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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Unspoken, by Henry Cole. Scholastic, 2012. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"What would you do

if you had the chance

to help a person

find freedom?"

I think that wordless picture books have to be perfect to work well! Lucky we are to have an artist such as Henry Cole use his talent and insight, while taking up 4B pencils, to create a story from the Underground Railroad that is powerful and authentic without making an audible sound! His artwork speaks volumes!

The cover is just a taste for what is to come on the pages of this striking book. Using those pencils, he creates scenes alive in light and shadow, all the while connecting his 'readers' to the heartwarming and riveting tale he has to tell.

At the time of the Civil War in the United States, a young girl notices  someone hiding amongst the corn stalks in the chicken house while she is gathering eggs. She has just watched a line of Confederate soldiers pass by before returning to her chores. When she makes her discovery, she is terrified and flees to the safety of the farmhouse. Once there, she calms before going inside for dinner. After the meal, she returns to the chicken coop with a bit of food that she has been able to squirrel away.

She continues to take food and water while never showing the family that she knows about the fugitive. Do they know? We are not sure. There are those who believe that quilt codes helped escaping slaves find safe havens on the Underground Railroad. On the dedication page, Henry Cole has placed a quilt on the fence near their home. Was it a sign? I like to think so, and that everyone but the young girl knew that her home was used as a safe place.

When horsemen arrive at the farmhouse with guns, a wanted poster, and an extra horse, our young miss peeks in on the conversation they are having with her grandfather. From the shadows, she watches. They leave. The young girl takes her lantern and makes her way to the chicken house, only to find a corn husk doll left for her in thanks.

This is a dramatic telling of a story that was often played out at the time. Gracious and concerned people took great chances when they harbored a runaway slave, and this is an honest portrayal of their bravery in the face of discovery. There are no words needed to share their story.

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