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‘Unspoken,’ by Henry Cole

By Kristi Elle Jemtegaard,

Eyes alone speak volumes in this wordless picture book. On the opening pages, a young farm girl leading a cow down a country lane turns her head to stare at a string of Confederate soldiers passing by on horseback. Later, gathering potatoes in the shed, she is startled to see a single eye peering out from between stalks of corn piled in a dim corner. At dinner that night, she eyes her own meal, quietly wraps a biscuit in a checked napkin, and delivers it to the shed. That’s the first of many gifts — a slice of pie, a square of cornbread, a drumstick — always concealed in the same square of cloth. Eventually, two roughly attired men show up holding rifles and a poster that silently shouts “WANTED! ESCAPED! REWARD!” The whites of our heroine’s eyes catch the light as she peers out from her hiding place beneath the stairs. Henry Cole’s meticulously detailed drawings created from hundreds and hundreds of individual pencil strokes evoke the rough texture of hand-hewn logs, hand-spun cloth and hand-tilled soil, while the sepia-tone backdrops recall 19th-century daguerreotypes. How the girl’s simple gifts are returned to her, wordlessly transformed by gratitude, is the gentle resolution to this quietly dramatic tale about the Underground Railroad. But the real question is voiced only when the book is closed. On the back cover, two solemn eyes peering directly into the reader’s accompany the words “What would you do if you had the chance to help a person find freedom?” The question is universal, but the answer — for each person staring back into that solemn face — must be individual.

— Kristi Elle Jemtegaard

UNSPOKEN A Story from the Underground Railroad By Henry Cole Scholastic. $16.99. Ages 8-10

UNSPOKEN A Story from the Underground Railroad, By Henry Cole Scholastic. $16.99. Ages 8-10

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