Etched in Clay: the Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng

etched-in-clay-andrea-chengThe Story (in 5 sentences or less):  Dave is a slave purchased by Harvey Drake in Augusta, Georgia in 1815.  Harvey takes him to Pottersville, South Carolina and not only teaches him pottery, but also how to read.  Over the span of years, Dave suffers greatly as his loved ones (including two wives) are sold away.  Dave begins carving words and poems into some of his pottery, a small act of sedition and outlet for his grief.

My Take:  I wondered if this book would be able to measure up to the quality of the Caldecott Honor book “Dave the Potter;” I believe that it does.  Written in short chapters of verse in 1st person, the poetry is never intrusive or self conscious, but rather breathes real life into the characters.  The poems are lean and spare, but sketch out the characters enough so that we grieve at the tragedies in Dave’s life.  I’d recommend this book to readers ages 11+ who are interested in knowing what being a slave feels like.  An appendix explains the life and times of Dave from an historical perspective.

One Interesting Note about the Author:  Andrea Cheng’s interest in Civil Right’s issues began at an early age when, growing up in Cincinnati, she remembers “sitting in the front yard with [her] friends, most of whom were African American, and hearing the sounds of the 1968 race riots just a few blocks away.”

The Ballad of Jessie Pearl by Shannon Hitchcock

ballad-of-jesse-pearlThe Story (in 5 sentences or less):  Jessie Pearl is a 14 year old girl living in rural North Carolina in the early 1920’s.  Her mother died a few years before and Jessie, bright and academically minded, promised to her mother that she would go to “teacher’s school” and make something of her life.  Her plans are complicated however, when her older sister Carrie, having recently given birth to a son, dies of tuberculosis and Jessie is now in charge of the child.  This, coupled with her feelings for local farm boy J.T., are strong reasons that pull on her to stay put.  Will Jessie Pearl settle down early and become a mom and farmer’s wife, or will she head to the teacher’s school in the mountains of Watauga County?

My Take:  I thought that this book was well written.  Hitchcock set out to write a story that brought to life her family’s trials in North Carolina on the eve of the Great Depression.  My own family haunted the mountains of the North Carolina-Tennessee border during this time, so that may have been one reason why I appreciated this book.  My one criticism is that I found myself wondering if the pace, while fine for an old man like me, was too slow for younger readers.  This may be a book that older readers, say 15 and above, can appreciate.   The theme and plot of this novel great reminded me of Katherine Paterson’s “Lyddie.”

One Interesting Note About the Author:  According to her website, the death of her sister in a car accident in 1999 provided the motivation for her to begin writing novels.  She decided that “life was too short for unfulfilled dreams.”