May 20, 2016
I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery, by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Michele Wood
I Lay My Stitches Down
Poems of American Slavery
by Cynthia Grady
illustrated by Michele Wood
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
There’s been a lot of back and forth concerning whether or not slaves stitched maps to freedom in the quilts. If you’re looking for more of that, look elsewhere. Poet Cynthia Grady sticks with what we know — slave women were skilled quilters, the slaves were often religious, and the pains and perils of slavery.
Each poem in the collection is ten lines long, ten syllables per line. Grady chose this form to mimic quilt squares. In addition each poem contains three references: one that is Biblical or spiritual, one that is musical, and one that has to do with sewing or fiber. Using these layers she has created a collection of poems that are as multi-layers and complex as the lives of the slaves.
Each poem in the collection is named for a quilt block including log cabin, cotton boll, and traditional fish. Following the poem itself is a sidebar that expands on the poem giving a bit more information on the topic. Within each illustration is a depiction of that quilt block.
The subjects covered in the poems range from the friendships often struck up between enslaved children, children in the master’s family, and children from the surrounding tribes to the importance of blacksmiths (anvil being a quilt square) in West African cultures and on the plantations.
The painted illustrations depict the quilt squares as well as the lives of the slaves. The colors are as rich as those found in the quilts themselves. The acrylic paintings are complex and mimic the patterns of the quilt blocks, using repetition and color to tell the story.
Because the poems are short, this book would be a good choice for reluctant readers and restless listeners alike. My concern is that it will be labeled “black history” instead of becoming a part of our collective history.