Still feeling stuck in this cold chill of winter, I’m spending a lot of time lately with my quilt. I drag it from the bed to the couch and back again, spending hours reading, knitting, and okay, maybe watching TV too, underneath its cozy enclosure. But quilts are so much more than something to keep you warm. A quilt is filled with comfort, handmade pride and memories. Just by looking at its pieces, each quilt can tell you its own story.
Some of my very favorite picture books know how to tell the story of a quilt just right. Here are a few that you should cozy on up with.
The Quilt by Ann Jonas (Puffin Books)
In this book of an adventurous journey through a girl’s imagination, the quilt represents a rite of passage. The girl is growing up and she’s proud of it. “I have a new quilt” she immediately tells the reader. “It’s to go on my new grown-up bed.” She points out the pieces of the quilt made from her family’s old clothes and curtains. Each piece is a comforting memory as well as a sign for how much she’s grown. At night the quilt comes alive and she embarks on an imaginative journey. I love how the character directly addresses the reader in an easy stream-of-conscious way. The reader can see her anxiety over sleeping in a new bed and of growing up, even if she can’t see it herself and cheers her on as she’s able to make it through the night.
The Quilt Story by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Tomie dePaola (Penguin Putnam)
Often handmade quilts are passed down through family members, keeping history and memories alive. In The Quilt Story, a quilt is initially made by a mother for her little girl who uses it as a blanket to keep warm, a place for a tea party, and even a gown for playing pretend. When the family moves, the quilt is a constant in the girl’s life, giving her a feeling of comfort – of feeling tucked in and safe, even in a strange place. As time passes on, the quilt is passed down and new generations discover the quilt and are comforted in their time of need. For them, a quilt feels like home.
The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Dial Books for Young Readers)
Tanya’s grandmother lets her help her make a quilt and through her, Tanya learns the true power of homemade. “Yes, your mama can get you a quilt from any department store. But it won’t be like my patchwork quilt, and it won’t last as long either.” They use bits of old clothes from all the family, slowly working together until Tanya’s grandmother gets sick. Tanya then takes it upon herself (with help from her family) to continue working on the quilt. This is a real family story as they work together to pass down not only family memories through quilt pieces, but the sewing knowledge and skill needed to keep this kind of tradition alive.
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James Ransome (Alfred Knopf)
When Clara, a slave working as a seamstress, overhears about the difficulties other slaves have reaching the Underground Railroad, she realizes what they need is a map. She saves bits of cloth and asks around to get the right bearings, creating a quilt that maps the way to freedom for many others, as well as herself. The language of this book is as beautiful and inspiring as this young girl’s story. “Sometimes I wish I could sew a quilt that would spread over the whole land, and the people just follow the stitches to freedom.”
Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Hudson Talbot (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Just like Clara, the women in Show Way are taught to sew map quilts for slaves to follow to freedom, called “Show Ways”. They pass down sewing through the generations, sewing and selling the quilts even after the slaves were freed to preserve the history. The quilts represented strength and bravery as time goes on, as well as comfort and family. Using the most beautiful language and rhythm, this book, like a quilt, is meant to be passed on and on. It’s a personal family history of Jacqueline Woodson, but also a history of the African American people and this Newbery Honor winning picture (quite a rare feat!) is a true work of art.
In this fairy tale-esque tale, an old woman refuses to sell the quilts she makes, but gives them to the poor or homeless. When a greedy king decides he must have one of her quilts to be happy, the quiltmaker leads him in a mission of redemption. Only when he has given away everything he owns, and finally understands true happiness, will she give him a handmade quilt. This book is stunningly illustrated with watercolors, busily detailed, a rainbow of color, and pieced together as if it was a quilt itself.
I bet some of you have some favorite cozy quilt books. Or maybe you’re a quilter or have a quiltmaker in the family. Share your stories with us below!