January 27 – It’s Creativity Month

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About the Holiday

January is a time for reflection and new beginnings. What better time to start thinking creatively and finding your inner artist, scientist, inventor, thinker? Go ahead and do the thing you’ve always wanted to do!

Stitchin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt

Written by Patricia C. McKissack | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

In this story told through poems, a little girl begins telling of her life, starting with a recitation on Gee’s Bend Women: “Gee’s Bend women are / Mothers and Grandmothers / Wives / Sisters and Daughters / Widows.” They are every kind of woman you know, doing every type of work and activity. “Gee’s Bend women are / Talented and Creative / Capable / Makers of artful quilts / Unmatched. / Gee’s Bend women are / Relatives / Neighbors / Friends— / Same as me.”

In Who Would Have Thought, the girl muses on how perceptions change. “For as long as anyone can remember,” she says, the women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama have created quilts that were slept under, sat on, and wrapped around the sick or cold. But now those same quilts are “…hanging on museum walls, / their makers famous….”

When she was just a tot “Baby Girl” reveals in Beneath the Quilting Frame, she played under the quilting frame, listening to her “mama, grandma, and great-gran / as they sewed, talked, sang, and laughed / above my tented playground.” She remembers the “steady fingers  /[that] pieced together colorful scraps of familiar cloth / into something / more lovely / than anything they had been before” as her mother sang her a lullaby.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

In Something Else, “Baby Girl” is growing too big to play beneath the frame. Her legs becoming longer and her mind full of “recipes for eleven kinds of jelly…how to get rid of mold…and the words to a hundred hymns and gospel songs” while she waits her turn at the frame. Finally, in Where to Start? her time comes. The girl asks her mama how to begin and she answers, “‘Look for the heart. / When you find the heart, / your work will leap to life… / strong, beautiful, and… / independent.’”

In Remembering, the girl thinks about how her mama has told her that “cloth has a memory.” As she chooses the cloth that will become her quilt she sees the life and the history in each. 

Nothing Wasted sees Grandma pulling apart a red-and-white gingham dress stitch by stitch to become a quilting square that the girl suddenly knows “will be the heart of my quilt.” In Puzzling the Pieces the girl and her grandma stand over the quilting frame fitting the squares together in the perfect way to tell the girl’s story. Her quilt comes together piece by piece to tell the history of Gee’s Bend in The River Island. The brown strips along three sides mirror the muddy waters surrounding her town. The fourth side is a green strip—“a symbol of the fields where my ancestors / worked cotton from can to can’t— / can see in the morning until / can’t see at night.” Lined up next to the green strip are six squares representing the small communities “where families with / the same name / are not kin by blood / but by plantation.”

Being Discovered is portrayed with “a large smoke-gray square”—the color of the Great Depression and the 15 minutes of fame Gee’s Bend garnered when discovered “by sociologists, historians, / educators, and journalists” who came and went, leaving Gee’s Bend “the way it had been / before being discovered.”

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

In Colors, the girl’s grandma explains the meanings and feelings behind each colored cloth. “Blue cools. / Red is loud and hard to control, / like fire and a gossiping tongue.” Green, orange, yellow, white, pink, and all the others have their own personalities. “Grandma says, / ‘Colors show how you / feel deep down inside.’”

In Pinky, the harrowing facts of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama frame the story of one marcher, Mr. Willie Quill who broke horses for the Alabama State Mounted Patrol and was saved from the Police attacks when one of the horses he’d trained knew his voice. In Dr. King Brings Hope, the little girl adds a “Patch of bright pink / to remember Pinky’s story. / Next to it I sew / a spotless white patch for the hope Dr. Martin Luther King / brought to the Bend” and goes on to tell how her grandma saw Dr. King at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church and what it meant to her.

By and By follows the girl as she adds “golden thank-yous, for James Reeb,” a “bright blue piece of velvet for Viola Liuzzo,” and a “big plaid people circle of white, black, brown, yellow, and red for Reverend Dr. King, all “killed for believing in justice.”

In the 1960s, The Sewing Bee tells, Gee’s Bend quilters were once again discovered. There were buyers for the handmade quilts, but stipulations. The girl asks her grandma if she was part of the Bee, to which she replies, “‘Yes, / more money. Less freedom. I chose to stay free.’”

At last all of the patches are laid out and the time comes to stitch the girl’s quilt. Five women stand at the frame “all stitchin’ and pullin.’” They work “in a slow and steady rhythm” relaxing and enjoying being together until the quilt is finished. In Finished, the last stitch is sewn, and the thread bitten and knotted. The girl has hundreds of ideas for future quilts. “Quilts that are about me, / the place where I live, / and the people / who have been here for generations.”

Further poems unite the history of “Baby Girl,” her family, and neighbors, and an Author’s Note about quilting and the women of Gee’s Bend follow the text.

Patricia McKessack’s free verse poems capture the close relationships and camaraderie of the generations of women who join around the quilting frame to share and pass down their art and their heart. McKessack’s conversational verses, on page after page like the patches of a quilt, reveal the complexity of this handmade art form in the way intimate talks between friends unveil a life. Readers learn not only about the little girl and her own thoughts, but the history and influence of her immediate family, world events, inspirational figures, and deeply held beliefs that make her who she is and ties her to the other Gee’s Bend women.

