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Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave Hardcover – September 7, 2010
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From School Library Journal
K-Gr 4–The life of an astonishingly prolific and skilled potter who lived and died a slave in 19th-century South Carolina is related in simple, powerful sentences that outline the making of a pot. The movements of Dave's hands are described using familiar, solid verbs: pulling, pinching, squeezing, pounding. Rural imagery–a robin's puffed breast, a carnival wheel–remind readers of Dave's surroundings. The pithy lines themselves recall the short poems that Dave inscribed on his pots. Collier's earth-toned watercolor and collage art extends the story, showing the landscape, materials, and architecture of a South Carolina farm. Alert readers will find hidden messages in some of the collages, but what stands out in these pictures are Dave's hands and eyes, and the strength of his body, reflected in the shape and size of his legendary jars and pots. A lengthy author's note fleshes out what is known of the man's life story and reproduces several of his two-line poems. A photograph of some of Dave's surviving works cements the book's link to the present and lists of print and online resources encourage further exploration. An inspiring story, perfectly presented and sure to prompt classroom discussion and projects. Outstanding in every way.Paula Willey, Baltimore County Public Library, Towson, MD
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
As a closing essay explains, little is known about the man known as Dave the potter. Two things are certain, though: he was a slave in South Carolina, and he was a potter of uncommon skill. As Hill writes, “Dave was one of only two potters at the time who could successfully make pots that were larger than twenty gallons.” He also inscribed strange, sophisticated poetry into the clay: “I wonder where / is all my relation / friendship to all— / and, every nation.” The verses Hill uses to introduce us to Dave are sometimes just as evocative: “On wet days, / heavy with rainwater, / it is cool and squishy, / mud pie heaven.” The book’s quiet dignity comes from its refusal to scrutinize life as a slave; instead, it is nearly a procedural, following Dave’s mixing, kneading, spinning, shaping, and glazing. Collier’s gorgeous watercolor-and-collage illustrations recall the work of E. B. Lewis—earth-toned, infused with pride, and always catching his subjects in the most telling of poses. A beautiful introduction to a great lost artist. Grades K-3. --Daniel Kraus
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Top Customer Reviews
This thoughtful, creative picture book pays tribute to Dave the potter. Rhythmic verse and expressive watercolor/collage images harmonously present the story of how Dave would have created one of his lovely jars, from transforming the earth into clay and spinning the clay on the wheel, to finishing the piece with an inscription and glaze. Together with the afterword, the prose and illustrations provide a useful resource for teaching young learners about slavery and different ways in which African Americans resisted this oppressive system.
A horse was hitched to the long wooden arm of the pug mill. He went round and round as the gears ground the sand and water together to make that clay that others put in wheelbarrows to carry to Dave. When he received the clay, he mixed it "with water drawn from Big Horse Creek, until [it] was wet and stiff and heavy. His big beautiful black hand kneaded the clay in preparation for its spin on the potter's wheel. He leaned over his work concentrating as "His chapped thumbs pinched into the center, squeezed the inside against his fingers outside." What would come off the wheel that started from tiny grains of sand? What would he write on his work?
This is a marvelous story of an artist who saw something beautiful in the dirt under his feet. This story, told in free verse was simply mesmerizing. The stunning artwork meshed perfectly with the tale. The reader will almost be able to hear the wheels turning in Dave's head as he thought about what he wanted to create on the potter's wheel. Dave was a South Carolinian slave in the 1800s whose work survives as a testimony to his greatness. When he finished a pot, he would etch something on the pot for future generations to remember him by. For example, one such etching said, "I wonder where is all my relation friendship to all -- and every nation." In the back of the book is a photograph of some of his pieces, a short biography that includes some of his poetry, and additional recommended book and website resources to explore.
Dave's hands, buried
in the mounded mud,
pulled out the shape of a jar.
How true. And Bryan's palate of rich browns and ochres brought that magic to life. And served to make Dave "real" to my kids. So that when we got around to that conversation about what the Civil War was about we could talk about how amazing his artwork and poems were in the context of a time when it was illegal to teach a slave to read and write.
Dave is a fascinating man and I think the author and illustrator made this perfectly clear.
Besides putting slavery in perspective, I really liked how inspirational his story was. Dave managed, somehow, in a time when it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write, to produce poetry. And his story is really one of the inextinguishable human spirit.
I wish the book had included some information about the rest of Dave's life. He was eventually emancipated after all, and took the last name Drake, and I wonder what happened to him. But then again not knowing the rest of the story, perhaps there's a reason it was omitted. (Parents and teachers might still want to do some more research to tell 'the whole story'.)
I also wish that there had been some notes explaining some of the more cryptic poems. We had fun trying to figure out what some of them might have meant, but I would have liked to have an authoritative source give us their opinions.
Simply fabulous artwork.