February 26 – Personal Chef Day

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About the Holiday

Today we honor those chefs who create delectable dinners for individual clients or for special occasions. With dedication and hard work, tasty ingredients and imagination, these artists make life better for foodies from coast to coast.

Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service

Written by Annette Bay Pimentel | Illustrated by Rich Lo

 

Tie Sing, born in Virginia City, Nevada, grew up during a time when “America was a tough place to be Chinese.” Most worked in restaurants or laundries and were paid less than white employees. Tie Sing had big plans, though. “He got a job cooking for mapmakers as they tramped through the mountains, naming peaks. With sky for his ceiling and sequoias for his walls, he stirred silky sauces, broiled succulent steaks, and tossed crisp salads.” He quickly became known as the best trail cook in California.

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Image copyright Rich Lo, text copyright Annette Bay Pimentel. Courtesy of Rich Lo at greatsketch.com

In 1915 Steven Mather was trying to convince politicians to create a national park system even though many business people were against it. Mather invited journalists, tycoons, congressmen, and others to go camping for ten days to show them the wonder of America. He knew that the trip had to be perfect, so he hired Tie Sing as his chef. Tie Sing planned gourmet menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that would satisfy the 30 campers. Each day he rose before dawn, cooked eggs and sizzling steaks, and packed box lunches.

As the group hiked across beautiful scenery to the next site, Tie Sing and his assistant washed the dishes, put out the fires, packed the mules, and started the dinner’s sourdough bread. By the time Tie Sing arrived at the new campsite, it was time to begin cooking dinner. “He assembled sardine hors d’oeuvres, sliced juicy cantaloupe, and squeezed lemons to make tart-sweet lemonade. He grilled steaks and venison, fried fish and chicken, and baked sourdough rolls” as good as any fine restaurant. One morning Tie Sing was able to pack the mule early before he served breakfast. When he went back to the mule, however, he discovered it had wandered away—taking all of the best food with it.

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Image copyright Rich Lo, text copyright Annette Bay Pimentel. Courtesy of Rich Lo at greatsketch.com

Steven Mather shrugged it off as he left for the day’s hike, but Tie Sing was upset. All of his planning was ruined. That night the dinner wasn’t as fancy, but it was delicious and topped off with “all-American apple pie.” The campers, happily satisfied, talked late into the night about the possibilities of a national park service. The next day, Tie Sing carefully led the mules along a narrow ridge. As the stones crumbled underneath their feet, one mule strayed too close to the edge. He tumbled backward and down the cliff. Bags, boxes, and food went flying. The mule got up and shook itself off, but much of the food, utensils, and equipment was lost.

Hours later Tie Sing limped into camp with “the battered boxes and bent knives and bruised apples he’d salvaged.” The men were ravenous; Tie Sing had to think quickly. He knew just how to use those apples, and under the glow of paper lanterns, the crew enjoyed the most delicious applesauce they’d ever had. Tie Sing knew his job was to fill the party with delicious meals, but “Steven Mather wasn’t the only one who loved the mountains; Tie Sing had the Sierra singing in his blood. He too planned to fill the campers with memories.”

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Image copyright Rich Lo, text copyright Annette Bay Pimentel. Courtesy of Rich Lo at greatsketch.com

As the pots bubbled on the camp stove, Tie Sing “bent over tiny slips of paper and wrote in English and Chinese.” Following dinner he handed out fortune cookies, each one holding a handwritten message: “Long may you search the mountains.” “Long may you build the paths through the mountains.” “Where but in the mountains would such a man become a spirit with the mountains?”

In the months following the trip, the members of the group “wrote magazine articles, published books, and made movies about America’s national parks.” Steven Mather’s and Tie Sing’s efforts worked. On August 25, 1916 Congress created the National Park Service. “Today, if you visit Yosemite National Park, you can hike to Sing Peak. It was named for Tie Sing, a mountain-loving American who knew how to plan.”

Three pages of back matter, complete with photographs of Steven Mather’s and Tie Sing’s actual 1915 trip, answer readers’ questions about Tie Sing, how he kept food fresh in the mountains, details of the trip, and short bios on the members of the mountain party.

