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Review of Etched in Clay

Etched in ClayEtched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet
by Andrea Cheng; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Lee & Low   143 pp.
1/13    978-1-60060-451-5    $17.95    g

Readers familiar with Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier’s 2011 Caldecott Honor–winning picture book Dave the Potter will appreciate Cheng’s interpretation of the man’s life story. Historical record leaves much unknown about this real person, a slave living in South Carolina who learned how to mold clay and became a fine potter. Through alternating perspectives (Dave; partners in the pottery business; the slave master; a woman who may have been Dave’s wife; children he’s teaching) and in spare free verse, Cheng sets the stage for Dave’s personal stand against injustice. After learning how to read and write, he saw clay as a “wet mound / of potential” and began inscribing small poems in the pottery — at the risk of his life, since it was illegal for slaves to know how to write. This inspirational historical fiction novel in verse portrays one man’s capacity to live a creative life within the confines of slavery, a man who (in Cheng’s words) hoped that “someday the world will read / my word etched in clay / on the side of this jar / and know about the shackles / around our legs / and the whips / upon our backs.” Silhouette-like woodcuts enhance the presentation. A selection of Dave’s writings is appended, and source notes are included.

From the January/February 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Dean Schneider

Dean Schneider teaches seventh and eighth grades at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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