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 each face a journey:
one following the North Star,
the other following her heart.
Henry Cole's unusual and original rendering
of the Underground Railroad
speaks directly to our deepest sense
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HENRY COLE was born on a dairy farm near Purcellville, Virginia, and was an adored elementary-school science teacher for 16 years. He has since illustrated over 80 popular picture books, including the multimillion-selling Moose series and other bestsellers. Mr. Cole has always loved art and science, which has made him a keen observer of details in nature. He now lives in both Florida and Virginia.
"Gorgeously rendered in soft, dark pencils, this wordless book is reminiscent of the naturalistic pencil artistry of Maurice Sendak and Brian Selznick, but unique in its accurate re-creation of a Civil War-era farm in northwestern Virginia. On the dedication page, readers see a star quilt on a split rail fence, symbolizing the North Star. Confederate soldiers arrive on horseback and a farmer’s daughter’s lingering gaze betrays her intuition of their visit. She goes about her duties of feeding the animals and gathering harvested vegetables. In the recently harvested cornstalks propped up in the corner of the barn, she hears a rustling and sees an eye. Superb visual storytelling shows her hands time and time again offering a piece of corn bread, apple pie, a leg of chicken, each time on a small checkered kerchief, to the young, hidden runaway. The soldiers return with a poster: “Wanted! Escaped! Reward!” These words call out in the otherwise wordless book, and readers feel their power. Parallels between the fugitive and the farmer’s daughter establish themselves visually when the latter gazes from behind a door, terrified at this threat. An author’s note details the Civil War stories Cole heard as a young boy and underscores his intention of showing not the division, anger, and violence of the Civil War, but “the courage of everyday people who were brave in quiet ways.” - Sara Lissa Paulson, American Sign Language and English Lower School PS 347, New York City, Starred review
"Cole’s (A Nest for Celeste) beautifully detailed pencil drawings on cream-colored paper deftly visualize a family’s ruggedly simple lifestyle on a Civil War–era homestead, while facing stark, ethical choices. Beginning with an illustration of a star-patterned quilt hanging over a fence (such quilts, Cole writes in his author’s note, signified a “safe house” for runaway slaves), the wordless story follows a girl who becomes aware of someone hiding in the barn. In one scene, she glances nervously over her shoulder at an unexpected noise; the next shows a closeup of cornhusks, a frightened eye peering through; the girl dashes from the barn in terror in a third illustration. After pondering her discovery, she stealthily delivers food wrapped in a checkered napkin on multiple occasions. Household adults are none the wiser, and following a close call with a pair of bounty hunters, the girl returns to the barn and discovers a cornhusk doll, left behind as thanks. Cole conjures significant tension and emotional heft (his silent storytelling calls to mind Brian Selznick’s recent work) in this powerful tale of quiet camaraderie and courage." - Publishers Weekly starred review
“[D]esigned to present youngsters with a moral choice...[T]he author, a former teacher, clearly intended ‘Unspoken’ to be a challenging book, its somber sepia tone drawings establish a mood of foreboding.” - New York Times Book Review
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