I had purposed this book to be apart of an ongoing History discussion I was having with my children --boy and girl, 8 and 10 -- on the Civil War. I meant to personalize the historical era which is basically incomprehensible to children this young if you don't give them someone they can understand. And eventually we did get around to this discussion, but first it had to wait. Why? Because my children were awestruck by Bryan Collier's beautiful illustrations. His drawings just grabbed their attention and they had to examine them thoroughly before we could get back to the text. (There's something just magically about how a pot can be pulled out of the blob of clay, and they just had to go through the process multiple times before we could move on :)
Dave's hands, buried in the mounded mud, pulled out the shape of a jar.
Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat...
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.
THE SKINNY::: 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.