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Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad
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Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad

4.29 of 5 stars 4.29  ·  rating details  ·  1,785 ratings  ·  389 reviews
A young girl's courage is tested in this haunting, wordless story. When a farm girl discovers a runaway slave hiding in the barn, she is at once startled and frightened. But the stranger's fearful eyes weigh upon her conscience, and she must make a difficult choice. Will she have the courage to help him? Unspoken gifts of humanity unite the girl and the runaway as they eac ...more
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published November 1st 2012 by Scholastic Press

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Community Reviews

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Sometimes, when the stars align, an illustrator delivers a statement in the form of a book. Jerry Pinkney did it in 2009 with The Lion & the Mouse. Brian Selznick did it in 2007 with The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Henry Cole’s beautiful Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad shares elements of both books. Like the nearly wordless The Lion & the Mouse, Unspoken allows the illustrations to tell the tale. And similar to The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the moving artwork is created ent ...more
Lisa Vegan
I had to read it a second time. The first time my expectations got in the way. I’d envisioned the story going over a longer period of time and covering more of what happened, and properly meeting one of the main characters. It was still a solid 4+ book for me. The illustrations are gorgeous and perfectly tell this wordless story. But, when I reread it, I felt as though I was in 5 star territory. I think it’s almost stronger that this is just a slice of life story, and that the reader doesn’t kno ...more
Feb 13, 2013 Carolynne rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Malinda
This was my choice for the Caldecott this year--alas, it didn't even get an honor recognition. I'm guessing voters thought the style looked too much like that of Brian Selznick, who won the Caldecott for The Invention of Hugo Cabret, even though this book is different in character. Others have summarized the plot, so I won't repeat plot details, but I will point out a few things readers (examiners?) might miss the first time around: The cat that accompanies the little heroine on her secret missi ...more
Alex Baugh
"What would you do if you had the chance to help a person find freedom?"

This is the question at the heart of Unspoken and it turns out to be a very thought-provoking question in this poignant, wordless story of a young girl during the Civil War and the runaway slave that she helps.

As she is bringing home the family cow to milk, the girl sees some Confederate soldiers passing by. She continues to go about doing her chores, but when she is sent to the barn to fetch something, she senses she is n
Jim Erekson
Historical fiction, wordless picture book! A rare combo. This one should have won Caldecott 2013.

The graphic designer, Marijka Kostiw, is a genius. That blue page border! And the chosen color of paper reflects a luminescent pink aura all the way down the gutter when read with overhead light! (Don't open the book too flat--let the pages bow and curve up a bit.) This magical shadow effect is so consistent with the overall design that it doesn't distract from the visual feel of the drawings and th
Janet Frost
How can a completely wordless book be so powerful and tell such a story. I found myself trying to absorb all the details in every picture on every page. Turning pages back and forth This book is not only wordless, it is colorless, which is usually a challenge for me. Its power is like that of a black and white photography display. It is pencil sketches of a classic story, the harboring of an escaped slave via the underground railroad in rural America. I bought this beautiful book because I want ...more
If this book doesn't win the 2013 Caldecott Medal, I'll eat my proverbial hat.

Henry Cole (A Nest for Celeste) creates a perfect wordless picture book with pencil artistry that recalls the best of Maurice Sendak and Brian Selznick. The story is about an ordinary white girl in the Confederate South who chooses to do something extraordinary. You may find yourself holding your breath until the story's conclusion. Then, if you are like me, you will go back and savor all the small details.

