2012, Scholastic Press
New York, NY
Unpaged (40 pp), $12.23 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780545399975; OCLC: 769141329

As a new addition to the children’s collection at work, I couldn’t resist taking a peek inside of Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole.

Unspoken, a wordless book, tells the story of a young farm girl, via illustrations, who discovers a former slave embarking on a northern trek towards freedom. An illustration depicts the girl looking curiously over her shoulder, towards shocks of corn drying in the barn, while completing her chores. On the next page, amidst a sea of corn, a single eye peers at the reader — which startles the young girl. As the story progresses, the girl begins offering food to the slave and keeps their hiding place a secret when Confederate soldiers on horseback visit the farm with a “Wanted” poster. The story closes with the girl visiting the barn at night and finding a doll fashioned out of corn husks wearing a gingham dress — a fabric napkin, which the girl had originally used to carefully wrap the food that she secreted the slave in hiding.

Cole used Staedtler Mars 4B pencils on Canson charcoal paper. The illustrations were printed on beige paper which gives the book a vintage look reminiscent of the time and the use of brown endpapers pay homage to the earthy, farm setting. I’ll admit: upon first glancing at the book, the cover illustration reminded me of Chris Van Allsburg‘s work…beautiful.

My Thoughts
Cole’s exquisite and powerful illustrations did a phenomenal job of depicting a relatively deep and complex story without the use of words. Young readers are given ample opportunity to elaborate upon the panels by creating their own dialog between characters.

A lengthy author’s note provides the reader with a brief historical synopsis as well as personal background information.

While the book typically shelved with children’s picture books, I concur with a School Library Journal review that states this item is appropriate for grades 3 – 8.  Unspoken would be a great addition to any public library and school media center.

Tags: children’s picture book, historical fiction, African-American history, Civil War, military history, slavery, Underground Railroad, wordless book