 2016 A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)), ISBN: 9781481420952

I Am Not a Number

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Image Credit: Second Story Press, Jenny Kay Dupuis & Kathy Kacer/Gillian Newland

“Meta” picture books have their place, cute bunnies, princesses and dragons in picture books have their place too. But there’s no denying the power of a non-fiction narrative to teach. I Am Not a Number teaches about an often overlooked and ignored part of the history of Native peoples in the Americas; the history of boarding/residential schools and the pain associated with settler colonialism.

In I Am Not a Number, Anishinaabe/Ojibway (Nipissing First Nation) author and educator Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis shares her grandmother’s story. With the help of author Kathy Kacer, Dupuis takes a tough and emotional subject and creates a learning tool. This book can also help First Nations children and families with healing and bringing forward stories of trauma. The emotional control and abuse afflicted upon children by Christian missionaries and the government has had lasting effects on First Nations communities. Some of the more well known examples of detrimental residential boarding school systems are in Australia, Canada and the United States. Here in the United States, Capt. Richard H. Pratt, founder of the Carlisle School, said that instead of killing “The Indian” one must “kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” Generations of Indigenous people around the world have suffered emotional trauma under states determined to “civilize” them.

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Image Credit: Second Story Press, Jenny Kay Dupuis & Kathy Kacer/Gillian Newland

 

I Am Not a Number begins on the Nipissing Reserve Number 10 in Ontario, Canada and follows young Irene as she’s forced to leave her home with two of her bothers. The Indian agent represents the law and Irene’s parents must send their children to residential school with him. Irene doesn’t know what awaits her but holds her mother’s words “Never forget who you are!” close. As the title of the book suggests, the children are stripped of the basic right of a name at the school; numbers are what the nuns refer to them by. They’re also beaten (and worse) for speaking their language. I Am Not a Number does not shy away from the gritty details of abuse in residential schools. This transparency is necessary for telling these stories. When summer finally comes, Irene and her brothers are allowed to go home for a while and the familiarity of their food, land and family are like a balm. Even speaking her language feel strange, though, and she suffers nightmares. Irene’s parents make the decision to fight to keep their children, no matter the consequences!

I’m glad for the back ground information at the end of the book about Canadian residential schools and especially Jenny Kay Dupuis’ afterword about her grandmother, Irene Couchie Dupuis. In addition to powerful storytelling, this book has moving and beautiful illustrations. Using a palette of grays, browns and greens, Gillian Newland brings Irene’s experience (and strength) to life for the reader. The images in this book don’t directly portray physical abuse but they show the aftermath in fearful, stunned and pained expressions. She also does a great job of portraying love; my favorite spread is of Irene and her father, forehead to forehead, eyes locked and comforting. Relieved to be reunited.

This is an important book that I hope you’ll take the time to experience with your children. Children’s non-fiction picture books are powerful and necessary for teaching history, empathy and respect. Thanks for sharing your grandmother’s story, Jenny Kay Dupuis!

 

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Strength, Friendship, Indigenous Peoples, Boarding Schools, Family, Love, Resilience, Determination, Community, Canadian History, Colonialism, Emotional Trauma, Religion, Social Justice, Social Issues
Book Info: I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer/Illustrated by Gillian Newland, 2016 Second Story Press, ISBN: 9781927583944

Sarla in the Sky

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Image Credit: Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), Anjali Joshi/Lisa Kurt

In the United States, Amelia Earhart is considered an inspiration and hero. The first African American female pilot, Bessie Coleman, isn’t very well known and until I read this book, I didn’t know about Sarla Thakral, India’s first female pilot. This simple and pretty beginning reader will teach readers of all ages about her and will perhaps inspire them to learn more.

In this story inspired by Sarla Thakral’s life and accomplishments, Sarla dreams of flying like the birds. When she’s a little girl, her best friend Prem reminds her that girls cannot fly but she’s inspired by a caterpillar to make her dreams a reality. As she grows up, she’s persistent despite the discouragement of others. She tells her critics that wings are not just for boys and continues on her path to the sky. Sarla finally gets her pilot’s license at age 21 and becomes India’s first female pilot. Like the caterpillar from her childhood, she grows into a courageous butterfly.

