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May 25, 2015

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Pick of the Day: Unspoken

girl with lanternCOLE, Henry. Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad. illus. by author. 32p. CIP. Scholastic. Nov. 2012. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-545-39997-5. LC 2011043583.
Gr 3-8
–Gorgeously rendered in soft, dark pencils, this wordless book is reminiscent of the naturalistic pencil artistry of Maurice Sendak and Brian Selznick, but unique in its accurate re-creation of a Civil War-era farm in northwestern Virginia. On the dedication page, readers see a star quilt on a split rail fence, symbolizing the North Star. Confederate soldiers arrive on horseback and a farmer’s daughter’s lingering gaze betrays her intuition of their visit. She goes about her duties of feeding the animals and gathering harvested vegetables. In the recently harvested cornstalks propped up in the corner of the barn, she hears a rustling and sees an eye. Superb visual storytelling shows her hands time and time again offering a piece of corn bread, apple pie, a leg of chicken, each time on a small checkered kerchief, to the young, hidden runaway. The soldiers return with a poster: “Wanted! Escaped! Reward!” These words call out in the otherwise wordless book, and readers feel their power. Parallels between the fugitive and the farmer’s daughter establish themselves visually when the latter gazes from behind a door, terrified at this threat. An author’s note details the Civil War stories Cole heard as a young boy and underscores his intention of showing not the division, anger, and violence of the Civil War, but “the courage of everyday people who were brave in quiet ways.”–Sara Lissa Paulson, American Sign Language and English Lower School PS 347, New York City

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