I will admit to a small bias against poetry. Despite studying it, writing it, promoting it, I’ve always had a hard time getting excited about reading poetry. So when I flipped this open and saw it was in verse, there was a momentary pause, I put it down and came back to it later. And I’m very glad that I returned to this!
In free verse, this tells the story of the slave, known as “Dave,” purchased in 1815. His owner, Harvey Drake, is a potter and he teaches Dave the art of pottery. Harvey also happens to violate the law, and teaches Dave to read and write as well. Dave becomes an expert potter, often marking his pots with bits of writing.
Despite the short, free verse poems, we manage to learn a lot about what it’s like to be a slave (having wives sold and sent away; the dangers of knowing too much; etc) and about life in the 1800’s and about pottery. It’s quite remarkable how much I picked up in this brief volume targeted toward elementary school readers. The writing captures a mood and tone of the era quite well.
I finished the book, feeling richer for what I learned, but also wanting to know more about pottery at this time, slavery and the fight for freedom, and the region in which this clay was found and turned in to pottery. Wanting to learn more is always good (provided it’s not because we didn’t learn anything).
Looking for a good book? This is all-around a fantastic, quick read. Aimed at young readers, adults should feel enriched after reading it to their children.
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Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Poetter and Poet
author: Andrea Cheng
publisher: Lee & Low Books
hardcover, 160 pages