School Library Journal
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Gr 5 Up-The pain of slavery and its disregard for human worth reverberates throughout this beautifully written, beautifully illustrated account of an enslaved potter in South Carolina in the 19th century. Cheng's sensitive verses, written in the voice of Dave and the people involved in his life, share the man's innermost feelings, the sensation of shaping clay on the potter's wheel, and hints at conflicts within a slave owner's mind. But even with a master who seems to have some appreciation of Dave's talents, the ugliness of slavery takes over. The matter-of-fact, unfeeling way in which Eliza, Dave's first wife, is sold off speaks volumes. Dave's need to communicate and be noticed comes out in the risk he takes by inscribing some verse and words on the pots he creates. This deep need squelches any fear of reprisals when literacy was a punishable offense for slaves. Motivated by her belief that everyone needs to read Scriptures in order to be saved, the slave owner's wife started Dave on his quest to read. Through all of the adversity, he stoically carries on despite being sold, despite having loved ones repeatedly taken from him, and despite losing a leg in a train accident, always spurred on by the need to communicate. Cheng has created a passionate homage to the human spirit, which speaks volumes in this brief book. Her woodcuts add another layer to the drama that unfolds in the telling. A powerful and uplifting biography.-Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
In this novelized biography in verse, Cheng limns the life of Dave (his only name), an enslaved nineteenth-century potter and poet. Owned by various members of the Landrum/Drake/Miles families, Dave became a master potter as a young man. Equally significant is the fact that he was literate and made it a habit to sign his pots, jugs, and jars, and often to add simple verses ( Dave belongs to Mr. Miles / wher the oven bakes & the pot biles ). This was remarkably brave at a time when South Carolina's slave-literacy law could have resulted in his being whipped, maimed, or even killed for this simple act. Dave stubbornly persisted, impressing on his work his own humanity, and approximately 170 of his aesthetically and culturally significant vessels survive in museums and private collections. Cheng illustrates her stirring work with her own simple black-and-white woodcuts. Appended material adds additional information about Dave's life and the Edgefield Pottery, of which his work is an example.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2010 Booklist