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Creativity and Determination in Nonfiction Reads: Nov. 2015 Middle School Titles

October 23rd, 2015 | Posted by etownsend in November | 2015-2016 | Middle School

etched in clayEtched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Books for Middle School AgePoet by Andrea Cheng. Lee & Low, 2013.

Andrea Cheng examines the life of Dave the Potter (who took the name David Drake after the Civil War ended) through a verse novel that tells his powerful, poignant story of endurance, artistry, and rebellion. Cheng’s poems reveal Dave’s hunger for words and learning and self-expression, and his pain of living in slavery. He was trained by and worked for Pottersville Stoneware in Edgefield, South Carolina, where founder Abner Landrum developed unique glazes. Dave later worked for Landrum’s brother and nephew, Lewis Miles, a kind man who nonetheless did not think to free Dave. Dave endured multiple, lifelong separations from people he loved: his first wife, Eliza; his second wife, Lydia; and Lydia’s two sons, whom he had taught to read. The poems are in the voices of these and other individual’s, all listed in a cast of characters near the beginning of the volume. Cheng incorporates some of the inscriptions Dave carved into his pots into her poems, and the novel as a whole gives a context for those words, showing them as a form of rebellion. Lovely, occasional black-and-white woodcut prints punctuate a work that includes back matter with more information on Dave and his poems and pottery in Edgefield, South Carolina. Cheng talks about her interest in Dave in an author’s note that precedes her list of sources. (MS) ©2013 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Close reading and teacher’s guides as well as other resources available from TeachingBooks.net

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Why do you think the author chose to use various points of view to tell Dave’s story? What affect do the different points of view have on the reader’s understanding of the story and Dave’s life?
  2. The author also used poetry to tell Dave’s story. Why do you think the author chose this format? Did you find it effective in relaying information, developing characters, telling a story? Why or why not?
  3. How did Dave rebel against slavery while still remaining a slave? How does the author show this? What risks did Dave take in creating his art? Cite examples for the story that show why he took these risks?
  4. In what way is Dave’s story part of the story of the struggle for Civil Rights?

The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius by Jan mad potterGreenberg and Sandra Jordan. A Neal Porter Book / Roaring Brook Press, 2013.

The folded shapes and crenellated forms created by potter George E. Ohr may not look that distinctive now, but the striking pots he shaped were like nothing else seen in the late 1800s. And they were largely unheralded at the time. But Ohr was more than the genius he knew himself to be; he was a personality and a showman in Biloxi, Mississippi, where he had his potter’s studio. But beneath all his dazzle was incredible talent: He spun out pots and pitchers and vases and vessels with twists and turns that were sometimes quirky and playful and sometimes, simply, strikingly beautiful. He experimented with glazes. And he thrived on his own eccentricity (although his family did not). Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan provide a lively introduction to this American artist who was all but undiscovered until the final decades of the twentieth century, long after his death. Their final chapter shows his influence on contemporary pottery, and even contemporary architecture—a museum dedicated to Ohr designed by Frank Gehry was inspired by his forms. Detailed source notes follow a primer on “How to Look at a Pot.”  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Lesson plans and teacher’s ideas and other resources for The Mad Potter available at TeachingBooks.net.

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Do you think George was unrealistic for continuing to make pottery despite the fact that no one bought it? Why?
  2. How does George’s pottery reflect his personality? Cite examples from the book.
  3. In George’s time, fairs were a place that people visited to discover and explore new ideas and inventions? What fills that role today?

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