Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson. il James Ransome.
Alfred A. Knopf: NY, 1993.

Clara becomes a seamstress on the plantation, because she's not strong enough to keep picking cotton. She is separated from her mother by slavery and dreams of reuniting and running to freedom. She overhears two slaves discussing the Underground Railroad and their desire for a map. Clara draws a map in the dirt of all she can see from a hilltop and starts to create a quilt based on her drawing. She also collects descriptions from others who have traveled around more of the region to add to the quilt. When Clara is ready to leave, she leaves the quilt behind as a map for others to use.

I like the use of the quilt in this story. It takes center stage, though the book is more about slavery and fugitives than quilts. Regarding African-American history, quilts are usually discussed as marking safe houses along the Underground Railroad and as depicting the stories of a certain family, or as with anyone else the need to produce economical blankets. I love the idea of the quilt as a map - the brilliance of the girl's idea, the artistry in her process, and her leaving the quilt for others to follow.

The paintings are a strong partner to a great story.

I also want to note that the background story has details about slavery, the time period, and local life that put the story in perspective.

This is Deborah Hopkinson's first picture book.

related-slavery, quilts, maps, Underground Railroad
RL=1st-3rd, could be used in classes up through 5th grade

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