Reviews for Etched in Clay : The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

Booklist Reviews 2013 February #1
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. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2013 Fall
Historical record leaves much unknown about this real person, a slave living in South Carolina who became a fine potter. In her interpretation of his life, through alternating perspectives and in spare free verse, Cheng sets the stage for Dave's personal stand against injustice, portraying one man's capacity to live a creative life within the confines of slavery. Silhouette-like woodcuts enhance the presentation. Bib.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2013 #1
Readers familiar with Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier's 2011 Caldecott Honor-winning picture book Dave the Potter will appreciate Cheng's interpretation of the man's life story. Historical record leaves much unknown about this real person, a slave living in South Carolina who learned how to mold clay and became a fine potter. Through alternating perspectives (Dave; partners in the pottery business; the slave master; a woman who may have been Dave's wife; children he's teaching) and in spare free verse, Cheng sets the stage for Dave's personal stand against injustice. After learning how to read and write, he saw clay as a "wet mound / of potential" and began inscribing small poems in the pottery -- at the risk of his life, since it was illegal for slaves to know how to write. This inspirational historical fiction novel in verse portrays one man's capacity to live a creative life within the confines of slavery, a man who (in Cheng's words) hoped that "someday the world will read / my word etched in clay / on the side of this jar / and know about the shackles / around our legs / and the whips / upon our backs." Silhouette-like woodcuts enhance the presentation. A selection of Dave's writings is appended, and source notes are included. dean schneider

Kirkus Reviews 2012 December #1
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. Records indicate Dave, who was born in the United States in 1801, was most likely purchased at a slave auction at age 17 by Harvey Drake, who, with his uncles, held the Pottersville Stoneware Manufactory in South Carolina. Dave took to the wheel within weeks and went on to become one of the most accomplished potters in the region. 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. Says Dave: "I am not afraid / to write on a jar / and fire it hot / so my word / can never be erased." Combining visual art with poetry as Dave did, Cheng includes her own striking woodcuts, illustrating both Dave's experiences and his artistry. At once intimate and universal; the riveting story of an unforgettable life lived during an unbelievable time. (Verse biography. 9 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

School Library Journal Reviews 2013 February

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

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