For this Monday’s #IMWAYR post I have two books centered around characters who persisted in spite of facing almost insurmountable odds.
In Silent Star: The Story of Deaf major Leaguer William Hoy, Bill Wise tells the remarkable story of William Hoy, who would not let his hearing impairment (caused by a childhood bout of meningitis) stand in the way of his dream to play professional baseball. Once his talent for the game had opened the door to this seemingly unachievable dream, Hoy made the most of the opportunity by strategizing carefully and working twice as hard as his teammates. He set many records, some of which still hold today. This would be a wonderful book for classroom libraries – an inspiring story, well told and illustrated.
I’ve read news articles and pictures books about Dave Drake, a gifted potter who was born into slavery in antebellum South Carolina, and whose craftsmanship earned him a reputation far beyond his small town of Edgefield. Drake was all the more remarkable because he had learned to read as well as write, both of which were against South Carolina law. Determined to leave a written record of his thoughts, as well as sign his name to mark each of his creations, Dave etched both on the pottery he created – opening himself up to grave danger each time.
Andrea Cheng’s Book, Etched in Clay, re-tells this familiar story in an unusual way, through the imagined voices of many of the characters involved in the story, including Dave himself. In an interview, the author explains how this technique of creative non-fiction allowed her to tell a more complete story: “I am glad that the lines between fiction and non-fiction seem to be softening. I think if we stick only to the facts, many stories will never be told, especially the stories of those who have less power. With Dave, there is very little concrete evidence beyond bills of sale and the pots themselves. I could not have written the book without imagining how Dave felt the day he was purchased, how Harvey Drake felt when he realized the talent that Dave possessed, how Lydia felt when she was forced to leave the man she loved.”
Hearing from each character allowed for a richer reading experience, and I imagine for meaningful and interesting classroom discussions as well. I could see middle school students performing this as reader’s theater, as well, with pauses to write about and discuss the experiences of all the characters in this complicated and tragic period of American history. Cheng’s brilliant and evocative woodcut illustrations add another wonderful dimension to the story as a whole.