My daughters and I just finished a homeschool coop where we focused on the American Revolution. That sparked their interest in other historical times, and we have fed into with the American Girl historical novels and mysteries. In keeping with our “3 picture books and 1-2 chapters” bedtime routine, I’ve found some lovely historical chapter books. We had listened to Addy: An American Girl/Boxed Set (American Girls Collection) as an audiobook, and the girls have now become fascinated with the Civil War as well. We aren’t officially studying the Civil War, but we have found 3 lovely quilt books that describe 3 different ways quilts helped people during the Civil War. I’m interested in delving into more quilt history, myself after reading these!
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson was a Reading Rainbow book, and one can easily see why. The illustrations are beautiful, and the text flows clearly. This is based on a true story (something that is well appreciated in our house!), and describes a young slave who is taken from her home to a new plantation. She has a hard time in the fields, and she is rescued by another slave who brings her inside to sew with her. Once Sweet Clara is inside the house, she learns about escaping to freedom – and the perils of not knowing the way and getting caught. She starts collecting scraps, and she creates a quilt which acts as a map. The quilt shows the way from their plantation to the Ohio River, which will carry them up to Canada and freedom. This is a beautiful story, with the perfect mix of sad and sweet appropriate for a story about slavery.
Deborah Hopkinson also wrote Under the Quilt of Night, which has illustrations by James E. Ransome. This is another story of slaves and freedom, but rather than using the quilt as a map, these quilts help the slaves find the safe houses in the Underground Railroad. The story tells of a family escaping, from the point of view of a young girl. They are told to look for quilts that have been set out to dry – quilts are usually designed with red in the center of the pattern, but if the home is part of the Underground Railroad, the quilt will have black in the center. We were amazed – both by the wonder of the text and the beauty of the illustrations, but also by that new knowledge. We all went searching around our home for the myriad of quilts made for us, and it was true! They all had red or reddish centers if they had that type of pattern. Wow. Very cool book and information!
After reading about slaves escaping to freedom, I wanted to read a book about the white families involved in the Civil War. I didn’t want to read a book that glorified the war, just a simple book about how it affected regular people. I found that book in The Promise Quilt by Candice F. Ransome, Illustrations by Ellen Beier. When the war calls her father away from their farm in Virginia, Addie, her brother, and her mother try to make do – the soldiers take their food and damage their land, but they just wait and hope for father to return. The illustrations and text do an amazing job of showing the sadness in the little girl, but in a way that makes the listeners feel drawn into the story, not overwhelmed. There is one picture that stays in my mind – Addie is looking out the window into the rain, with the soldiers walking through their farm reflected in the glass.
Addie’s father dies in the war, and a woman in Pennsylvania sends them a letter and his red flannel shirt, which Addie wears to keep warm, and help her remember him. When it is time for school to start, they cannot because the soldiers burned down the building. Addie and her mother work together with the woman in Pennsylvania to arrange to raffle a quilt made by Addie’s mother to pay for schoolbooks and other supplies. This book shows the courage of the people in the rural areas whose land was trampled by solders in Grey and Blue, and the good that can happen when people from the North and South work together. Like in Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, the quilt Addie’s mother makes (called “Lee’s Surrender”) is a real quilt pattern. There are also a few pages at the end of the book which explain more about the Civil War and the setting of the book.
I highly recommend all 3 books. My 3 daughters (9, 7, 3 1/2) enjoyed all three as well, so they translate well to different ages. I will be going back to the library to get these books when we officially study the civil war, too!
You’ll want to check out our new quilt book review, plus homeschooling lesson ideas, too!