Monday, October 4, 2010

Nonfiction Monday Book Review: Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, by Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier (Little Brown, 2010)

Recommended for ages 5-10.  

When author Laban Carrick Hill first learned the inspiring story of Dave the Potter, an outstanding 19th century folk artist, poet, and slave, he was determined to share Dave's story with young readers.

He decided to tell Dave's story in free-verse, explaining the process of creating a pot from beginning to end.  With powerful close-up images of Dave's hands forming the clay on the potter's wheel, we read:  "Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat,/Dave's hands, buried/in the mounded mud,/pulled out the shape of a jar."  While the clay dries, we see Dave preparing the special "glasslike brown glaze to withstand time."  Finally, Dave inscribes his jar with a special poem, signing his name and the date.

In an era in which few slaves learned skilled trades such as pottery, and slaves were forbidden to learn to read and write, Dave's works are particularly extraordinary; at the conclusion of the book, the author provides more details of the little that is known about Dave's life, and also reproduces a number of Dave's surviving verses. 

The stunning illustrations by award-winning illustrator Bryan Collier (you can browse through the book using the OpenBook widget below) are inseparable from the text (Caldecott committee--have you taken a look at this one?)  Done in a palette dominated by the earth tones of the clay itself, the illustrations are done in a combination of watercolor and collage and show the step-by-step process of creating a pot.  The images are infused with a monumental and even spiritual quality which highlights the dignity of Dave's work.

The book includes a brief bibliography of resources, both print and websites, about Dave.  Adults interested in learning more about Dave the Potter might be particularly interested in the award-winning book Carolina Clay:  The Life and Legend of the Slave Potter Dave, by Leonard Todd, a descendent of Dave's master.

In his dedication, illustrator Bryan Collier is particularly eloquent about this story, which he dedicates to all artists, and everyone who loves picture books:  "Because this story is really about the power of the human spirit, artistry, and truth, and that cannot be silenced by bondage of any kind."  You won't want to miss this new release--not only a wonderful book to enjoy and discuss, but one which can also be used to inspire both art and poetry lessons in school classrooms.  

1 comment:

Madigan Mirza said...

What a powerful combination of words and pictures. My favorite lines were "To us/it is just dirt... but to Dave/it was clay,/the plain and basic stuff/upon which he learned to/form a life"

Yes, this book has "future award winner" written all over it. I'm rooting for it now!

Thanks for participating in NonFiction Monday and bringing this book to my attention.