Sep 12, 2015

Dave the Potter: Powerful Life Story, Powerful Picture Books

My posts in recent months have been focused on specific topics and releases, but this post returns me to my original purpose when I started this blog nearly four years ago. 

Picture books are a format, not a single genre, not aimed at a narrow target age or a particular "stage" of childhood. A recent feature in SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL included interviews with outstanding teachers who use picture books with middle grade and high school students, including AP English classes.
Used with intention, with understanding of the complexity, layers, and potential of quality literature in this format, picture books are not only appropriate for any age, they can elevate and enhance the quality of learning, discussions, and writing.

An outstanding example is ETCHED IN CLAY: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet, with text and woodcut illustrations by Andrea Cheng.
Lee and Low Books, 2013

In this book the combination of powerful woodcut art and free-verse voices examines the varied events and individuals who shaped Dave's life. Their impact was every bit as real as if the hands of owners, mentors, family, and society of that time and place had molded the clay of his being. Even so, he exerted an equally powerful molding influence on his life in knowing what, at its core, made him who he was.

I found the details of Dave's life AFTER the war and emancipation a deeply unsettling confirmation of facts reported in GIVE US THE BALLOT, by Ari Berman. Dave's  literate life was more limited post-Civil War by unwritten forces (Klu Klux Klan and others) than he had been as a slave.
With well-cited resources in the back matter of Etched in Clay, I suspect other readers will want to do as I do, to explore further the life and times of this remarkable artist.
Little, Borwn Books for Young Readers, 2010

A nonfiction picture book version of his story,  DAVE THE POTTER: ARTIST, POET, SLAVE , by Laban Carrick Hill and  multi-award-winning-illustrator  Bryan Collier, was my introduction to the life of this remarkably gifted artist, an intelligent survivor of pre- and -post- Civil War slavery.

DAVE THE POTTER: Artist, Poet, Slaveincludes powerful text (a free verse extended poem), quoted lines from poems by Dave, and the intensely deep, rich images of Bryan Collier, layered with details and visual references to slavery and society of the time. 
The back matter in this book elevates it from a surprising discovery of an unknown artist to a dense journey into the past. It gives Dave's artistry and literacy a voice and presence in the twenty-first century.
Like the best picture books, it will appeal to younger readers and intrigue their own creative selves while providing insights to history.
For older readers, though, it is a portal to the past that pairs well with ETCHED IN CLAY: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet.
The two sources combine to step away from the "concepts" of slavery, individual rights, and freedom into the shoes of a documented individual whose artistry and intelligence might have made him a world leader had he lived in other circumstances.

That's a prospect worthy of discussion and exploration at any age, don't you agree?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.