Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Saturday, July 14, 2012

I Lay My Stitches Down

I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery
by Cynthia Grady
illustrated by Michele Wood
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2012
ISBN: 9780802853868
Grades 5 and up 

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her local library.

Breaking news... I have found my favorite book of the year (so far).  I Lay My Stitches Down is the perfect marriage of poetry, history, and illustrations. I checked the book out of my local library a couple of weeks ago, and I keep revisiting it each day. Each time I read it, I notice something new in the illustrations and the text.

The author, Cynthia Grady, is a middle school librarian who got the idea for the book while she was working on a quilting project with her students. The poems convey the story of American slaves, and the titles come from actual quilt designs. Each free verse poem is made up of ten lines of ten syllables to represent quilt squares. Grady captures the voices of slaves in the lyrical poems that tell the stories of slaves learning to write in the dirt, toiling in kitchens, escaping at night, and working in the blacksmith shop.

"Pap transforms his next chunk of iron, he
chant a prayer, then work the bellows, WWHooooSHH, to
kindle the fire, the embers of his faith."

Below each poem is an expository paragraph providing readers with historical information.  On the right side of each page is a full-page, acrylic illustration corresponding to the poem on the left. Michele Wood masterfully incorporates quilt patterns into each illustration. In the illustrator's note, Wood explains that she used "African and American textiles to convey the complex, rich culture of American slaves."

In one illustration, a slave boy fishes in a canoe with American Indians on a river of blue and green geometric squares. Brown quilt squares with symbols from American history are pictured in the horizon. My favorite illustration accompanies the poem, "Basket," and can bee seen on the cover of the book. There are so many layers to this illustration.  A women in the center of the page sews a quilt made of red, white and blue geometric squares as quilted angel wings appear on each side of her. The bottom of the quilt becomes the roof lines for slave homes. In the foreground, a slave plows a field of brown squares. Each element is woven together so beautifully just like a basket.

You need to pick up a copy of this book and see for yourself how amazing it really is. I predict we will be hearing more from this title during the ALA Youth Media Awards in January.


  1. Wow! This sounds like a wonderful book. Can't wait to get a look at it.

  2. Isn't this the most wonderful book? When I read it, I was completely swept away. The words and illustration are just incredible. I also think this is the best non-fiction book of the year so far, though I also like Citizen Scientists.

  3. My students will love this - we teach both poetry and the Civil War :).


    Janet |