Cozbi A. Cabrera’s stunning acrylic paintings take readers inside the heart of the Gee’s Bend women, depicting the girl’s home, the table-sized quilting frame where the women collectively work, the plantations, the protests, and the changes that came but did not unravel the convictions, values, and love of the little girl’s family. Readers can almost hear the talking and singing of the Gee’s Bend women as they stitch their quilts, and the comforting, embracing environment is evident on every page. Cabrera’s portraits of the little girl, her mama, and her grandma are particularly moving. For What Changed, Cabrera depicts a yellow school bus appearing on the dirt road from the right hand corner of the page. In the side mirror a dot of a house comes into view, reminding readers that no matter how far these women are from home, Gee’s Bend is always with them.

Children—and adults—will find Stitchin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt inspirational and uplifting. This volume of poetry can be read at one sitting and delved into again and again, making it a wonderful choice for home libraries and a must for school, public, and other libraries.

Ages 5 – 12

Dragonfly Books, Random House, 2016 (paperback edition) | ISBN 978-0399549502

View a gallery  of fashion designs, dolls, and other handmade art work by Cozbi A. Cabrera on her website!

Creativity Month Activity

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Design a Quilt Coloring Pages

Quilts are so much more than pieces of material sewn together—they’re life stories! Here are two quilt coloring pages for you to design and color. What does each piece mean to you? As you color each section, write a sentence about an event or thought that is important to you.

Quilt Template 1 | Quilt Template 2

Picture Book Review

March 9 – Learn What Your Name Means Day

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi Picture Book Review

About the Holiday

 

American onomotology enthusiast Jeffery Hill established Clelbrate Your Name Week in 1997. Each day of the first ful week of March is dedicated to self discovery and the fun of learning more about names and your name in particular. Today’s holiday encourages people to learn not only what your name means, but also to reach out to parents or other and discover why you were given the name you have. 

The Name Jar

By Yangsook Choi

 

Unhei has recently moved to the United States from Korea. Although Unhei is excited about the first day of school, on the bus ride she misses her former home and looks at the wooden name stamp her grandmother gave her. A boy sitting behind Unhei notices the unfamiliar object and asks about it. Then other kids notice Unhei. They ask what her name is, and when she answers, they mispronounce it, laughing and making jokes.

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Image copyright Yangsook Choi, courtesy of Random House

Unhei is embarrassed and glad that those kids head to a different classroom than hers. As Unhei enters her own room, her classmates smile and greet her—it is obvious that their teacher has prepared them for a new student, and they are excited.

Of course, they first question her about her name, and remembering the experience on the bus, Unhei is reluctant to answer. She quickly says that she hasn’t picked a name yet, but will tell them next week. At home, Unhei tells her mother that she wants an American name, a name that is easy to pronounce.

Her mother is dismayed; Unhei’s name was chosen by a master so that it would describe her uniqueness. But Unhei doesn’t want to be different, she just wants to fit in. Later while she and her mother are at a Korean grocery store, she introduces herself to the owner, who exclaims that her name is beautiful and means “grace” in English. 

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Image copyright Yangsook Choi, courtesy of Random House

At home Unhei tries out American names in front of the mirror—Amanda, Laura, Susie—but they don’t feel or sound right. The next day at school Unhei finds a jar on her desk with pieces of paper in it. On each piece of paper is a name—suggestions from each of her classmates. Her new friends have chosen these names thoughtfully. Daisy is the nickname of one girl’s baby sister; Tamela is a smart and brave heroine from a story; and Wensdy is the day Unhei joined their class.

At the end of the school day, a classmate named Joey comes to her. He knows she actually does have a name, and Unhei, while not wanting to say it out loud, shows him the characters on her wooden stamp. Joey thinks it is beautiful and asks to keep the paper. Day by day the glass jar fills up with names. Unhei will have to choose soon.

One Saturday Unhei returns to the Korean grocery store. When Mr. Kim calls her by name, the one other customer turns around. It’s Joey! Carefully and slowly he says Unheis name until he gets it right. On Monday when Unhei enters the classroom, she discovers that the jar is missing. It’s all right, though, Unhei has chosen her name.

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Image copyright Yangsook Choi, courtesy of Random House

She walks to the chalkboard and writes her real name in English and Korean. She tells the class that her name means “grace.” Other kids reveal the meaning of their names, and they all practice saying Unhei’s name. That evening Joey comes to visit. He explains that he took the jar because he wanted Unhei to keep her original name. He suggests putting Korean nicknames into the jar for their classmates to pick—just as he already has. Mr. Kim helped him choose the prefect nickname: Chinku, which means “friend.”

Ages 3 – 8

Random House, Dragonfly Books,  New York, 2003 | ISBN  978-0440417996

Discover more about Yangsook Choi, her books, and her art on her website!

Yangsook Choi’s The Name Jar is as timely now as when it was first written. Through compelling and detailed storytelling, Choi explores the themes of identity, empathy, family, friendship, and more  with sometimes heartbreaking honesty. Unhei’s varied experiences at school, at home, and at the market provide an opportunity for adults and children to discuss and embrace the diversity of our multicultural world. Choi’s warm-toned illustrations reveal the conflicts that Unhei encounters and her growing confidence as she makes friends with Mr. Kim and Joey who accepts her as she is. 

Learn What Your Name Means Day Activity

CPB - Name Jars standing

Love Your Name Organizer Jar

 

Everyone needs a place to store their special stuff! Here’s a way to recycle a plastic jar and make a cool organizer jar with your or your friend’s name on it.

Supplies

  • A large plastic jar, such as a peanut butter jar or mayonnaise jar with the label removed
  • Acrylic multi-surface paint or markers
  • Chalkboard paint
  • Paint brush
  • Chalk

CPB - Name Jars on sides

Directions

  1. Paint a rectangle on the front of the jar with chalkboard paint
  2. Decorate the rest of the jar with paint, markers, or paper