The Plot In 5 Sentences or Less: Zach, Poppy, and Alice are friends that enjoy playing an imaginary game filled with pirates, mermaids, and treasure. One of the most important parts of the game is “The Queen,” an old porcelain doll that sits in Polly’s cupboard, whose real origins are unknown. As the kids are now 12, all 3 feel ambivalent about continuing to play this imaginary game in the face of criticism from their peers. Their determination is rekindled, however, when a ghost visits Polly in her dreams, claiming that she was killed, turned into the china doll, and now longs only to be buried properly in her grave. The 3 friends set out on a journey to bury the doll and put the ghost’s spirit to rest.
My Take: Doll Bones novel is really about coming of age, facing the challenges of growing up, and grieving the loss of childhood. Black captures the confusion and awkwardness of turning 12 and being unsure about what to leave behind as childish things. I appreciated that the characters were clearly from underprivileged or blue collar families and that Black does not drive the point home too finely. All 3 of the children have unsettled home lives, giving the reader the sense that the children’s quest is not just to bury the doll, but to help restore some sense of wholeness to their respective households. Finally, I liked that the setting is in the industrial area of western Pennsylvania. It lends context to the idea that these children really are journeying a through a blighted landscape.
One Interesting Note About the Author: Holly Black is also the author of the Spiderwick Chronicles. Find out more about her at her website.
The 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.”
Tree Ear is a boy who lives in a small village on the west coast of Korea in the middle of the 12th century. He spends most of his time scavenging for scraps around local trash heaps and sleeps under a bridge at night. His friend is Crane Man, an old man with a disabled leg who has taken care of Tree Ear since he was brought to the village years before by a monk.
Tree Ear’s life changes when he begs a local potter named Min to take him on as an assistant to pay off a debt. His days are then spent in hard manual labor cutting down trees or digging out blocks of clay along the river bank. Tree Ear one day hopes to learn how to make pottery on a wheel, but Min gruffly refuses to teach him.
When Min decides to show his pottery to the royal emissary in the capital, however, he must rely on Tree Ear to make this perilous journey.
I loved this book and could tell why it won the 2002 Newberry Honor Award. The different setting truly lent to its appeal. I found the characters fully human. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for a good juvenile historical fiction book.
I finally got around to taking a look at some of the Caldecott finalists for this year. I truly enjoyed the lively Interrupting Chicken, but Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave has really captured me. Laban Carrick Hill’s spare prose captures the mysterious character of Dave, his art, and his circumstances. A slave in South Carolina in the 19th century, Dave spends his time making clay containers and inscribing small poems on the side of some of them. Bryan Collier’s award winning art combines painting and collage to give life to Dave’s world. As we read along, we discover that pottery is his balm and escape from his cruel circumstances. Perhaps Dave best expresses his pain and hope in this simple poem he etches into the side of a jar in 1857: “I wonder where is all my relation/ friendship to all—and, every nation.” This book gave me goosebumps.