Monday, January 7, 2013

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

"What would you do if you had the chance to help a person find freedom?" 

This is the question at the heart of Unspoken and it turns out to be a very thought-provoking question in this poignant, wordless story of a young girl during the Civil War and the runaway slave that she helps.

As she is bringing home the family cow to milk, the girl sees some Confederate soldiers passing by.  She continues to go about doing her chores, but when she is sent to the barn to fetch something, she senses she is not alone.

Indeed, there is an eye peering out of the corn crib.  Scared, she runs back to the house.  It is clear she is thinking about the person in the barn during dinner and later that night she sneaks back to the barn, bringing some food to the person hiding there.  She continues bringing more food.  One day, some bounty hunters show up looking for a runaway slave.  Her family knows nothing about the runway slave in the barn that the girl has been helping, but that night the little girl goes to warn him about the bounty hunters.  What she finds, however, isn't the runaway slave, but a gift he has made for her.

Unspoken is such a simple but powerful book.  Without using a single word, Cole captures the all the fear, hatred, and kindness in the actions of the characters that are associated with this period in American history.  The story is enhanced with Cole's detailed illustrations drawn in monochrome pencil on rough textured cream colored paper.

Perhaps what makes Unspoken so powerful is that it is rooted in old family stories that Cole listened to when he was a child, repeated by relatives who were the children of family members who lived through the Civil War.  I can easily believe that these stories would have a powerful effect on an artistic child later in life.

I also found that while the wordless story to be very effective in conveying so much emotion that words might not have been about to capture as well, I found the title to be particularly compelling.  That one word in the title expresses so much able the plight of runaway slaves.  One spoken word would mean, quite simply, a death sentence to the person running away to freedom.  That is a really chilling thought.

Unspoken is an incredible story of humanity and compassion.   There is so much to see and study on each page that can be used to spark dialogue, especially if used as a teaching tool for students learning about the Underground Railroad.

This book is recommended for readers age 4-8 by the publisher, but I think it would be better aged at 7+ given the subject matter.
This book was purchased for my personal library

Kid Lit Blog Hop


  1. Thanks so much for linking this up on the Kid Lit Blog Hop. This type of story always intrigued me as a child (still does!) and I look forward to reading this with my children when they are a bit older.

  2. Thank you for sharing this book. It's not often one finds a book about the underground railroad from the freedom givers point of view and wordless at that. I really look forward to seeing this book.

  3. This book sounds incredible! Thank you for the wonderful review.

  4. I'll check if my library carries this title. Sounds like a really special story. Many children's books with historical/war setting are deep and moving. (Must bookmark this page!)

  5. What I find fascinating about this book is that the author translated the story from spoken word, learned through story-telling, into a wordless book using illustrations alone to tell the story. How brilliant! It gave me chills reading your review. I am very curious about this book. I'm not sure that my children have had much exposure to books with only illustrations - perhaps when they were younger. This would be a great book to share with them.

    Thanks so much for linking this into the Kid Lit Blog Hop! :)

  6. Visiting you from the Kid Lit Hop!
    Great post!
    When I was young, over fifty years ago, I loved ready historical fiction and I have not lost that interest. It is my favorite genre. I encourage my grandkids to read historical fiction.
    I just reviewed a good children's historical fiction. Think I will go add it to the Hop. Following you!


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