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Image copyright Rich Lo, text copyright Annette Bay Pimentel. Courtesy of Rich Lo at greatsketch.com

Annette Bay Pimentel’s fascinating and timely story of the establishment of the National Park Service highlights the contributions of a Chinese American dreamer who had big plans for himself and the country he loved. Her detailed storytelling enhanced by lyrical phrasing (a linen tablecloth is washed in an icy snowmelt stream and spread “brighter than white-water foam” over a table) reveals the marvel of Tie Sing’s art. Readers will be awed by the dedication and careful planning it took for the gourmet meals and elegant table settings to come together in such rough surroundings. As food and supplies are lost along the way, children will be held in suspense, wondering if Steven Mather’s and Tie Sing’s strategy worked.

Rich Lo’s beautiful detailed and realistic watercolors transport readers to the mountains and trails of early 1900s California. With vivid imagery Lo lets children see the day-to-day preparations that went into Sing’s meals as well as the dangerous conditions he faced. Lo captures the hazy purple majesty of the mountain peaks, the glow of the campfire in the dark of night, and the vastness of the California environment. Kids may well wonder how Sing managed to create a five-star restaurant atmosphere and menu in the wild, and Lo shows them how it was accomplished.

Mountain Chef gives a unique perspective on an important historical moment—one that still resonates today—and is a compelling book for any classroom as well as for kids interested in history, culinary arts, and the environment and for those who just love a good story.

Ages 6 – 9

Charlesbridge, 2016 | ISBN 978-1580897112

Discover more about Annette Bay Pimentel and her work as well as a Teacher’s Guide on her website!

Learn more about Rich Lo and view a portfolio of his artwork on his website!

Personal Chef Day Activity

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Cook Up Something Tasty Coloring Page

 

These kids are making a special treat! Enjoy this printable Cook Up Something Tasty Coloring Page while you have a little treat too!

Picture Book Review

February 15 -National Flag Day of Canada

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About the Holiday

2017 is a big year for the nation of Canada! Not only are this country’s people celebrating the 150th anniversary of its confederation, but today marks the 52nd anniversary of the raising of the Canadian flag. On February 15, 1965, the familiar red-and-white Canadian flag, with its central maple leaf, flew over Parliament Hill for the first time. National Flag of Canada Day was officially proclaimed in 1996. The distinctive design of the flag is often cited by Vexillologists, or flag experts, as one of the world’s most beautiful.

C is for Canada

Written by Mike Ulmer | Illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault

 

What would you see if you decided to take an alphabet-inspired trip across the vast expanse that is the gorgeous country of Canada? Dip into this special ABC travel guide and find out! A great place to start is with the letter A, which stands for Aurora Borealis: “Look up into the nighttime sky / and see the colours dance on by. / The show takes place on cloudless nights; / Aurora Borealis means Northern Lights.” B happens to be for Beaver, Canada’s national symbol. This little animal is a perfect match for the country’s people because “…his heart is big; he’s always eager— / Canada is like that busy beaver.”

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Image copyright Sylvie Daigneault, courtesy of sleepingbearpress.com

Dino lovers (and, really, who isn’t?) will want to head for the Badlands of Alberta, where the letter D awaits in Drumheller, the Dinosaur capital of the world and home to the biggest dinosaur skeleton. If those beasts are too tame for you, you might like to try the open-air thrill of E at Edgewalk at the CN Tower. Can’t get enough of the outside? Then take in K for Klondike Days, a 10-day festival commemorating Edmonton’s role in the Klondike Gold Rush with food, music, rides, and booths.

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Image copyright Sylvie Daigneault, courtesy of sleepingbearpress.com

While you’re here, you’ll use Canada’s beautifully designed money engraved with polar bears and the loons that give the coins their L nickname, Loonies: “The sound of it gives me a smile / when I add a coin every once in a while. / A loonie makes a lovely ‘clank’ / when dropped inside my piggy bank.” Of course no Canadian excursion is complete without M for Maple Leaf: “Our country’s like a maple tree— / we know the strongest limbs / are those with roots that reach around / the world and back again.”

If winter sports are your thing, then you’ll love N, which is for the National Hockey League. As hockey players well know, “To play in the NHL would be a thrill / but first I have to learn one skill. / I can skate very fast, I’m off like a shot— / I just need to learn the best way to stop.” Maybe you like to spend more time outdoors than at the rink. If so you might just see R for Rock Rabbits on a hike: “When a rock rabbit lets out a squeak, / it means it’s playing hide-and-seek. / And when it gives another cry, / it means it’s safe to go outside.”

