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

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

by Andrea Cheng

Lee & Low Books: NY (2013)

ISBN: 978160060451

This is the story of the life of Dave, a slave whose owner’s family own Pottersville Stoneware. When Dave learns the craft, his natural ability leads him to become a renown potter in the south who inscribed his works with sayings and short poems in spite of the slave anti-literacy sentiment in South Carolina in the years leading up to the Civil War. 

The pages contain a variety of voices and verses presenting the views of life from the perspectives of not only Dave, but also those who see him as their property, his two wives, his admirers, his champion (the owner’s wife who teaches him to read) as well as his adversaries. The prose is succinct and plain, much like the language and words exchanged in the time of Dave’s life. The power of brevity is beautifully displayed and subtly pressed into the pages using wood block illustrations. This is a song that shows young readers how a slave named Dave became an extraordinary man, a skilled craftsman with clay and wheel, and a literate man who found a way to share his messages of hope with the world.

Quantitative: Lexile Level 790; ATOS 5.0

Qualitative: Middle grades 4-8; YA biography written in verse.

Content area: English; Social Studies, Biography, Poetry, History-Slavery, Civil War

Common Core Standards: RI.4.1, 4.3, 4.5, 4.6;  RH.6-8.4-RH.6-8.9

Additional/Digital Resources:

Personal Note:  There are so many things to love about this book it is hard to know where to start. This book was a pleasure from cover to cover. This “narrative biography, told in verse” uses words the way Dave used his sharp stick – to carve words that seem simple but hold great power. The wood block illustrations are carved as well giving this collection an “etched” feeling in every way.

Andrea Cheng combines the words left behind by Dave (Drake) on the pottery he shaped as a slave in the early nineteenth century with the imagined musings, “dramatic extensions” of truth and reflections of the people around him. This book is a treasure and illustrates the internal conflicts of those who believed in the mid-1800’s that slaves should be educated and that the human spirit will always find a way to make its mark on history. This is a book to buy, to share and to aspire to. As Dave says “… when I write, I am a man.” These are words you don’t want to miss

Subjects/Themes: Slavery, Civil War, Biography, Poetry

Includes bibliography and maps.


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