A story with
yes, this is a beautifully illustrated book for very young children but there is not one illustrated reference to the fugitive enslaved person, save an eye. Who's eye? Without the VITAL information in the book's jacket as to its context, it was really hard for me to convey to a child that this was a girl helping a RUNAWAY SLAVE. She could have been helping anybody hiding out in a barn. Even the wanted notice shown later in the book bears no reference to "slave" on it - so it could reference any ...more
Ms. Rose
Turns out a book doesn't always need words to get the message across.
Patricia Stephens
Another powerful book that contains a deep message that is "unspoken" in the book, but assumed or interpreted through the reader. The story begins with a little girl who sees soldiers passing through the farm, however, she continues and goes about her chores of the day until she goes into the barn to retrieve something, and discovers and eye peering through what looks like the be corn. She becomes fearful, and runs back to the house, but continues to wonder about this person hiding in the barn t ...more
Samantha Howard
This is a wordless picture book that tells the story of a young woman during the civil war. The woman’s family is a part of the Underground Railroad. The woman goes to the barn each night to feed the slave, even though authorities regularly check in to make sure no one is doing so. Despite the lack of words, you can tell the woman develops a strong bond with the slave and lives to help them.

This is a great wordless picture book because it says so much—without saying anything. The pictures are g
Unspoken is a wordless picture book about a young Southern farm girl who discovers a runaway slave hiding behind the corn crib in the barn and decides to help him. This is the first time I explore a wordless book with my son, and we were surprised by how much we enjoyed the story told in beautiful illustrations.

The illustrations are pencil drawings much like those by Brian Selznick (Wonderstruck, The Invention of Hugo Cabret). My son thought they were done by him because of the similarities. We
There are no words at all in this book, except on the back cover. In fact, if it were not for the subtitle, one might not know at all that this book is set in the South during the Civil War, at a farm that may or may not be part of the “official” Underground Railroad. (The opening picture spread shows a quilt hung outside the barn, suggesting that this homestead was designated by its owners as a safe haven.)

No drawings show slaves, or any blacks at all. The story is entirely focused on the young
Courtney Ennis
In this book, there are no words and only pictures. A young farm girl discovers a runaway slave hiding in the barn. She is very scared and startled at finding this runaway slave. The stranger had a very fearful look in his eyes so the girl decides to make a very difficult decision. The young girl finds the boy hiding in the corn stalks. The girl runs back to the house and thinks about what she saw. The family is eating at the dinner table but she is not really paying attention the conversation a ...more
I shared this with my group of fourth graders yesterday as we began discussing the Underground Railroad. Wow, the students were all giving their thoughts of what, where, who, and why on each beautiful page. The exchanges of opinions was everything i could wish for as a teacher. Truly wondrous moment in our classroom, thank you Henry Cole.
A story without words. Just pages of sketches. I loved this book and the last pages in the back tell a remarkable story. I highly recommend this book. Wonderful artwork.
May 20, 2014 Genee121 rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Genee121 by: Stephanie Bange
Unspoken: A story from the underground railroad, written by Henry Cole is a wordless picture book about a young girl from the south who discovers a runaway slave hiding in her family's barn behind tall cornstalks and is determined to help. The young girl is a caring. She sneaks food out to the runaway each evening when she's unlikely to be seen in the darkness of the night. Despite men coming and offering money...a reward for the return of the runaway slave, the girls family never tells. Is this ...more
Tanner Greyn
A young girl is gathering food from the family storage shed when she sees an eye looking back through the corn at her. Scared, she runs back to her house but decides not to say anything to her family about what she saw. Later that night she takes a piece of food out to the storage shed for the person she saw. She continues to take food out each night even after two men came to her house asking if they have seen a runaway. When the girl goes to deliver food one more time she finds a surprise wait ...more
Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole
shows the wordless story of a young Southern farm girl who discovers a runaway slave hiding behind the corn crib in the barn and courageously decides to offer help.

Cole's illustrations were done on Canson Charcoal paper with Staedtler Mars 4B pencils. I enjoyed the detailed, hatched and shaded pencil images of both outside and interior scenes. Static images and actions of walking, running and riding are well portrayed. I expecially ap
Every now and then an illustrator takes an amazing risk and it works so beautifully that it’s a masterpiece. That’s what Cole has done in this remarkable picture book. Don’t expect to see the bright colors of his work in books like Moosetache or even the more subtle but equally bright And Tango Makes Three. Instead Cole has turned to the medium of simple paper and pencil to create a book that is wordless and powerful. It’s the story of a farm girl who discovers a runaway slave in their barn soon ...more
L13F_Jana Wilkening
This Historical Fiction picture book is one of my favorite books that I have encountered in this class. It is a wordless picture book whose story is told entirely through the haunting images. During the Civil War, a young white girl makes a trip out to her family’s barn. While there, she sees two eyes hiding behind cornstalks. The eyes are filled with fear and the girl is filled with compassion. She decides to keep quiet about her discovery, and sneak food to this hidden stranger. One night, men ...more
Becky B
A girl discovers a runaway slave hiding in the corn crib. Instead of exposing him, she decides to help him by slipping him food.

