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Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  2,968 ratings  ·  560 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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4.30  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,968 ratings  ·  560 reviews

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Oct 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
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
♥ Sandi ❣
A book without words. Sketches done in a story line to represent a small farm girl who discovers a runaway slave hiding on her farm. She decides to feed him, keeps her counsel when soldiers come looking for him, and is rewarded with a straw doll when the slave moves on.
These story frames need no words. The story, the emotion and the bravery of the times is displayed beautifully in the quiet courage of the drawings.
5 solid stars
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
David Schaafsma
A wordless picture book about an encounter between two girls, along the Underground Railroad, drawn in pencil, somewhat like Brian Selznick's work (The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck), initially focused on what the white girl does for the girl in the field we never fully see. So I was worried about white saviorism, but it's more complex than that, they develop--wordlessly-a relationship. I liked the little things, like the white girl's cat, and a quilt, a signal, the gift of the doll. Ca ...more
Feb 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 10, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Alex (not a dude) Baugh
Nov 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: randomly-reading
"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
Feb 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: picturebooks
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
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A simple, powerful, beautiful, and wordless story about a young girl's interaction with a traveler on the Underground Railroad.


*Note: The dedication page features a drawing of a quilt draped over a split-rail fence. The pattern is the North Star; this is supposedly one of the patterns used as a reminder to slaves to look to the skies to navigate the way to safe haven in Canada.
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
Nov 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
More powerful and accessible than so many other books on the topic. Not for tots, of course, despite being a picture-book. Intense & engaging.
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Readers Looking for Supplemental Picture-Books About the Underground Railroad
This powerful story, told entirely through Henry Cole's gorgeously detailed pencil artwork, is not a history of the Underground Railroad so much as a brief and very personal vignette from that period of history. Opening as a young farm girl leads the family cow toward the barn, and a troupe of Confederate soldiers is riding past, Unspoken follows the girl as she discovers an unseen stranger hiding in the stored corn, and begins to help him (or her), by providing food and keeping his secret. When ...more
The Hofs
Mar 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Gorgeous picture book of a important time in history. Perfect for the very verbal non reader and reader alike. This book takes place in the northern Virginia area. I happily discovered this on our local library shelf!
I guess I have something of a problem w/ a "story from the Underground Railroad" that features fugitive slaves hidden and as something scary. I also have a problem that depicts a life or death situation for runaway slaves as something to be appropriated by this white farm girl.

That said, I liked the pictures and the lack of words, because it forced me to slow down and really take the pictures in--something I don't often do w/ children's books. The concept is cool, but I just felt the hidden blac
May 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of the best wordless picture books by far. The illustrations just paint a picture of kindness, love, and hope. In a time of the civil war when those things lacked and divided a nation. So glad I picked this book up and let my children's imaginations sore! Loved how the author focused on hope and help instead of on blood shed and hatred.
Ashleigh Rose
Feb 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Turns out a book doesn't always need words to get the message across.
Feb 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Patricia Stephens
Oct 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviews
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
Jun 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: picture-books
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
Samantha Howard
Mar 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: picture-books
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
Nancy Kotkin
Wordless historical fiction picture book set during the American civil war. When a farm girl finds an escaped slave hiding in the barn, she makes the compassionate decision to help, despite the reward for recapture offered by slave catchers. Black-and-white pencil drawings on cream-colored paper evoke the historical time period. Illustrations display an amazing variety of textures. Exemplary wordless story-telling infused with emotion.
May 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Edward Sullivan
Stunning and remarkable. Wonderful possiblities for discussion and writing.
Nov 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
L13F_Jana Wilkening
Oct 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Courtney Ennis
Oct 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical-fic
Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad is a wordless picture book by Henry Cole. It shows the story of a girl and a runaway slave. The story begins with Confederate soldiers marching through a girl's farmland. The girl is helping her mother with the daily chores that goes with running a farm (exp: feeding the chickens, looking for eggs). When the girl walks into the barn, she notices an eye watching her through a corn stalk. Will the girl tell her parents about the mysterious person or ...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
May 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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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.