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Image copyright Sylvie Daigneault, courtesy of sleepingbearpress.com

Two distinct areas are worth a peek at U and V. U is for Underwear—the special warm kind made in Truro: “We treasure pretty Truro, / I think we always will. / That’s where they make the long johns / that protect us from the chill.” V is for Victoria and all its grandeur: “There’s an ocean complete with oceanside / and carousels for kids to ride. / And a great hotel for weeklong stays / and bike trails you can ride for days.” And now we’ve come to the end of our alphabetic tour where Z is for Zero—or is it? “Zero isn’t zero; it tells you quite a lot. / Below is fairly chilly, above is really not. / Zero isn’t zero; it’s more vital than you think. / You need less than zero degrees to have yourself a rink.”

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Image copyright Sylvie Daigneault, courtesy of sleepingbearpress.com

These are just a few of the highlights among the 26 letters and bright spots C is for Canada has to offer. Mike Ulmer’s verses provide tantalizing tidbits of descriptive and action-packed information for readers who want to learn more about this fascinating northern country. A glossary following the text gives more intriguing details about each letter’s subject.

Sylvie Daigneault’s vibrant illustrations are lovely companions for Ulmer’s verses and give young readers clear, up-close views of the people, places, animals, and history of Canada. Huskies frolic in the snow, caribou trot along a rocky lakeside while majestic mountains rise behind them, two science centre visitors have a hair-raising experience, and an old prospector pans for gold in the Yukon. Each snapshot will engage little armchair travelers and make their imaginations roam far from home.

Ages 6 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1585369737

You can connect with Mike Ulmer on his blog!

View a gallery of illustration work by Sylvie Daigneault on her website!

National Flag of Canada Day Activity

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Canada Coloring Pages

 

From its vivid red-and-white flag to its purple mountains, Canada is a colorful country! Here are three printable Canada Coloring Pages for you to enjoy!

Canadian Flag | Canadian Animals Coloring Page | Beaver Carrying Canadian Flag

Picture Book Review

February 12 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month, also known as National African American History Month celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. Originally a week-long observance commemorating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and Frederick Douglass on February 14,  Black History Month was officially established in 1976 by then president Gerald Ford.

Words Set Me Free

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome | Illustrated by James E. Ransome

 

Born into slavery and separated from his mother in infancy, Frederick Bailey is raised by his Grandmama while his mother works on a separate plantation. When she is able Harriet Bailey walks the 12 miles between plantations to spend a few short hours with her son, watching him sleep before making the long journey back. While Frederick is still a very young child, his mother falls ill and dies. Douglass recalls never seeing his mother’s face in daylight.

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Image copyright James E. Ransome, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

At the age of six, Frederick is moved from his Grandmama’s cabin to the plantation house. At eight, he is sent to the master’s brother in Baltimore, Maryland. Here, the master’s wife, Sophia Auld, treats Frederick more like a paid servant then as a slave. When Frederick says he wants to learn how to read and write, she immediately begins teaching him the alphabet. Frederick is always mindful, however, that he may be punished for these lessons, and he has only memorized the letters and a few words before his master puts an end to his education. Angrily, the master explains to his wife, “If you teach him how to read…it would forever unfit him to be a slave.”

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These words are perhaps Frederick’s greatest lesson. He never forgets them, and they fuel his resolve to pursue an education. He makes clever use of the few resources he has and slowly learns to read and write. From the newspapers he discovers that the North offers freedom, and Frederick decides to escape. It’s many long years, however, before he can fulfill his dreams. At last, he sees an opportunity to leave the South behind, and using his talent for writing makes his escape a reality.

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Image copyright James E. Ransome, courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Lesa Cline-Ransome has written a compelling biography of Frederick Douglass for children in Words Set Me Free. In straightforward language and through first-person point of view, Cline-Ransome reveals the brutal truth of Douglass’s life as a slave and his fight against injustice. As the title suggests, the book focuses on Frederick’s desire to become educated and the obstacles he overcame to succeed. This universally important message continues the work Douglass engaged in long ago.