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Image Credit: Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), Anjali Joshi/Lisa Kurt

I enjoyed this story but it would’ve been just as good if not better if written in prose, not verse. There were some rhyming lines that didn’t quite work. That being said, I can see children enjoying this book as a read aloud. Lisa Kurt’s paintings are very pretty and I love the scene where Sarla day-dreams in the tall grass. I also liked discovering little details in her art like the use of a map of India for the butterfly’s wings.

It’s not often we get quality stories, especially in picture book or beginning reader format, that discuss Indian girls and women. This book is also important because it’s about a girl who loves science and mathematics. Sarla in the Sky is a great addition to any collection and I hope it inspires children, especially little Indian girls and boys, to dream big and fly high.

Click here to learn more about Sarla Thakral!

 

Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and up
Great for: Aviation, Dreams, Determination, India, History, History Inspired, Girls In STEM, Girl Power, Inner Strength, Diversity, Inspiration, Beginning Reader, Rhyme
Book Info: Sarla in the Sky by Anjali Joshi/Illustrated by Lisa Kurt, 2016 Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), ISBN: 9781631777462

 

A Piece of Home

APieceofHOme copy

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Jeri Watts/Hyewon Yum

Creating a new ordinary.

Not everyone wants to stand out, especially if your family moves to a new country and you suddenly feel different from everyone else. Hee Jun is a self proclaimed “ordinary” Korean boy and his grandmother is a highly respected teacher in Korea…until Hee Jun’s father gets a job in West Virginia and everything changes. Hee Jun’s family goes through a roller coaster of emotions until they find comfort and familiarity in their new lives.

Jeri Watts does a great job of depicting Korean culture and children’s emotions during times of change. This story was inspired by a Korean student who desperately wanted her to understand him and felt out of place in his new home of Virginia. As great as her storytelling is, the book wouldn’t be what it is without Hyewon Yum’s authentic voice coming through in the art. From the first page, I felt like I was back on the side streets surrounding my 초등학교 (elementary school). My school had a 떡볶이 (spicy rice cake) shop across the street just like the high school Hee Jun’s grandmother teaches at. I love how Yum incorporates Korean words and sentences into the illustrations. Her art is evocative and she’s great at characterization and creating story.

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Jeri Watts/Hyewon Yum

I really connected to this book because (as you can probably guess) I used to live in Korea. I graduated from college and almost immediately flew over to start a new life as an English teacher. Similar to Hee Jun, I felt out of control and confused at times. He also reminds me of my students, especially the ones who wanted to get to know me but didn’t have confidence in their ability to communicate with me. I made them feel uncomfortable in their own space, which must’ve been nerve-wracking! The world caters to native English speakers but Native English speaking countries rarely cater to non-native English speakers! >_< Like Hee Jun’s grandmother, immigrants bring richness into the United States that shouldn’t be ignored just because they struggle with English.

The other day I snapped this photo of 무궁화 (Mugungwha/Rose of Sharon) growing near my house. It made me think of my city of 대구 and my friends and students there.
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I hope you enjoy A Piece of Home as much as I did. I think a lot of children will be able to relate to it!

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Community, Immigration, Friendship, Korea, Korean Culture, Inner Strength, Difference, School Life, Diversity, Discussion, Language, Confidence
Book Info: A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts/Illustrated by Hyewon Yum, 2016 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763669713

Teeny Tiny Toady

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Image Credit: Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), Jill Esbaum/Keika Yamaguchi

Can you say “Modern Classic?” The story and art feel old in the best way. This book feels warm and happy, like sitting snuggled on Grandma’s lap as she reads you The Three Little Pigs and a slice of her chicken pot pie sits comfortably in your belly. Yup, Teeny Tiny Toady feels familiar…and EPIC.

The story starts in a super dramatic way; a big bad human picks Mama Toad up and traps her in a bucket! Cute little Teeny Toady rushes to get her seven big, burly, body-building older brothers to help her but they insist they can handle the situation themselves. The Toady Bros struggle to rescue their mother; every one of their attempts fail and of course they’re too busy to listen to their teeny sister’s suggestions! Before they know it, they’re in trouble too and Teeny must find courage & strength to become a Teeny Hero. There’s something to be said for brains over brawn and her Mama believes in her from the very beginning. 😉

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Image Credit: Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), Jill Esbaum/Keika Yamaguchi

Esbaum’s rhyming text is delightful and sounds great when read aloud. She’s a very good storyteller; the pacing, drama, humor and characters are perfect. This story teaches an important lesson for little ones; have faith in yourself and even if you’re little, you can do big things! Yamaguchi’s digital illustrations are magical; lush greens, soft colors and warty chubby toad bodies fill the pages. The toads ARE.SO.CUTE. My goodness. I love how she illustrates and characterizes them; their expressions and personalities are great and feel inspired by Disney and/or anime (especially their eyes!).

