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

3.98  ·  Rating Details  ·  189 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
Sometime around 1815, an enslaved young man named Dave was brought to Edgefield, South Carolina, the center of a pottery-producing area known for the alkaline glazes used on the stoneware. Dave was taught how to turn pots and jars on a pottery wheel by one of his first owners. As Dave s talent flourished, he created pieces of great beauty and often massive size. He also so ...more
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published January 20th 2013 by Lee & Low Books (first published October 1st 2012)
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Richie Partington
Jan 07, 2013 Richie Partington rated it it was amazing
Richie's Picks: ETCHED IN CLAY: THE LIFE OF DAVE, ENSLAVED POTTER AND POET by Andrea Cheng, Lee & Low, January 2013, 144p., ISBN: 978-1-60060-451-5

"As William Faulkner once wrote, 'The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past.' We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an
Chris Holliman
Sep 19, 2013 Chris Holliman rated it really liked it
The Story (in 5 sentences or less): Dave is a slave purchased by Harvey Drake in Augusta, Georgia in 1815. Harvey takes him to Pottersville, South Carolina and not only teaches him pottery, but also how to read. Over the span of years, Dave suffers greatly as his loved ones (including two wives) are sold away. Dave begins carving words and poems into some of his pottery, a small act of sedition and outlet for his grief.

My Take: I wondered if this book would be able to measure up to the quality o
Sep 08, 2013 Joan rated it liked it
Recommends it for: pottery interests, Dave the potter interest
I was wondering how a book with over a hundred pages could possibly contain the life of Dave the Potter when so little is known about him. The answer is that the book is in poetry with lots and lots of white on each page. I wish the book had been footnoted or had a more extensive author note explaining where many pieces of information came from. For example, the author makes it sound as though Dave loved his wives dearly. Is this a known fact or just a guess? How do we know he taught his stepson ...more
Alex Baugh
Jun 29, 2013 Alex Baugh rated it it was amazing
Shelves: randomly-reading
A few years ago, we met Dave in Labab Carrick Hill's wonderful picture book Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, illustrated by Bryan Collier. This year, we meet Dave again in Andrea Cheng's new verse novel for middle graders.

In Etched in Clay, Cheng imagines Dave's life from the day he was bought for $500. at auction as a strong, intelligent young man approximately 17 years old. He was bought in 1815 by Harvey Drake as a slave to help dig up clay for the Potterville Stoneware Manufactory, a bu
Feb 16, 2013 Jill rated it really liked it
Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng is for older readers (Publisher Lee & Low suggests grade 5 and up). In this book, the author imagines Dave’s personal history in verse form, occasionally illustrated by handmade woodcuts also by the author.

I found the story as told by this author absolutely devastating, although I don’t know if younger readers would feel, as strongly as I did, the pain of the injustice and loss suffered by Dave. There is this etching,
Randi Goodnight
Etched in Clay is about an actual enslaved African American, who learned pottery, and how to read and write in a time where slave literacy was outlawed. While Dave was an actual slave who etched small poems into his pots about his daily life, I am unsure of how accurate the poems are that are supposedly written by him and about him. Etched in Clay also does not clearly define what is going on around Dave at the time, and just barely touches on slave trade markets and the Civil War. After a slow ...more
Amy Rae
This is one of those books you feel terrible about giving a mediocre rating, but it sort of begs for one.

The subject matter--the potter Dave, who was born a slave, died a free man, and wrote Burma Shave-esque poetry on his beautifully made pottery in between--is fascinating, as well as a subject I wasn't familiar with before this book came out. His life is absolutely inspiring and worthy of receiving greater recognition.

But Cheng's poetry feels less like poetry and more like paragraphs that som
Sandy Brehl
Reading DAVE THE POTTER several years was my introduction to the life of a man who was a remarkably gifted artist and an intelligent survivor of pre- and -post- Civil War slavery.
In this book the combination of powerful woodcut art and free-verse voices reflect the varied events and individuals who shaped Dave's life. Their impact was every bit as real as if their hands had molded the clay of his being, and yet he exerted his own molding influence in knowing what, at its core, made him who he w
Aug 11, 2015 Michele rated it really liked it
I want you all to know that when I give a book a particular reading age that is usually the minimum age, the assumption is that grown-ups will find it an equally rich and beneficial read. "Etched in Clay" is most definitely one of these books. It may, in fact, be appreciated more by an adult.

