Book Review: Dave the Potter

1. Bibliography

Hill, Laban Carrick. 2010. Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave. Ill. by Bryan Collier. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 9780316107310.

2. Plot Summary

Dave the Potter follows part of the life of an African-American slave named Dave who possessed great pottery skills. We see an explanation of where clay comes from and the different elements involved in making pottery – even pottery so large Dave’s arms could no longer reach around them. When the pottery is almost complete, Dave etches a poem into the side of the pot.

3. Critical Analysis

This biography of Dave is presented in a manner appropriate for young children, showing some realities of slavery while withholding the brutalities which can traumatize young children. The poetic style of writing is appropriate not only because Dave himself was a poet, but also because the poetic descriptions coupled with the physical art of pottery makes the story more magical. The clever use of language – such as the play on the meaning of “he threw the clay” (11) – exposes children to higher forms of literary devices while also incorporating elements which adults will appreciate.

Collier’s stunning illustrations, inspired by Dave’s actual dwelling place, make the story come alive. As the story describes Dave shaping the clay, a series of images contained in a fold-out page helps capture the magic of watching live as a potter pulls works of art out of lumps of clay. The illustrations truly elevate Dave the Potter to a higher level without which would be unattainable.

4. Review Excerpts

2011 Caldecott Honor

2011 Coretta Scott King Award Winner

From School Library Journal: “An inspiring story, perfectly presented and sure to prompt classroom discussion and projects. Outstanding in every way.”

From Booklist: “A beautiful introduction to a great lost artist.”

From Horn Book Guide: “The book’s pacing is especially well conceived, the illustrations shown in tempo with the text’s descriptions of throwing a pot.”

5. Connections

-Take a field trip to watch a potter live
-Use as part of a unit on art history
-Use as part of a unit for Black History Month
-For older students, read together with A Single Shard (by Linda Sue Park; ISBN 9780547534268) and discuss similarities/differences between the stories.

(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)


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