“Unspoken; A Story from the Underground Railroad,” by Henry Cole, Scholastic Press, 40 pages, $16.99 ages 4 and up.
Sometimes the most profound stories are wordless. Here, author-illustrator (and former schoolteacher) Henry Cole renders a tense and moving tale of the Underground Railroad with full-page graphite on charcoal paper illustrations. The weighty, sepia toned palette indicate that this story will challenge young readers’ understanding of right and wrong. In a barn on her family farm, a young girl discovers a runaway slave. Despite the presence of bounty hunters, she chooses to help this person find freedom. The reader never sees the runaway; rather we see the slave as the girl does – as a wary eye peering out of a bushel of corn. (There are hints in the images that the stranger may be a child.) In the end notes, we learn that the inspiration for this tale came from family members who told Civil War stories around the dinner table at the Cole dairy farm in Purcellville, Virginia. Unspoken will generate valuable discussion and interest about compassion under pressure while showing that courage is never limited by age, gender or race.