The wonderful thing about "Etched in Clay," is that Dave steps out of history with his own words etched into the clay pots he made for his masters. His voice calls to us through time. Cheng's novel in verse

I will admit to a small bias against poetry. Despite studying it, writing it, promoting it, I've always had a hard time getting excited about reading poetry. So when I flipped this open and saw it was in verse, there was a momentary pause, I put it down and came back to it later. And I'm very glad that I returned to this!

In free verse, this tells the story of the slave, known as "Dave," purchased in 1815. His owner, Harvey Drake, is a potter and he teaches Dave the art of pottery. Harvey als
Kristina Marie
Jul 30, 2014 Kristina Marie rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2014
Almost a 2.5. Such an interesting way to approach this topic/biography. Plus, the author's woodcuts are beautiful. I am not sure it will appeal to children though. It's almost a work of fiction: how it is written, what the "characters" say, etc. While there are history sections in the front and back of the book, I wish there could have been more so that readers would have a better sense of time and place. I enjoyed the book because I have learned about Dave, seen his pots, studied this time peri ...more
May 04, 2015 Kelly rated it really liked it
Good historical fiction treatment of the story of Dave the Potter, an enslaved potter and poet; the poems that affected me most where the ones that highlighted the horrors of slavery--being separated from family (spouse, children) with no say or recourse, a master whipping to death a slave for talking back, etc.; once it hit me that the author chose to write a novel in poetry about an enslaved potter who rebelled against the system by inscribing poetry on his pots it seemed more precious and won ...more
Kate MacMillan
Jan 12, 2016 Kate MacMillan rated it it was amazing
An enslaved young man named Dave was brought to Edgefield, in the heart of South Carolina's pottery-producing area. Dave showed exceptional natural talent. Soon he was creating pieces of great beauty and often massive size. He also learnt to read and write, even though South Carolina had laws prohibiting slave literacy. Then Dave did something even more daring: he began to sign his jars and carve many of them with sayings and short poems that reflected his daily life and experiences. With these ...more
Jan 28, 2015 Jessie rated it it was ok
Shelves: kiddo, poetry
This book had a very interesting concept.

An homage to Dave was a nice idea and I think it succeeded in that. I do however, think it falls short of being a brilliant work of art in its own right.

The poems were not all that artistic in my opinion. They told a story through different voices but I didn't hear the different voices because it was all in too-similar a style of poetry. It was a bit repetitive in its language and actions (a lot of pottery-making and not much else). Please keep in mind
Ms. Yingling
Oct 21, 2013 Ms. Yingling rated it liked it
This historical novel in verse follows the real life story of Dave, who made pottery for the Pottersville Stoneware company. He was very talented at what he did, and also learned to read and write, even putting words on some of his pottery even though slaves were not allowed to be literate. His life was difficult-- his wives were sold away from him, he lost his leg in an accident, and he was sold several times because his masters didn't make wills. The poems are all dated, so we can see the prog ...more
Rachael Stein
Apr 19, 2013 Rachael Stein rated it really liked it
We know comparatively little about the life of Dave, the enslaved potter. We know roughly when he was born (around 1801), when he died (around 1870), and where he lived (South Carolina). We know that he lost a leg when he was about 35 years old, and that he was a skilled potter whose works were (and are still) prized by collectors. Most notably, we know that he could read and write, because he carved his name and some short poems into the clay of his own pots.

In a series of dramatic monologues,
Feb 20, 2013 Tasha rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, teen
Told in virtuoso verse, this is the true story of the life of Dave, an enslaved potter who lived in the years before and after Emancipation. Dave was an artist, most likely making over a thousand pieces of pottery in his lifetime of work of which only 170 survive today. He inscribed some of his pieces with either his own name, his master’s name and also poetry that he wrote, brief verses that offer a glimpse into his world. The amount of bravery that small act took is monumental, since Dave face ...more
A perfect pairing with Dave the Potter, the picture book by Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier, this novel in verse is riveting and heart-wrenching. The man who became known as Dave the Potter, later took the name David Drake for his own, and spent most of his life as a slave in South Carolina. When his first master, Harvey Drake, realizes that Dave has an affinity for the potter's wheel on which he shapes beautiful, enormous jars and other vessels, he puts him to work there. Dave's talent out ...more
Janet Frost
This deceptively simple book brought to life the story of Dave, a slave potter and poet. With succinct verse and poignant woodcut illustrations Andrea Cheng gives us a novel disguised as a historical fiction, biography and poetry. This lovely little book shoulders a serious job.
There are periods of history that open a universal window into the courage and power of the human spirit. Two that immediately come to mind are slavery in America and the Holocaust. Dave, our potter in this story, suffe
Julie Pickett
Aug 06, 2013 Julie Pickett rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating story told in free verse. It is a quick yet powerful read that will open children's eyes to the cruelty of slavery and to the bravery of those held in captivity.

