Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Review: Etched in Clay

Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet
By Andrea Cheng
Published 2013 by Lee & Low Books

In South Carolina in the early 1800s, a young slave named Dave is taught to make pottery. He is also taught to read and write. He will combine these two skills to become the most talented potter at the same time as he risks his life by signing his work.

This book got some attention when it was released and, being told in verse, it definitely caught my eye. As I recently weeded our children's biography section, I spotted the book again and decided to read it, knowing it would be quick. As a prose biography, it is, indeed, a quick read - probably took me about an hour altogether. But it's not a slight read. In fact, it's quite difficult to read at times - how Dave is constantly separated from the people he cares about, his tragic accident, the simple and awful fact of slavery itself. But Dave's will seems to shine through the pages. I won't say that it seems Dave had a good life - it certainly doesn't seem that way at all - but it does seem that he enjoyed making pottery and writing his poetry on the jars he made. However, what is unclear is how much of this is actually fact. I didn't get a real feeling about the line between fact and fiction in Cheng's work - so are my feelings about Dave's enjoyment of pottery accurate or not? I appreciated Cheng's efforts in drawing attention to a largely unknown historical figure. I would have liked a bit more biographical information at the end, and, if that doesn't exist, some notes on how Cheng make the choices she made.

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