The author reports in an Afterword that he came across a collection of slave-related documents that included an “estate sale” of eleven slaves (along with cows, hogs, and cotton). Since the slaves were only referred to by gender and age, he decided he wanted to create stories for them and give them voices.
He introduces each slave by a picture he has imagined of the slave, noting his or her age and price. Then he envisions the slaves, in free-verse first-person narrative, describing the roles the might have played on the estate. The next page after each introduction imagines the dreams of that slave, which are in stark contrast to what a slave is allowed to do, and which always end with the dream of freedom.
Athelia, for example, explains that she is the laundress for the Fairchild’s estate and she works “from dawn to dusk, in rain, cold, stifling heat.” Sometimes she has to do more: “As slaves, we do what our owners expect and demand of us.” But she adds, “As human beings, our real lives are our precious secret.” Then she tells of her dreams of the songs and stories of her past in Africa, and of her longing to be free.
Bacus, who works with metals on the estate, has a wife and daughter. Now that they are all up for sale, he is terrified his family will be broken up: “I hardly sleep nights. I have terrible thoughts of separation. Powerless to keep my family together.” He dreams of respect, justice, and of course, freedom.
Each of the eleven slaves is given a voice in this book.
The author/illustrator has won Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award among other accolades. He uses brightly colored drawings and mixed media that he has said draw upon African-American spirituals, poetry, and folklore.
Evaluation: Bryan found an excellent way to show both the harsh realities of slaves, and the ways in which they might have realized some joy through their families, their friends, their memories, and their hopes.
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, 2016