One of my favorite spreads is when Teeny thinks up her plan; Esbaum’s text floats and curls from left to right alongside the swirls of leaves and color straight to Teeny’s brain! What a great story! You will fall in love with this family. Teeny Tiny Toady deserves a spot near your favorite fairy tales and fables.

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Fables, Lessons, Inner Strength, Creative Thinking, Determination, Rhyme, Family, Relationships, Siblings, Girl Power, Read-Aloud, Animals, Love
Book Info: Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum/Illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi, 2016 Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), ISBN: 9781454914549

When the Slave Esperança Garcia Wrote a Letter

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Image Credit: House of Anansi Press (Groundwood Books), Sonia Rosa/Luciana Justiniani Hees

Women’s History Month is wrapping up and I’m going to officially end it on my blog by sharing the story of this strong black woman.

Esperança Garcia was an enslaved Afro-Brazilian woman, a mother, a wife and a writer. The author opens the book with the hope that the world will know her story and know her strength. Esperança’s family was enslaved by Jesuit priests but when the priests were expelled from Portugal and its colonies, her family was split apart. Under the Jesuits, though enslaved, she learned to read and write. At this time, very few women at all had this skill. Unfortunately, her life with her new owner was worse than with the Jesuits; she and her young children were regularly beaten and mistreated.

Esperança devoured books and knowledge because they gave her joy. But the more she read, the angrier she became about the injustices of slavery. With this passion for change in her heart, she decided she’d write a letter to the governor to tell about her suffering and ask for his help in sending her home to reunite with her family.  She also explained her dismay at not being able to baptize her young daughter. She carried on loving her children and working, toiling and waiting anxiously for a reply…Esperança was the first slave to write a letter of petition in Afro-Brazillian Brazil.

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Image Credit: House of Anansi Press (Groundwood Books), Sonia Rosa/Luciana Justiniani Hees

The writing of this book is gorgeous. This woman’s story deserves powerful illustrations and luckily, Luciana Justiniani Hees’ art goes above and beyond. I love how she draws Esperança and the slaves with their blue/black/purple skin and strong faces. Esperança’s cornrowed hair and features are beautiful. The colors Hees’ uses are so deeply vibrant and comforting despite the heavy subject matter of the book. My favorite spread is where Esperança rests in the slave quarters, body propped up and head rested on her hand as her children sleep beside her.

I’d never heard of this woman until now and I’m glad to know her. Thank you to Brazilian author and illustrator Sonia Rosa and Luciana Justiniani Hees and Groundwood books for publishing this book in North America. Check out When the Slave Esperança Garcia Wrote a Letter, discuss deeply and share her story. What is Women’s History Month if not an opportunity to learn about (and be reminded of) the strength of women?

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Afro-Brazilian, Brazil, Piauí, Black History, Slavery, Injustice, Black Girl Magic, Family, Community, Cultural Diversity, Diversity, Defiance, Determination, Inner Strength, Resistance, Education, Discussion, Religion, Non-Fiction, Biography
Book Info: When the Slave Esperança Garcia Wrote a Letter by Sonia Rosa/Illustrated by Luciana Justiniani Hees, 2015 House of Anansi Press (Groundwood Books), ISBN: 9781554987290

Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman

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Image Credit: Orchard Books (Scholastic Inc.), Nikki Grimes/E.B. Lewis

“…Bessie made me believe I could be anything.” – Young Fan

I’ve been wanting to review a book about Bessie Coleman for quite a while. I found two contenders and ultimately I chose this one over Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman. Though that book is also good, Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman is a stronger book in execution, creativity and memorability. It has more heart and that’s exactly what Bessie was about. I recommend Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman for younger readers.

Talkin’ About Bessie has a unique concept; 20 family members, acquaintances and friends come together after Bessie Coleman’s funeral to speak about her. Instead of a straightforward non-fiction narrative style, we get something special; reflection based on fact, crafted by author, Nikki Grimes.

