Saturday, February 6, 2010

BHM: Escaping Slavery, Sweet Clara

Ok, I promise, this is the last post on escaping slavery, and then I'll move on. Like Big Jabe, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, by Deborah Hopkinson, with paintings by James Ransome, is fiction. Big Jabe is like the stories people told themselves to keep up their courage (like the folk history of The People Could Fly, by Virginia Hamilton), while Sweet Clara's story is more realistic - like the stories people told each other to share the path to freedom.

Oney Judge and Henry Brown had unusual circumstances. Most people did not have the same sorts of opportunities to escape that they did. And their need for secrecy means that we have less evidence of their lives. So most of the stories told about them almost have to be fictional. And then, even real people like Harriet Tubman show up in some great fiction, like Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky, by Faith Ringgold. The quilt in this story tells whether it's safe to approach a house for shelter, while Sweet Clara's quilt makes a map.

Sweet Clara was taken away from her momma before she was twelve, to work in the fields of another plantation close by. She was taken in by 'Aunt' Rachel, who helped her learn to sew, and got her moved from the fields to the Big House. While she sewed, she thought, and listened. And one day she began to sew a quilt from scraps, "blue calico and flowered blue silk for creeks and rivers, and greens and blue-greens for the fields, and white sheeting for roads."

This story of a quilt, and of a journey, is very moving. Deborah Hopkinson has written an equally moving sequel in verse. Under the Quilt of Night is also supported by James Ransome's moving illustrations.

One last quilt story: In Show Way, Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of her own family's memories of sewing messages about the path to freedom into quilts.

Tomorrow: Sometimes we help our children become strong by protecting them from the painful realities around us.

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