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Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad Hardcover – Picture Book, November 1, 2012
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A New York Times Best Illustrated Book
"[D]esigned to present youngsters with a moral choice . . . the author, a former teacher, clearly intended Unspoken to be a challenging book, its somber sepia tone drawings establish a mood of foreboding." -The New York Times Book Review
*"Moving and emotionally charged." -Kirkus Reviews, starred review
*"Gorgeously rendered in soft dark pencils, this wordless book is reminiscent of the naturalistic pencil artistry of Maurice Sendak and Brian Selznick." -School Library Journal, starred review
*"Cole conjures significant tension and emotional heft (his silent storytelling calls to mind Brian Selznick's recent work) in this powerful tale of quiet camaraderie and courage." -Publishers Weekly, starred review
"From the title on, silence and secrets create stirring drama in this wordless picture book . . . children will be moved to return to the images many times and fill in their own words." -Booklist
"What Cole shows so superbly through his accomplished yet unpretentious pencil art-the ideal medium for the book, as it looks as if it's of the era as well as portraying the era-is the keeping of secrets. The entire family appears to know what's going on, but the extent of each character's involvement is never made explicit." -Horn Book
- Lexile Measure : NP
- Grade Level : Kindergarten - 2
- Item Weight : 1.1 pounds
- Hardcover : 40 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0545399971
- ISBN-13 : 978-0545399975
- Product Dimensions : 11.19 x 0.5 x 10 inches
- Publisher : Scholastic Press; Illustrated Edition (November 1, 2012)
- Reading level : 3 - 7 years
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #128,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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As our story begins, a young farm girl bringing the cow home from the pasture watches five men pass on horseback. The first one is carrying a Confederate flag, so we understand that this story takes place in the South during the Civil War era. The girl goes to feed the chickens, and then her mother sends her to fetch the eggs from a small barn. As she does so, she is frightened to realize that someone is hiding in a big stack of corn stalks laid in one corner of the barn, perhaps to dry for feed.
The girl runs back to the house, but even before she goes inside, she starts to calm down and think about what this means. She does not say anything to her family, but after dinner she goes out to the barn with some food for the fugitive. Perhaps my favorite part about this story is a spread showing different hands holding different food items on the same checked cloth--showing that each member of the family separately slips out to the barn to feed the runaway slave hiding there.
The next day two men come to the farm looking for a runaway slave, but the girl's family sends them away. That night the runaway is gone, but she has left a simple gift behind for the girl, something she has made from the checked napkin and the corn husks.
A good picture book is like a poem. It is hard to tell a story well in just a few words or just a few pictures, but Cole succeeds beautifully. The entire book is done in charcoal pencil on cream-colored textured paper, giving it a sepia look like photos from the late 1800s as well as a subtle richness. The North Star, or rather the Little Dipper containing the North Star, is a motif used in a piece of art that appears on the book cover and inside the book; it is also shown on two other spreads, tying the story together.
Unlike a graphic novel, the picture book format does not allow for a lot of sequential storytelling, but Cole has chosen his moments well, and the narrative flows logically. I like the way he shows most scenes at a medium distance, but includes the occasional close-up. One of the best spreads in the book is simply all those corn stalks with their marvelous texture--and one eye of the hidden girl looking out.
Cole includes an author's note that explains about the Civil War stories he heard as a boy growing up in Virginia, as well as more information about how slaves used the North Star to guide their escape to freedom.
Unspoken may require you to use a few words of introduction to give young readers historical context. But the sense of quiet urgency, the threat of discovery, the courage of the runaway, and one farm family's kindness need no words, as Henry Cole so wisely shows us.
I think this may be one of those books that keeps on going for years.