Unspoken, A Story from the Underground Railroad, a picture book by Henry Cole, is an unusual book.
First, Cole illustrated it with graphite illustrations – no color on the page, except the ocher yellow of the paper itself. While a tad plain, Cole’s drawings are striking – full of detail and emotion which draw the reader into the story.
Second, Cole used no words. None. Not a single one. Which makes his illustrations even more powerful.
In his pictures, a young girl watches a small band of Confederate soldiers go by her home. We see her doing her chores around the house – bringing the cow home, feeding the chickens, until…
She happens upon a stranger. We can see the fear – both in the runaway and in the girl.
Strangers come to the farm, hunting the runaway. Will the girl turn her in?
A book without words can be the easiest, and the hardest, book to ‘read’ to children. Easy because, with no words, you can fly through the pages, glancing at the pictures. Hard because, with no words, you can ask questions, share thoughts and feelings with your child: “How would you feel if you came across a stranger in your field?” “What would you have done in her shoes?” “How do you think the girl is feeling?” “How is the runaway feeling?” “What do you think her parents would say if they knew what she had done?”
This beautiful book, with a heartfelt author’s note at the end, is well worth taking the time to peruse with your child, talking and discussing questions like those above.
Yes, it’s a picture book, but I recommend it for ages 6 and up. I’m not sure 3 – 5-year-olds are ready for this topic, unless an older sibling is studying it in school. Then this picture book is a great introduction to the topic because you can be a superficial or detailed as your child needs, or desires.