Laban Carrick Hill is the author of more than thirty books, including the 2004 National Book Award Finalist Harlem Stomp!, a book he researched for nearly a decade, and America Dreaming, which examines the legacy of the 1960s. He has taught writing at Columbia University, Baruch College, and St. Michael's College and is currently teaching at the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College in Massachusetts. He is also the cofounder and codirector of the Writers Project of Ghana, based in the US and Ghana.
Bryan Collier began painting at the age of fifteen and earned a B.F.A. with honors from the Pratt Institute in New York. He is the illustrator of over 10 picture books, including Martin's Big Words and Rosa (both Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Award winners) and Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope, a New York Times bestseller. Mr. Collier lives in Harlem, where he directs mural programs throughout the city for any child who wants to paint.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Stunning IllustrationsOct. 21 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
I had purposed this book to be apart of an ongoing History discussion I was having with my children --boy and girl, 8 and 10 -- on the Civil War. I meant to personalize the historical era which is basically incomprehensible to children this young if you don't give them someone they can understand. And eventually we did get around to this discussion, but first it had to wait. Why? Because my children were awestruck by Bryan Collier's beautiful illustrations. His drawings just grabbed their attention and they had to examine them thoroughly before we could get back to the text. (There's something just magically about how a pot can be pulled out of the blob of clay, and they just had to go through the process multiple times before we could move on :)
Dave's hands, buried in the mounded mud, pulled out the shape of a jar.
Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat...
How true. And Bryan's palate of rich browns and ochres brought that magic to life. And served to make Dave "real" to my kids. So that when we got around to that conversation about what the Civil War was about we could talk about how amazing his artwork and poems were in the context of a time when it was illegal to teach a slave to read and write.
THE SKINNY::: Dave is a fascinating man and I think the author and illustrator made this perfectly clear.
Besides putting slavery in perspective, I really liked how inspirational his story was. Dave managed, somehow, in a time when it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write, to produce poetry. And his story is really one of the inextinguishable human spirit.
I wish the book had included some information about the rest of Dave's life. He was eventually emancipated after all, and took the last name Drake, and I wonder what happened to him. But then again not knowing the rest of the story, perhaps there's a reason it was omitted. (Parents and teachers might still want to do some more research to tell 'the whole story'.)
I also wish that there had been some notes explaining some of the more cryptic poems. We had fun trying to figure out what some of them might have meant, but I would have liked to have an authoritative source give us their opinions.
Simply fabulous artwork. 3.5 Stars
Pam T~ mom/blogger booksforkids-reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Rutgers University Project on Economics and ChildrenSept. 7 2010
Yana V. Rodgers
- Published on Amazon.com
Enslaved potter Dave produced thousands of beautiful pieces of pottery over the course of his life, a true accomplishment given that the institution of slavery denied most African Americans access to skilled trades. Dave's pottery is even more extraordinary given that a number of pieces were inscribed with poems he wrote himself at a time when southern states prohibited the education of slaves.
This thoughtful, creative picture book pays tribute to Dave the potter. Rhythmic verse and expressive watercolor/collage images harmonously present the story of how Dave would have created one of his lovely jars, from transforming the earth into clay and spinning the clay on the wheel, to finishing the piece with an inscription and glaze. Together with the afterword, the prose and illustrations provide a useful resource for teaching young learners about slavery and different ways in which African Americans resisted this oppressive system.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
This is a marvelous story of an artist who saw something beautiful in the dirt under his feet ...Nov. 28 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
Dave gathered a handful of sand and watched as it slowly sifted through his fingers. No one else saw what he did as the grains fell to the ground. He was a slave two hundred years ago, but he reached beyond its clutches and became an artist. The sand and clay quickly became works of art in his hands. "To us it is just a pot, round and tall, good for keeping marbles or fresh-cut flowers. But to Dave it was a pot large enough to store a season's grain harvest, to put up salted meat, to hold memories." Yes, Dave saw what none of us saw and it began with those grains of sand slowly sifting through his fingers.
