"Cheng follows on the Caldecott Honor–winning Dave the Potter, by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Bryan Collier (2010), to further open up the fascinating life of the enslaved potter named Dave for children. . . . Cheng’s spare free-verse poems masterfully highlight the repeated hardships Dave endured: being relocated no fewer than four times when loaned or sold to a new owner; losing two wives when their owners forced them to move to different states; losing his leg after being hit by a train; and, in the face of severe anti-literacy laws designed to keep slaves down, bravely creating art that “etched in clay” his ability to read and write. . . . [It is] at once intimate and universal; the riveting story of an unforgettable life lived during an unbelievable time."
Etched in Clay
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.
"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."
"Andrea Cheng takes the few historical details known about Dave and, in resonant poems and stark, expressive woodcuts, fleshes out his life from 1815 to 1870. During this time, Dave became one of the finest potters in Edgefield, S.C. Although Dave is the principal speaker, Cheng also includes poems from the perspectives of his two wives and various owners. This multivoice narration offers a wide lens on Dave, his artistry and events of the period, including his first wife’s grueling experience as a house slave and his final owner’s fears for his three Confederate soldier sons. Through precise imagery, Cheng conveys the consciousness of a man who enjoys the “short, clean strokes” of his work while also railing at the fate of his soon-to-be-sold stepsons, clinging “to their mother/ like baby possums.” A poem is a “valuable thing,” Dave says. Through her haunting, honed verse, Cheng has given readers a valuable thing indeed: the life of a quiet rebel."