Bessie grew up poor in segregated Texas, picking cotton with her many siblings. She loved numbers and words from an early age and her mom always encouraged her to read the bible. Though her father left their family  when she was young (which left her little time for childhood), she kept dreaming. When an adult, she moved to Chicago and after taking many jobs found inspiration from the blacks who ran the newspaper The Defender. She decided to go to France and get her pilots license and when she set her mind on that goal, she was determined to follow through! Bessie Coleman became the first person of African descent in the US to get an international pilot’s license and came back to the US to became an aviatrix. She wanted to encourage blacks to fly and worked towards raising funds to open a flight school for her people. Her personality was bigger than life and she was (and still is) an inspiration.

Nikki Grimes’ writing is great. The characters’ various speaking styles bring them to life. Each page has a “photo painting” in the corner  with the name of the person speaking and a gorgeous full page illustration. This is a nice design. One aspect of the book that didn’t make sense to me though was the character “Laundry Customer.” She’s a white character who employed young Bessie and her family (created by Grimes). Her words are very privileged and she makes it clear that Bessie was, from an early age, challenging and out of line for a young Negro girl. So why would she be present at Bessie’s funeral?? Though I understand the author’s desire to help us understand the segregated world Bessie lived in, it seems out of place and the other characters do a fine job of creating context for readers.

E.B. Lewis’ art is absolutely beautiful. This kind of story requires a very straightforward type of illustration that serves to compliment/enhance the words. His watercolors are meticulous and he does a great job of creating place, mood and character. I hope you’ll take the time to read this excellent book that honors Bessie Coleman’s spirit!

 

P.S. Here’s some backstory from the author Nikki Grimes! Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Womens History Month, History, Black History, African-American, Diversity, Black Girl Magic, Black Girls Rock, Aviation, Determination, Confidence, Inner Strength, Family, Relationships, Struggles, Segregation, Racism, Sexism, Tragedy, Role Model, Dreams, Biography, Non-Fiction
Book Info: Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of aviator Elizabeth Coleman by Nikki Grimes/Illustrated by E.B. Lewis, 2002 Orchard Books (Scholastic Inc.), ISBN: 9780439352437

When Marian Sang

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Image Credit: Scholastic Press, Pam Muñoz Ryan/Brian Selznick

Take a look at that cover!

Not only is the cover beautiful, well designed and eye-catching, the entire book is gorgeous.

The story begins with young Marian in her house, set in the middle of a grand stage. When Marian Sang is a moving and beautifully told story of the life of singer Marian Anderson. There was never a moment she didn’t love to sing and people loved to listen. She was passionate about her faith and her music and by the age of eight, was performing for choruses in Philadelphia. Early on, Marian decided that music was something she wanted to dedicate herself to but because of her race, she was turned away from formal lessons.

Prejudice is intertwined with Marian’s story. Even though she was invited to sing across the country, she couldn’t even get a hotel room! But she continued to rise and share the gift of her voice with the world. Like Josephine Baker, she came back to the US and faced the challenge of performing as a black woman. The D.A.R. might’ve denied her performance at their hall but little did they know Marian’s spirit was destined for greatness. Eleanor Roosevelt and President Roosevelt set her up to perform at the Lincoln Memorial instead!! That performance was groundbreaking and memorable not only for the integrated crowd that witnessed it, but for the entire country. Marian continued to sing, inspire and move audiences for years to come.

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Image Credit: Scholastic Press, Pam Muñoz Ryan/Brian Selznick

The art!! Selznick uses rich acrylics and his palette is lush and golden. He uses only browns, golds, rose golds, pinks, and creams for entire book. The layout is very wide and grand. The large pages are perfect for highlighting his art. His paintings glow and the combination of his art with Pam Muñoz Ryan’s beautifully poignant writing is perfect. What a team, what a book and what a story of an amazing woman!

P.S. Take some time to read through the notes in the back about the author and illustrator’s loving and thorough research. Also check out Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century. She was inspired by Marian Anderson!

#BlackGirlMagic #InternationalWomensDay

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Family, Love, Relationships, Faith, Music, Girls in Music, Diversity, Black Girl Magic, Black Girls Rock, Determination, Inner Strength, Prejudice, Segregation, Choir, Opera, Spirituals, Integration, Philadelphia, Europe, Non-fiction, Biography
Book Info: When Marian Sang by Pam Muñoz Ryan/Illustrated by Brian Selznick, 2002 Scholastic Press, ISBN: 9780439269674

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

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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.

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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