Friday, February 19, 2016

Quilting Through History



This post was supposedly set up to automatically publish this morning at 11:10 am. By some unfortunate mishap, it didn't post. Fortunately, I saved my original, although I did tweak the post a bit, which won't happen now. For those who are interested in quilting and American history, this is right up your alley. Everyone else...it is still very interesting factual information. One thing's for certain, kids today can learn a ton about American history through picture books if we will just take the time to investigate. No longer can students claim they hate history because the text book is boring! Reading should be the most exciting activity in a child's life. It is up to us to help them discover this wonderful world of books.
Which brings up an important reminder. This Saturday, February 20th, Lake Charles will host the 3rd Annual Family Book Festival at Central School for Arts and Humanities from 10 o’clock until 2 pm. Authors from all over Louisiana and East Texas will participate in this effort to bring attention to the importance of family literacy. In our locality, books about Cajun or Creole heritage are very popular, for obvious reasons. There is something about reading about people that you “know” that makes reading fun. At the book festival, it has been our goal to provide the public with a diverse assortment of books.  Having books written by people of different ages, cultures and ethnic backgrounds is crucial to the success of this venture, for people love to read stories that they can relate to personally. 

JUST THE FACTS MA’AM!

This brings up another appropriate subject: Black History Month. As a public school teacher, I always participated, realizing that it made sense to acquaint youngsters with heroes of their race. I have made it a practice to meet and support African American authors and have made some very dear friends in the writing world as a result.  As a history buff, I love to learn interesting facts and share them with others. Once, when I was a college professor, I did a social studies activity with one of my classes, using the book Barefoot: Escape on the Underground Railroad by Pamela Duncan Edwards. I was shocked to discover that the majority of my class didn’t know what the Underground Railroad was! This book enlightened my students, and I wholeheartedly recommend it as a way to make history come to life with children. 

In 2005, while visiting Savannah, Georgia, I attended a dinner for a Georgia author, Bettye Stroud. I was so enthralled that I purchased three of her books, all of which are about Black History. They include: Dance Y’All, The Leaving, and The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom. The last book especially caught my attention, as I love to quilt. It is a remarkable story about a young slave named Hannah and how different quilt patterns helped slaves escape to Canada prior to the Civil War. Each page displays a unique quilt pattern and the story explains the message that the pattern conveyed to runaway slaves. A few years later I watched a television series presented by Eleanor Burns that went into even more detail about these historic quilts and their importance. Eleanor’s book, which she co-wrote with author Sue Bouchard, is entitled:  Underground Railroad Sampler. It is chock full of history and gives the reader step-by-step instructions for making the fifteen quilt blocks that played such a significant role in American history. Both of these books may be found on their author's websites or on Amazon.com.



ACTIVITY:

You may not be gifted with a needle and thread, but anyone can make a construction paper quilt! Give your children a package of colored paper, some scissors and a glue stick and use Eleanor’s book as your guide to create a quilt block. Invite each child to write a story to accompany their art. They will have fun—and learn about history in the process!

My mother quilted this Log Cabin block.


IN CONCLUSION:

There was a time, and it was not all that long ago, when children of color were rarely seen in picture book illustrations or included in stories available at bookstores and libraries. Even though we have not yet reached a panacea of ethnic variety in children’s books, it is much, much better today. For years February has been celebrated as Black History month, and although we concentrate on that theme, I believe these principles should extend to all of the colors of children represented in our classrooms and/or homes. My grandchildren, whose heritage includes family from Vietnam, can now find books and stories that include characters with their same features and culture. The Hispanic children that I taught for years in Dallas can also find an abundance of stories with characters that speak their language and share a similar personal history. This is true of many ethnicities now, as publishers have become aware of the need and have attempted to address it in their books and illustrations. 

But having a plethora of ethnic books and stories about children from all sorts of backgrounds does more than just offer the readers a character with whom they can associate. It broadens the experience for all of our children and makes them aware of both the differences and the similarities between cultures. It is exciting that not only can children experience the castles and fire-breathing dragons of fantasy, they can also experience the life of a child who has come thousands of miles to live here in America. It makes us all appreciate our heritage and our country more. To sum it up:  this is a good thing for our society.

So, this month, make it your goal to learn more about the African American culture and history by reading lots of good stories, including the ones I have listed. Research your own family tree and find out about your personal history. It may surprise you! I discovered my father's family came from Wales (Remember Dick Whittington and His Cat?) and that there is a Whittington Castle there--and that many Grandfather Clocks offer "Whittington Chimes" rather than the old familiar Westminster variety. I've only investigated the Whittington side of the family. I haven't yet delved into my mother's side (Burgess), but just from the name I know it must have an interesting historical past.

Next week, I will share some of my favorite middle grade novels for older children. You will meet some new and some award winning African-American children’s authors that you may never have known before. So hang in there.

If you have a favorite picture book that features African American characters or great illustrations and/or are written by an African American author, please divulge it with our readers.  Or, if you have stories from your family history that others might enjoy, please share them. I am always on the lookout for good ideas and good books!