There are a slew of books already written about the Civil War era, slavery, and civil rights. Etched in Clay, by Andrea Cheng, is unique in that it is aimed at a middle grade and young adult audience, yet the spare prose makes it accessible to a wide range of reading levels. Dave’s story is powerful, and I’m in awe of Cheng’s ability to use a few hand-picked words to pack such an emotional punch. Lovely, sad, and–above all–hopeful.
Book summary from the author’s website: Sometime around 1815, an enslaved young man named Dave was brought to Edgefield, South Carolina, the center of a pottery-producing area known for the alkaline glazes used on the stoneware. Dave was taught how to turn pots and jars on a pottery wheel by one of his first owners. As Dave’s talent flourished, he created pieces of great beauty and often massive size. He also somehow learned to read and write, in spite of South Carolina’s strongly-held fear of slave literacy. And then Dave did something even more incredible—he began to sign his jars and carve many of them with sayings and poems that reflected his daily life and experiences. He spoke out against slavery not by protesting or revolting, but by daring to write at all.
Andrea Cheng has crafted a biography in verse as beautiful as one of Dave’s jars. In simple, powerful words, including some of Dave’s original writings, we learn his extraordinary story of courage, creative inspiration, and triumph. Today Dave is considered to be a master craftsperson whose jars are among the most sought-after pieces of Edgefield pottery.
Hand this book to the kid who:
* is learning about slavery and civil rights in class,
* enjoys poetry, or thinks poetry is hard, must rhyme, or is boring,
* is an artist, particularly one interested in clay,
* and needs a real-life example of someone who stood up for freedom in quiet ways.
Use this book to teach:
* Civil War Era History–Dave’s story begins before the Civil War, continues through the war years and beyond during Reconstruction. Because of the spare prose, it would be especially useful for ELLs (English Language Learners) who may not have background information on the U.S. Civil War period.
* Poetry--In the author’s note, Cheng explains that the transcriptions of Dave’s writing writings came from Leonard Todd’s Carolina Clay: The Life and Legend of the Slave Potter Dave. In preserving Dave’s original spelling, punctuation, and wording, Cheng hoped the reader would get a true picture of his poetry, thoughts, and feelings.
*Civil Disobedience–This would make a perfect companion to any study of civil disobedience alongside other real-life figures such as Mohatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as fictitious ones (think Number the Stars by Louis Lowry or even M.T. Anderson’s Feed).
For elementary audiences, pair with:
Curriculum Guide here.
The Nitty Gritty~
Click here for reviews and Andrea Cheng’s inspiration for writing the book.
Publisher: Lee and Low Books
Publication Date: January 2013
Number of Pages: 160
Reading Level: 5.0 (F&P level T)
Interest Level: Grades 4-12