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History Lesson 

Books: "Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave" by Laban Carrick Hill

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave is a lyrical poem honoring a literate slave born in 1801. But Burlington author Laban Carrick Hill's beautiful book is not the sort you open and read cold to kindergarteners through fourth graders. A glowing review in the November New York Times Sunday Book Review suggests that the story is "a gentle way for adults to introduce slavery to young children."

Endnotes indicate that Dave is known to history only because the South Carolinian etched at least eight signed, two-line poems into some of the estimated 40,000 clay-fired pots he created during his lifetime. Little else is known about him, including why he was allowed to work as a pottery artist and how he escaped punishment for learning to read and write.

Hill's and illustrator Bryan Collier's approach to this difficult subject is to tell the story of the potter's craft: Dave shapes a jar in a series of collaged images that just won the 2011 Coretta Scott King Book Award for illustrators. Dave's heartwarming 1857 poem ends the story. Sparely phrased and oddly punctuated — not unlike the poems of his near-contemporary, Emily Dickinson — the couplet will inspire parsing by budding literary critics: "I wonder where is all my relation / friendship to all — and, every nation."

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier. Little, Brown. Unpaginated. $16.99.
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