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Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt
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About the Author

Deborah Hopkinson has written many acclaimed picture books, including A Letter to My Teacher; Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book; and Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale, an ALA-ALSC Notable Children's Book. She lives in Oregon with her family. Visit her at deborahhopkinson.com. James Ransome is the illustrator of many award-winning titles for children, including The Creation by James Weldon Johnson, which won a Coretta Scott King Award for illustration, and Let My People Go: Bible Stories Told by a Freeman of Color by Patricia and Fredrick McKissack, winner of an NAACP Image Award. His other titles include This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson, Young Pele Soccer's First Star by Lesa Cline-Ransome, and Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building by Deborah Hopkinson. He lives in New York. Visit him at jamesransome.com.

Reviews

K-Gr 3-- Clara, a young slave, works as a seamstress and dreams of freedom. Overhearing drovers talk of escaping North enables her to make a patchwork map of the area. When she escapes, she leaves the quilt behind to guide others. Based on a true event, this is a well-written picture book. Ransome's oil paintings, however, are perhaps too smooth and rich for the story they tell. The world depicted is too bright, open, and clean. For example, in the first scene Clara has been put to work in the cotton fields. Supposedly too frail to last long at such work, she is pictured as a slim, serious, yet sturdy girl. The bright yellow sky and the charming smile of the boy with her belie the realities of the back-breaking work. In another scene, young Jack, who has been brought back the day before from running away, looks solemn, but not distressed, and is wearing what appears to be a freshly ironed white shirt. Again, the image distances viewers from the realities of the situation. Clara's escape to Canada, too, is marvelously easy, although she does say, ``But not all are as lucky as we were, and most never can come.'' It is not easy to present the horrors of slavery to young children; thus, even though Ransome's illustrations, and to some extent the text, err on the side of caution, this is an inspiring story worth inclusion in most collections. --Karen James, Louisville Free Public Library, KY

"A particularly effective way to introduce the subject to younger children, adding a trenchant immediacy to their understanding of a difficult but important chapter in the country's past."--(starred) Horn Book.

"This first-rate book is a triumph of the heart."--(starred) Publishers Weekly.

A compelling story about an African American girl's escape from slavery on a Southern plantation brings power and substance to this noteworthy picture book. When the rigors of cotton-field labor overwhelm Clara, a kindly woman she calls Aunt Rachel trains the girl to be a seamstress in the main house. Like most slaves, Clara longs for freedom and, in her case, yearns to be reunited with her mother. Becoming proficient in her sewing, she begins in her off hours to put together a map-quilt, stitching in any information she can glean from overheard conversations about an escape route to Canada. Clara is indeed reunited with her mother (``her eyes just like I remembered, her arms strong around me'') in a chronicle made all the more touching for being rooted in fact. (The concluding flashback, a denouement explaining how the quilt may help others only slightly interrupts the fluid narrative line.) Ransome's ( Aunt Flossie's Hats . . . And Crab Cakes Later ) paintings here are among his finest: more lifelike and accessible than in some earlier books, the full-page, borderless oils exude an extraordinary warmth and humanity that lend credibility to the story. Himself a descendent of plantation slaves, the artist brings both dignity and realism to his work. This first-rate book is a triumph of the heart. Ages 5-10. (Feb.)

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