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Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

On a Southern farm during the Civil War, a young girl finds a runaway slave hiding in the family's barn. She is frightened but must make a difficult decision. What does she owe to the runaway with frightened eyes? Unspoken, by Henry Cole, is the story of a choice she makes and the bond that forms between the two of them.

Throughout the book, the reader never sees the runaway slave's face, just an eye peering fearfully from among the stored corn stalks. The girl and the slave never speak. In fact, there are no words in the book. But though all communication is unspoken, the message remains powerful. Detailed graphite drawings convey the tension and emotions, as well as the strong connection that grows between the girl and the runaway.

In the author's note, Henry Cole speaks of growing up in nearby Loudoun County, Virginia, where it seemed every family had Civil War stories. That region of rich farmland was repeatedly battered by the war, and its people were frequently divided in their loyalties. This beautiful book captures some of that atmosphere. I think that perhaps the illustrations have greater impact because they are wordless.

In his note, Cole also expresses the hope that readers of the book will make the story their own, filling in the words that he left unspoken. What Civil War story will your family tell?