Dave the Potter – Artist, Poet, Slave
Written by Laban Carrick Hill
Illustrated by Bryan Collier
Published by Little, Brown and Company 2011
Caldecott Honor Book 2011
Themes: Slavery, poetry, pottery, art, faith, African-American history
Suitable for ages: 7 – 10
Opening: To us
it is just dirt,
the ground we walk on,
Scoop up a handful.
The gritty grains slip
between your fingers.
Brief Synopsis: Dave was an extraordinary artist, poet, and potter living as a slave in South Carolina in the 1800s. A potter and a poet. This is story of strength (both spiritually and physically, for it is difficult to throw clay pots of the size and scope Dave made – 20 to 40 gallons) and creativity. It also présents the reader with a mystery, for so little is really know about Dave . . . how was he trained when so few slaves were? How did he learn to read? The artwork is beautiful, but the foldout picture of Dave’s strong hands pulling the jar out of the clay on the potters wheel is truly remarkable. The text is short and lyrical and evocative of Dave’s own poems. One example,
“I wonder where is all my relation
friendship to all — and, every nation.”
The free verse focuses on the stages of creating a pot, from gathering the clay to finishing the pot. Dave’s visonary and compassionate spirit emerge through his pots and his poems.
Links to Resources: The back of the book includes: more of Dave’s poetry, an author and illustrator’s note, bibliography and websites.
This website includes extensive lesson plans and curriculum materials.
Why I like this book: The text is sweet, yet strong and lyrical and I believe draws even a young reader into the creative energies of being a poetic potter. The artwork is sublime, and for younger children, maybe you will stop at the storyline and pictures, which invite them alongside Dave and his potter’s wheel, in his creative process. The watercolor and collage illustrations are beautiful, detailed and powerful. The earth tones used are perfect for the subject and the various perspectives used will captivate older children and adults. This is a deserving award winner. Older children will additionally enjoy the wealth of non-fictional information at the back of the book.
And part of Gathering Books 2012 Award Winning Book Reviews, where I aim to review 12 award winning children’s books through the year. Do check it out and join in!