Author Andrea Cheng follows on the Caldecott Honor-winning book Dave the Potter, by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Bryan Collier (2010), to further open up the fascinating life of the enslaved potter known simply as Dave. Records indicate Dave, who was born in the United States in 1801, was most likely purch
Glenn Jacobson
Jun 11, 2013 Glenn Jacobson rated it really liked it
Shelves: mc-literature
After recently finishing the Poet Slave of Cuba I had high expectations for this book, which were happily met. The concept of story telling in free verse from different perspectives was again a winning combination to tell the story of a skilled man who was the best at his trade, and a slave. The story recalls the long and troubled life of a skilled man kept down by slavery.

His name, Dave was given to him by his master. He can’t remember his real name, but recalls the voice of his mother before s
Apr 27, 2014 Liz rated it really liked it
Enjoyed learning more after really enjoying the picture book about Dave the Potter. I find it fascinating to know just a little bit more about real people, though not much is TRULY known about this enslaved artist--… I was inspired to investigate more about the few remaining pots that he created and the area where Dave lived. The poetry in the book and woodcut art worked well for me. Appreciated the back matter provided about the pottery, inscriptions and more.
Sep 24, 2013 Christina rated it really liked it
Written in verse, this beautifully written book tells the story of Dave the potter's life as a slave, learning to make pottery, and how he was married twice, only to be separated from his wives when they were sold to other owners. It's a heartwrenching story, and the poems put us in his head, as well as giving us the point of view of others who knew Dave. Not much detail is known about him, so this is very fictionalized, but the author gives a nice list of "characters" in the beginning, of owner ...more
Beverly Kennett
May 15, 2015 Beverly Kennett rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mc_lit, info-bios, poetry
Poems and die cut illustrations tell this story of a slave potter beautifully! Many difficult terms unless you have a good grasp of the political environment during the civil war and of turning pottery on a wheel. Probably difficult for elementary students to understand. Better for middle school or high school students, but an excellent resource as a true story of the times or as an alternative writing genre to explore a topic.
This narrative in poems quietly gives dimension to a man about whom we know little, other than his talent in pottery and being literate in a time when it was illegal for slaves to know how to read and write. It's inspired me to read further into Dave's story and learn more about the pottery that came out of the area. An illuminating work.
Dave was a lucky slave, at least as much as there could be such a thing. Dave was owned by pottery-makers. The owners quickly learned that Dave had a special talent for making their wares. As the business transitioned from one family member to another, Dave went with the business. His wives and children were sold off, but he was always retained due to his skills. Dave also learned to read and write, which was quite dangerous for a slave to know. He was proud of his accomplishments and began to c ...more
In 1818, he is simply known as Dave, a young slave who is brought to Edgefield, South Carolina to work at the Pottersville Stoneware Manufactory. When he is introduced to the pottery wheel at a young age, it becomes quite clear that he has a natural talent for throwing clay. As he ages Dave comes to love pottery and wants to take ownership of his work. He has been able to teach himself to read and write. But Dave was a slave and it was illegal for slaves to know how to read and write. Pottery cr ...more
Mar 10, 2016 Cduncan rated it really liked it
4 out of 5 stars

I no longer have any ill feelings toward novels written in verse. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

For a full review go to:
Lori Gravley
Feb 02, 2016 Lori Gravley rated it really liked it
Shelves: verse-novels
A wonderful historical book told in multiple points of view about a slave who becomes a potter and a poet before he is finally set free at the end of the civil war.
Brenda Kahn
Dec 28, 2012 Brenda Kahn rated it really liked it
This book is quite hefty despite its narrow trim and 142 pages. It is also beautifully designed - the cover paper is textured, the preponderance of clay red on the cover and end-pages is effective and the creamy pages containing the poems are thick. The story of Dave the potter's life is told from multiple viewpoints, from Dave's, his two wives, his three owners and their wives and sundry folks. The free verse poems beg for multiple readings. Wood cut illustrations are spare and powerful. There' ...more
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Andrea Cheng is a Hungarian-American children's author and illustrator. The child of Hungarian immigrants, she was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio in an extended family with three generations under one roof. Her family spoke Hungarian and English at home. After graduating with a BA in English from Cornell University, she went to Switzerland, where she apprenticed to a bookbinder, attended a school of b ...more
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