Subscribe to The Horn Book

Dave the Potter | Class #4, 2015

Dave the PotterHere’s a biography of someone we really know very little about. What do you make of Hill’s poem? Do you want to learn more? Do Collier’s illustrations fill in some gaps?

The information at the end tells us more, but in fact we are still left with a mystery. Do Collier’s collages match the tone of the text?

We’re also reading some articles about this book. You can comment on the articles on that page, but I’d love to know how they affected your appreciation of the book.

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Ben Johnson says:

    As I read and re-read Dave the Potter, I came away from the text feeling unsatisfied. I loved the story and prose that the author included, as well as the additional information at the end of the book. However, I couldn’t help feeling unfulfilled.

    Later, I read Bryan Collier’s acceptance speech. In the speech he spoke about how just reading the text made him, quite simply, “wonder”. This speech reminded me of the real purpose of children’s non-fiction texts. Put simply, these texts are not meant to provide children with the answers to all of their questions, but instead, to provoke them to ask the questions in the first place.

    After sitting and thinking about this text for a couple of days (and doing quite a bit of research on Dave the Potter), I came to the conclusion that I loved this book. The book itself (as Megan Dowd Lambert also noticed) provides the perfect amount of information, coupled with evocative drawings, to initiate a powerful sense of curiosity in young (and graduate-student) readers. I can’t wait to read this book with my students next year and hear the questions that show that their curiosity has been ignited.

  2. Haneen Sakakini says:

    This was my first time reading this book. Before I read it I read Bryan Collier’s acceptance speech. I am not sure why I decided to read this speech first, however I am glad I did. It set the stage for the book. It prepared my mind to “wonder” as I was reading.

    While reading through the book I didn’t leave dissatisfied like my Ben did, however I did feel curious. The first couple pages of the book made me think back to the things they described like the pot and the sand and caused me to wonder how I saw those two items. It made me question, what do I think of when I see or touch sand or when I see a pot in my kitchen.

    Personally I really enjoyed learning about Brayan’s journey to really understand Dave. As a result I believe that the illustrations in this book really added a layer that went beyond the words. My favorite illustration was when Dave was sitting with his back towards the reader in his studio working on his potter’s wheel. This pictures leaves the reader curious and interested in seeing what he is working on.The illustrations provided answers yet also created additional curiosity, which in my eyes complements the tone of the text very nicely.

    I wish I knew about this book before. I would have loved to do a lesson on Dave and used this book as an introduction in order to get students wondering and thinking about Dave and who is he.

  3. Rebecca Tan says:

    This book left me with mixed feelings. On one hand it paints Dave as a skilful, hardworking, master potter. I like that the focus of the narrative is on Dave as a human, as a potter. On the other hand, I feel that the significance of his accomplishments is not fully realised because there is little information about his circumstances, at least until the end of the book.
    Knowing a little about Dave the Potter before beginning to read the book, I could continuously understand the narrative in the appropriate context. I entered the story already with some admiration and respect for Dave. The detailed descriptions about his meticulous work paints Dave (to me) as a gentle, skilful, and patient master artist. However, without any context about the obstacles Dave would have had to overcome to become the artist he was, I feel that the significance of his accomplishments are lost somewhat. Other than the fact that the readers know Dave is “a slave” (from the title), little else is known about him. Perhaps this is because in actual fact little is known about him and this gives the reader to use their imagination. Readers get a glimpse into Dave’s world and thoughts in a full page spread opposite the words, “The jar grew so large/ Dave could no longer/ wrap his strong arms around it./ If he climbed into the jar/ and curled into a ball,/ he would have been embraced.” This spread was the most personal and emotional spread to me, as it reminded me Dave was just one story we know about out of his community.

  4. Stacey Kahn says:

    I was blown away by this book. The story was heartbreaking and beautiful, and I thought Hill and Collier rendered their subject sensitively and effectively. Hill’s poetry-like prose was almost like a tribute to Dave, the poet. Collier’s illustrations likewise treated the subject matter with a dignity befitting this man we know so little about, while attesting to Dave, the potter. The illustration of Dave within a pot himself, with the faces of several African Americans embedded within was so beautiful and almost contained a certain poetry in the image. Every page of this story felt carefully constructed in order to create a meaningful representation of Dave, so that the few things we do know about him were able to shine.

  5. Annie Thomas says:

    I agree with Ben– at first I was a bit unsure about the book and the potential other information that could have been included. But, I love that this book was about a real person who lived during this time, which allows us to learn a bit about the time period but also a lot about a very specific skill. The illustrations add an entire other dimension to the story and tell their own story apart from the words.

  6. Ying Xiang Lai says:

    I think I can empathise with the mixed feelings shared by others about this book. While Dave’s poetry moved me greatly, his story did not seem sufficiently fleshed out such that a young reader might not come away with the sense of greatness that the author might have been trying to impart. Nevertheless, I was very impressed with the illustrations, which reminded me slightly of Jeannie Baker’s Mirror, with its complex textures and details.

  7. Amy Louer says:

    I too would have left the book unsatisfied for answers if it weren’t for the notes in the back. The writing itself was beautifully constructed just as Dave’s fine works were. I appreciated how both the illustrations of Dave; however, I was more captivated by the illustration beneath the prose. On each page, the words laid over a segmented pieces of paper. It felt to me as something the average person couldn’t capture the beauty of, but that Dave would have been able to make a masterpiece of it, just as he did his pots.

  8. Anderson says:

    From the title, I thought that I would read a sad tale about a “slave” who was mistreated or had his artistry exploited or desperately longed for freedom through poetry….or all of the above. I was surprised and refreshed to a point. The story gave the reader a creative being. He was strong, skilled, and thoughtful about his artistry. He wanted to leave his mark on the world through the artistry that he created. I saw that as his freedom. He would live free through his work, and generations of people would know him and have a piece of him…around the world. The book said so much without saying it. I wonder how powerful the book would be for young children. I think it might require significant probing to get children to interpret the larger implications of the story. At any rate, it was a great read!

  9. Moses Kim says:

    I found the book’s treatment of Dave to be refreshingly down-to-earth and warm: I remember how in last week’s discussion of The Stories Julian Tells, one of my classmates mentioned that almost all of the books about the African-American condition and experience were about slavery and oppression, which while undeniably important made it difficult to highlight other parts of what it meant to be black to children. I think this book makes a strong argument that quiet, steady accomplishment in the face of an oppressive, racist society is something that is in its own way commendable – I think that is a message that should be imparted to every child that has to struggle with the legacy of that history.

    Beyond that, I think the illustrations and design choices are remarkable: one page where the text got suddenly bigger and the page unfolded literally took my breath away. I’m also thinking of the page where the pot gets “too big” to hold and, suddenly, we see the smooth lines of the clay torn into glass-like shards against Dave’s face. Those choices hint at the conditions Dave faces without making them explicit and may be worth discussing with older students.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind