Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad

Henry Cole, Author
Henry Cole. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-545-39997-5
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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. Ages 3–7. (Nov.)
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