I recently did a post about an alphabet book called ABC USA. I mentioned in the post that we had a discussion about the underground railroad. Macy and I both were not familiar with the underground railroad and had to look it up. Well, Mrs Gruener from Corner on Character recommended a book about that underground railroad that she thought I might like.
We came across this book at our favorite book stop – Half Price Books – and decided that we needed to check it out. The book is Unspoken by Henry Cole. (Click his name for a link to his awesome website!) It is a stunning book. It was published by Scholastic Press in 2012. There are no words here – only beautiful charcoal drawings to tell the story.
It’s a bit of a spooky book. All the illustrations are lovely but dark. Dark skies, dark rooms, trees with no leaves, and eyes peering through corn stalks and doors.
We see a young girl out doing her farm chores. Looking pretty happy with her chickens and her sweet cow and kitty. But when she goes to collect vegetables from the vegetable barn she sees a big eye staring at her from the corn. This vegetable barn was a new thing for me. I guess they didn’t have a refrigerator, but instead had a whole barn for all their food stuff. Anyway, the girl worries about whoever is in her corn but starts taking food to them. She doesn’t tell any adults about it. Who is it and should she tell?
I didn’t know the answer to either of those questions until we read the author’s note at the end. Mr Cole explains the whole story. It’s about the Civil War and runaway slaves and kind folks who kept those slaves hidden. I guess the eye in the corn was a slave. And that kind little girl took care of him/her.
Unspoken is a good title for the book. Everything is unspoken. No words in the story. The girl doesn’t speak of her secret. The eye in the corn doesn’t talk. The soldiers riding through the farm don’t say anything to anyone. Mealtimes are quiet, prayerful events. The slave hunters seem to be very outspoken. But they’re the only ones.
This is a powerful book. It’s nice to have the story at the end, but the pictures themselves are quite incredible. This would be an excellent book for a class studying slavery and the underground railroad. I now know what that underground railroad was. It was all about secrecy — good deeds unspoken, deeds of bravery unspoken.
National Geographic has a cool interactive webpage about the underground railroad here.
There is a National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio if you happen to be in that area.
Here’s an interesting video all about the railroad —
And Richie Havens singing a railroad song –