Review of the Week

etched in clayCheng, Andrea.  Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet.‡ Andrea Cheng, Illus.  Non-fic.  Lee & Low, 2013. 143p. $17.95. 978-1-6006-0451-5. OUTSTANDING.  GRADES 3-ADULT.

In this terrific biography-in-verse, Andrea Cheng gives us a powerful portrait of an amazing ceramic artist, poet, and quiet rebel, “Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet,” as she calls him in the book’s subtitle. Dave both produces pottery and teaches: he teaches other slaves and even helps owners. As a slave, he is sold from owner to owner throughout his life, his family broken up. Dave also writes poetry on his pots, an actual “crime of literacy – ”—his owners get in trouble for letting him write and be literate. Cheng illustrates her own verse with striking woodcuts that deliver parts of the story in bold strokes of black and white. It is a novel-sized book of short verse for middle elementary readers and above, and it could, theoretically, be used by high school students as a hi/lo title, unlike the beautifully illustrated and more simply written biography of Dave by Laban Carrick Hill and beautifully illustrated by Bryan Collier (Dave the Potter, Little, 2010). The physical, mental, and spiritual pain of slavery is conveyed in short free verse poems, many in Dave’’s voice. Dave risked his life for his art and his expression – —his pots are a magnificent image of both word and three-dimensional form expressing a universal need. Readers may be most moved by the fact that so few of Dave’s pots still exist whole, and many, many shards can be found in fields surrounding places in which he worked and lived.

Alan Bern, Berkeley PL

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