Sunday, January 6, 2013

Book Review of Unspoken by Henry Cole

It's been a long time since I have done a book review.  Not because I haven't been reading, I just haven't spent a lot of time with Children's picture books!  Which is too bad because they are usually easier to get through than a thick tome intended for adults!  A good children's picture book can be like an afternoon break spent in the art museum.

Henry Cole's Unspoken , published by Scholastic Press, tells a story with only pictures drawn softly in the gray tones of graphite.  His style reminded me of Brian Selznick's art in his books, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck.  And like Selznick, Cole creates mood, drama and pace without the assistance of words.  Which is perfect because this story needs the viewer to understand how important silence can be to those seeking freedom.

A little girl cautiously hurries across the gold tone pages of the story.  With carefully drawn lines, Mr.Cole tells the story of this little girl's alarming discovery; a runaway slave is hiding in her family's barn under a pile of corn stalks.  No words are spoken by Mr. Cole, the little girl or the runaway, whom we only see as a eye peeking through the cornstalks.  Quietly the little girl makes an important choice between telling her family and the soldiers and bounty hunters who pass by or keeping the runaway's presence a secret so the stranger can continue on the dangerous journey to freedom.

Each illustration draws us into the story, letting us in on the secret and we accompany the girl on her errands of mercy which take her from house to barn and back again as she smuggles food, all the while, her secret stays locked tight behind her lips.  She is as silent as the wordless story, but what she does changes the life of  a mysterious stranger as well as her own.  And we have the privilege of witnessing what her family misses, the emergence of a little girl's courageous compassion which overcomes what the word around her says is right  to embrace higher laws and rights, the right of every human being to be free.

Mr. Cole's illustrations show the girl's emotions; her fear, her worry, her joy, her courage and her peace.  The drawings are able to show us how she even comes to identify with the fugitive, as she literally chooses to break the law to do what is right and good.  This is a touching story about being brave enough to do what is good, embracing a higher morality over the the morality of property.  And even though the girl says no words, the lesson she teaches speaks loudly and will make a wonderfully opportunity for parents and children to discuss the intrinsic value of humanity and the importance of standing up to injustice even if we do it quietly.

Visit Mr. Cole's website by clicking here.  You can also find Unspoken at Amazon or at your local library.