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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Quick review of an excellent non-fiction picture book

Hill, Laban Carrick; Collier, Bryan (ill.) (2010) Dave the Potter:  Artist, Poet, Slave.  New York:  Little Brown and Company

Just outside of Edgeville, South Carolina, during the mid 1800s, there was an African American slave who made all sorts of pottery -- mostly drinking vessels and storage jars thrown on a potter's wheel.  He often wrote on his pottery.  Sometimes he signed it -- but always just Dave (because to sign more could have called attention to himself and been dangerous and many slaves did not have family names.)   He also sometimes wrote poetry or messages like the following:

     put every bit all between
     surely this jar will hold 14
           --July 12, 1834

     Dave belongs to Mr. Miles
     wher the oven bakes and the pot biles
          --July 31, 1840

Historians have been able to gather a remarkable amount of information about Dave's life, including that he lost his leg when he was near 35 years old, that he made an estimated forty thousand pots over seventy years, and that the last pot he made that survives is dated May 3, 1862.   It is a lot of information, but not really enough to fill a chapter book.  I is, however, a perfect amount of an excellent picture book.  Laban Hill's text is good, but it is Bryan Collier's images that take your breath away.  They are realistic paintings with beautiful earth tones, but what strikes me most on nearly every page is the way Collier uses light.  Many of the scenes seem to be lit by a late afternoon sun which brings a slightly orange tinge to things.  It reminds me of Kadir Nelson's work. 

If you teach art or elementary school or if you just love beautiful images and interesting historical stories, pick this one up.  It is a good one.

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