Brief Description: Picture book depicts generations of African American women from author’s family and their special quilts containing secret messages and maps to freedom
Geographical Setting: American South, Brooklyn (NY), New York, North America, South Carolina, United States, Virginia
Historical Era: 19th Century, 20th Century
Date Range: 1800-2000s
Keywords: African American Slavery, Civil Rights Movement, Reconstruction Era, show way quilting, Underground Railroad
Original Publication: 2005
Suitable for Grades: K-3rd
Target Audience: Picture Book
Poet Jacqueline Woodson traces a seven-generation direct matrilineal succession back to her own enslaved ancestors and forth to her own daughter in this picture book in verse for ages 4 to 8. All of the women are bound together by the pastime of quilting and the strength of family love in spite of the cruel practice of separating slave children from their parents. Some of the imaginative quilts are more than they appear – they are maps to freedom, with colorful panels secretly depicting waymarks, roads, and the north star – all directions for the Underground Railroad.
The illustrations by Hudson Talbott, many of which are a patchwork of different textures and media, are informative and engaging. For example, the depiction of a seven-year-old girl being sold is painted on top of a collage of historical advertisements of slaves for sale and photographs and cartoons showing slaves at work. A later two-page spread shows a roughhewn quilt of black pieces adorned with inspiring quotes by famous abolitionists and civil rights leaders.
This is a good and mild introduction to very young children of the institution of slavery. The depiction of children being sold and separated from their parents will evoke sympathy while avoiding scenes of harsh violence. Former slaves fleeing north are filled with hope. Hard but cheerful work awaits post-war free citizens, and the book ends generations later demonstrating that love fosters resilience.