Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave is a book about a man who created pottery and poetry while living enslaved in South Carolina in the 1800s. The words of the story don't overtly reference slavery, though some images of shackles and picking cotton in fields may encourage conversations between children and parents about the history of slavery. The words and majority of images focus on the process of creating pottery and Dave's rich imagination -- charting his process as a talented artist, and the courage he shows within. More detail is given about the known history of Dave and his pottery at the back of the book, which references slavery directly.
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What's the Story?
DAVE THE POTTER: ARTIST, POET, SLAVE is based on a real man who created pots and poetry while enslaved in South Carolina in the 1800s. Written in verse inspired by his often whimsical short poems, the story shows how Dave learns to throw the clay, spin the wheel, and glaze the pots, inscribing his own words on them to mark his art as his own.
Is It Any Good?
It's difficult to convey in a picture book the story of an artist who is enslaved, but the author and illustrator succeed by focusing on the painstaking and beautiful art of pottery. As kids get older, they may better understand the historical significance of Dave's story in Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave and can talk to adults about American history and delve into the final pages of the book, which present a guide to his life, as well as resources for further reading. As such, the book celebrates, as the illustrator writes, "the power of the human spirit, artistry, and truth, and that cannot be silenced by bondage of any kind."
This book was a 2011 Caldecott Honor book for its vivid, textured illustrations. On the surface, they're pictures of a potter; delve deeper, and you'll see that Dave is creating his art against backdrops of life in 1800s America as an enslaved person, from images of Black people working in fields to the hint of a plantation home.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the power of art expressed in Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave. What are different types of art that people can create? Which media have you used (clay, paint, crayon, something else)? Which is your favorite? How does creating make you feel?
The information in the back of the book can be used as a starting point to explore Dave's life. What does it tell you about who Dave was? Why do you think there's so little information available about him? How does his life story make his art more significant?
Families can use Dave's story to explore the history of slavery more widely. What were some of the laws enforced and what kinds of conditions did enslaved people often live in?
In what ways does Dave show courage in the book? Why is this an important character strength?
- Author: Laban Carrick Hill
- Illustrator: Bryan Collier
- Genre: Picture Book
- Topics: Arts and Dance, Great Boy Role Models, History
- Character Strengths: Courage
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
- Publication date: September 7, 2010
- Number of pages: 40
- Awards: Caldecott Medal and Honors, Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors
- Last updated: July 1, 2022
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