A great wordless picture book exploration of runaway slaves and how a little girl could have helped one. You have to read the author's note on this one. He explains how the Civil War is part of his family history and started to interest him, and why he chose to tell this particular story and in wordless book format. He encourages readers to write their own words for the
Steven R. McEvoy
There is a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. This book without text proves that. With incredible pencil illustrations the story is told of a young farm girl that discovers a runaway slave and helps in any small way that she can. Knowing these events took place again and again in history, and some not as successful as this, makes this a very moving book. It is incredibly powerful and touching. This book was written to honor a family's oral tradition of stories about the civil war a ...more
The Styling Librarian
Unspoken – A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole – 3rd grade and up – Picture book – Conflict, caring, risk-taking, wow. What a beautiful book which really brings into focus the concept of the underground railroad. Loved it.
Set during the Civil War, Unspoken follows a young girl as she discovers the secrets of her family's farm. Though we never see who is hiding in the hen house, the illustrations carry the protagonist's urgency to protect and care for whomever is using this stop on the underground railroad. Henry Cole's graphite illustrations capture details and carry powerful emotions. Though wordless, Henry has included an author's note at the end that tells his story and encourages readers to "write the words a ...more
GORGEOUS. When I got this book in the mail after reading about it in several blogs, I knew it would become one of my most treasured picture books. I even love the texture of the book jacket and the thick pages. It's a beautifully told wordless story about a girl who discovers a runaway slave hiding in her family's barn. The girl's courage and compassion leads her to feed the stranger and help keep his secret. We never see the face of the runaway slave. We only see his eye peering out from his hi ...more
I was in the library and saw this book on display. I had to pick it up, the cover was just beautiful!

Opening it up to start reading, I noticed this is a wordless picture book on the underground railroad. I was taken aback after I finished this book to discover the story came across so clear, no words were needed.

The pencil drawings in this book enhance the story. The art will appeal to the older child. The details in this book are phenomenal, everything from the quilt, the logs for the cabin,
Karan Johnstone
Jun 26, 2013 Karan Johnstone rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
I bought this book at the Children's Literature Conference on 6/25/13 after I heard Henry Cole speak. This is the second time I have had the pleasure of listening to him speak. He came to Quarles in the 2010-2011 school year. He is a fantastic and engaging speaker. He not only had everyones's attention at the conference but also all the student's attention during his school visit.
Unspoken is a wordless book that speaks volumes without even having words to tell the story. Any child who is learni
Unspoken might be one of my my top 2 favorite picture books of 2012. Cole's style in this book is reminiscent of Brian Selznick's. The reader is drawn in by the little details in each picture. I can't wait to share it with my students. Last year, I read aloud Wonderstruck and the conversations while looking at the illustrations were very deep; I would expect the same with this much shorter picture book. The fact that it would expose children to the reality of the Underground Railroad is just a b ...more
Another children’s classic, the picture book. It is unusual for me to try and review a book with no words at all, but a challenge I accepted and enjoyed to the last.

What would you do
if you had the chance
to help a person
find freedom.

This is the question presented to a young girl, in Henry Cole’s haunting tale of a young slave’s journey to freedom.

Unspoken is a beautiful example of a children’s picture book with illustrations that are filled with emotion and can, on their own, tell a strong and pr
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Per back cover: He is a dandy dresser, but he does need to don his dentures when dining out. Illustrated many books for children. He lives in Virginia.
More about Henry Cole...
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