unspoken

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

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 after seeing a group of men on horseback.  She is startled and unsure, but over the course of the evening decides to help him.  It is a story of gifts given and also received.

Cole’s delicacy of line and details are notable here.  He keeps the illustrations very child-friendly, but they are also mysterious, shaded in darkness.  He plays with light, as you can see from even the cover image.  These wordless pages build tension and roll like a film before your eyes.  I’m thinking that the skill shown with simple materials and the strength of this book could mean a Caldecott consideration.

This is a profound book that speaks volumes about the importance of personal courage and the difference that one individual can make.  This is not a wordless book for preschoolers.  It’s more appropriate for ages 7-9 who will understand the history better.

Reviewed from library copy.