A horse was hitched to the long wooden arm of the pug mill. He went round and round as the gears ground the sand and water together to make that clay that others put in wheelbarrows to carry to Dave. When he received the clay, he mixed it "with water drawn from Big Horse Creek, until [it] was wet and stiff and heavy. His big beautiful black hand kneaded the clay in preparation for its spin on the potter's wheel. He leaned over his work concentrating as "His chapped thumbs pinched into the center, squeezed the inside against his fingers outside." What would come off the wheel that started from tiny grains of sand? What would he write on his work?
This is a marvelous story of an artist who saw something beautiful in the dirt under his feet. This story, told in free verse was simply mesmerizing. The stunning artwork meshed perfectly with the tale. The reader will almost be able to hear the wheels turning in Dave's head as he thought about what he wanted to create on the potter's wheel. Dave was a South Carolinian slave in the 1800s whose work survives as a testimony to his greatness. When he finished a pot, he would etch something on the pot for future generations to remember him by. For example, one such etching said, "I wonder where is all my relation friendship to all -- and every nation." In the back of the book is a photograph of some of his pieces, a short biography that includes some of his poetry, and additional recommended book and website resources to explore.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
visually stunning picture book biographyOct. 3 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
When author Laban Carrick Hill first learned the inspiring story of Dave the Potter, an outstanding 19th century folk artist, poet, and slave, he was determined to share Dave's story with young readers.
He decided to tell Dave's story in free-verse, explaining the process of creating a pot from beginning to end. With powerful close-up images of Dave's hands forming the clay on the potter's wheel, we read: "Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat,/Dave's hands, buried/in the mounded mud,/pulled out the shape of a jar." While the clay dries, we see Dave preparing the special "glasslike brown glaze to withstand time." Finally, Dave inscribes his jar with a special poem, signing his name and the date.
In an era in which few slaves learned skilled trades such as pottery, and slaves were forbidden to learn to read and write, Dave's works are particularly extraordinary; at the conclusion of the book, the author provides more details of the little that is known about Dave's life, and also reproduces a number of Dave's surviving verses.
The stunning illustrations by award-winning illustrator Bryan Collier are inseparable from the text. Done in a palette dominated by the earth tones of the clay itself, the illustrations are done in a combination of watercolor and collage and show the step-by-step process of creating a pot. The images are infused with a monumental and even spiritual quality which highlights the dignity of Dave's work.
The book includes a brief bibliography of resources, both print and websites, about Dave.
In his dedication, illustrator Bryan Collier is particularly eloquent about this story, which he dedicates to all artists, and everyone who loves picture books: "Because this story is really about the power of the human spirit, artistry, and truth, and that cannot be silenced by bondage of any kind." Don't miss this new release--not only a wonderful book to enjoy and discuss, but one which can also be used to inspire both art and poetry lessons in school classrooms.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Dave the Poet, Potter, and Slave.Jan. 18 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Dave, the Potter, is an artist, poet and slave who inscribes his pottery with unique phrases such as "another trick is worst than this + Dearest miss: spare me a Kiss+" Dave leaves observations on life, witty euphemisms, and lines of poetry on the clay pots he sculpts reminiscent of Japanese haiku. Unfortunately, we often have the notion that slaves during the American Civil War couldn't read, much less write, and Dave challenges that notion certainly with his talented use of the English tongue and script. The watercolor images in the book depict Dave engaged in the step-by-step process of creating pottery, from preparing the clay for the wheel, to applying the ash glaze. Finally, Dave hand writes a poetic verse on the outside of the jar, adding the date and signature. The watercolor images represent "the spirit of Dave" says illustrator Bryan Collier, as there are no actual images of Dave the Potter in existence. "In many ways Dave's artistry may have served as his own glimpse of freedom, and a way of carving out a life under the brutal and dehumanizing conditions of slavery. Dave's noble jars and verses blaze through the ages and speak profoundly of dignity to our generation and beyond," adds Collier. Couldn't have said it better myself. Complete with a bibliography and a website this book reminds me why I love children's picture books so much. Without saying a lot, they say it all.
Perfect for ages 5-9 and the prose style in which its written may appeal to "reluctant readers" as well.