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Dave the Potter | Class #4, 2016

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. Dominique Donette says:

    The images in this book are insane. Just incredible. I was moved by the emotion, life and care etched into each one. I was stunned by the pull out page in which David’s hands are shown molding the clay in various stages. The text on that page matched so beautifully with the illustration,” like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat…” I also appreciated that the focus was on Dave, his skills, his point of view, his work and not that of his enslaver. My baby sister is too young to understand the history of enslaved people and their enslavers but I will purchase it as a starting point. There’s so much that the book can be used for. It tells a story of the human spirit, triumphant in his circumstance. Thank you for assigning this book, what a treasure!

  2. Allison Bishop says:

    Dominique, I agree about the illustrations! I’m a potter myself, so getting to see how the author/illustrator decided to portray my kind of artwork was fabulous. I love how the color palette of the illustrations tend towards clay colors – reds and browns which (to me) hold the words and images of the story together.

    I ran into this video, as well, which others may find interesting! (Seeing a group of students interact with an actor who modeled for the illustrations of Dave in the book)

  3. Andrew Bauld says:

    The illustrations were amazing in this book. Such a unique mix of watercolor and collage that gave a sense of of the time period, but also alluded to something bigger. I was particularly struck by the pages showing the pot set against the Atlantic Ocean, with a ship in the background (perhaps reminiscent of a slave ship?) and the image with Dave and the tree behind him composed of various faces. I thought what this book did so brilliantly, and what these two pages encapsulate, was how it focused on Dave the Artist, allowing his story and craft to shine through, but never at the expense of reminding us that this man was a slave, and behind the art was always the specter of slavery. The afterward, describing a bit of his life and sharing more of his poems, was also really well done. Just a beautiful book overall.

  4. Sarah Cole says:

    As someone who resisted reading information books as a child, I so appreciate this book. It is accessible like a fictional picture book, with it’s incredible illustration and (mostly) simple engaging text. However, there’s also so many different things students can learn from this book: the process of making pots, the difference between field slaves and “skilled” slaves, the fact that most slaves weren’t allowed to develop a skill or learn to read and write, and on and on… The illustrations also provide so many details many of which other people have pointed out. On one page you can see the big house– pink with grand white pillars, which contrasts significantly with all the other brown, drab shack-looking edifices in the book. There are so many details for the reader to pick up, interpret and wrestle with. I also thought it was great to grab the reader’s attention with the story book like format and then present Dave’s poems. I think this format might compel students to read those poems when they may not have had they stood alone without the first part of the book.

  5. Kate Cunningham says:

    I agree with all the posted comments about the beauty of the illustrations and the intricate details. There is so much to notice, I flipped through the book multiple times just to view the images and noticed new details each time. Like Andrew, I think the afterward with more details about Dave’s life was very well done. But this also raised a question for me – both Dave the Potter and Me, Jane have really interesting information about the subjects of their books at the end of the main text. Would others consider sharing some of that information about Dave or Jane Goodall in advance of reading the book, so students could have some grounding in the subject and hold their point of view while reading? Or do you think there is more value in reading the main verse about Dave the Potter (or narrative text for Jane Goodall) first, then exploring the additional information? I’m really torn!

  6. Elizabeth Dorr says:

    Did anyone else notice that is spells out “Live Life” on the wooden panels of the barn on approximately page 4?

  7. Anthony Capone says:

    I agree with all of the commenters that were impressed by the illustrations in this book. I thought the author also did a good job of poetically connecting the text to Dave’s experience as a slave, as seen in the text “With a flat wooden paddle/large enough to row/across the Atlantic.” Even though these connections were made, the author kept Dave’s creativity and strength a major theme throughout the book. As the author uses very descriptive language when discussing the process that Dave undertook to make his pots, I think a teacher could initially read the text to the students and deprive them of the images in an effort to practice visualization. For example, reading “If he climbed into the jar/and curled into a ball,/he would have been embraced” might create a visual of Dave climbing into one of his pots that would be enhanced during a second reading when the students are able to connect the stunning picture of Dave in front of a tree covered with images of (presumably) his ancestors.

  8. Marty Ray says:

    This was an amazing book, and I’ve rarely been moved by a book as I was by this one. I for one appreciated the text alongside the illustrations. While the illustrations undoubtedly are brilliant, the text sort of also gives a voice to Dave that I felt added to the book greatly. As someone said earlier, the deeper background in to who Dave was at the end was much appreciated. But as a whole, the book creates a powerful experience, and through the story of Dave, inspired me greatly. The piece by Megan Lambert was emotionally touching as she recaps the experience of being white while raising children of color, who have differing reactions to the book. Stevie’s connection to the book exemplifies the power that illustrations and picture book experiences have on children and was, again, deeply moving for me.

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