James Ransome’s stirring paintings realistically highlight pivotal scenes of Frederick’s life, beginning with the tender moments he spends with his mother as a very young child. With an unstinting eye Ransome reveals the hardship and cruelty Frederick endured as a slave. His moving illustrations also demonstrate hope as Frederick, with blossoming intellect, resolves to educate himself and find a means of escape.

Ages 5 and up                                                                                                            

Simon & Schuster, New York, 2012 | ISBN 978-1416959038

Learn more about Lesa Cline-Ransome and her books on her website!

Find a gallery of illustration, paintings, drawings, videos, and more on James E. Ransome‘s website!

Black History Month Activity

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Frederick Douglass Word Search

 

Words were so important to Frederick Douglass that he risked everything to learn how to read and write. In this printable Frederick Douglass Word Search Puzzle you will find words about the subject of today’s book. Here’s the Solution

February 4 – Take Your Child to the Library Day

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About the Holiday

What better way to spend a Saturday than by stopping by your local library and picking up a few books to while away the hours on a cold winter day? While you’re there thank the librarians for all they do to keep libraries open and books accessible to all. Consider donating to your local library today!

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq

By Jeanette Winter

 

Alia Muhammad Baker, oversees the library of Basra in Iraq, where all those who love books and learning come to “discuss matters of the world and matters of the spirit.” Now, though, their talk is full of the war around them. Alia is afraid for her books, worried that the fires of war will destroy them, so she petitions the government for permission to move them to a safe place. Her request is denied, so Alia secretly fills her car each night with as many books as it can carry and takes them home.

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Image copyright Jeanette Winter, courtesy of post-gazette.com

As rumors of war continue to swirl, the library becomes a shelter for government offices. When the battles reach Basra, “the city is lit with a firestorm of bombs and gunfire.” The government officials, soldiers, and library workers abandon the library, leaving Alia alone to protect the books. She summons help from Anis Muhammad, the restaurant owner on the other side of the library wall, and together they remove the rest of the books in crates and sacks and wrapped in curtains. Other shopkeepers and neighbors join in, removing the books and hiding them in Anis’s restaurant.

The war rages, but the books’ whereabouts remain a secret. “Then, nine days later, a fire burns the library to the ground.” “At last, the beast of war moves on,” but the books are still in danger. While the city is quiet, Alia “hires a truck to bring all thirty thousand books to her house and to the houses of friends.” Alia’s house is stacked floor to ceiling with the books she loves. They fill every cabinet, teeter on every shelf, and sit in piles under tables, chairs, and Alia’s bed. There’s hardly room for Alia herself.

But Alia is patient. She waits and “dreams of peace” and a time when a new library will be built to replace what has been lost.

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Image copyright Jeanette Winter, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers

Jeanette Winter’s story of one woman who risked her own safety to protect the books she loved, including an ancient biography of Muhammad, reminds all readers of the importance of these storehouses of our collective history, culture, imagination, and knowledge. The gripping true-life story abounds with suspense as war grows closer but also with hope as friends and neighbors make Alia’s mission theirs too. In these days when so many libraries are threatened with closure, The Librarian of Basra, asks the question: what would we do to protect our books?

In square framed acrylic paintings on solid colored backgrounds, Winter reveals the day-to-day wartime events and the actions Alia takes to save the library’s collection. She is seen visiting a government official, sneaking books into her car by night, and watching as soldiers are stationed on the library roof. When the battle comes to Basra, silhouetted jets fly in a rust-colored sky as orange flames dwarf the buildings and people below. Under the threat of bombs, Alia and her neighbors are portrayed packing up the books and carrying them over the wall to safety. Readers will marvel at the image of Alia’s house stacked with books and may wonder how many their own homes could hold.

Ages 4 – 8

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 2005 | ISBN 978-0152054458

Take Your Child to the Library Day Activity

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I Love the Library! Coloring Page

 

If the library is one of your favorite places, print out this I Love the Library! Coloring Page and enjoy!

Picture Book Review

February 1 – National Freedom Day

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About the Holiday

National Freedom Day commemorates the February 1, 1865 signing by President Abraham Lincoln of a joint United States House of Representatives and Senate resolution that outlawed slavery and later became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Major Richard Robert Wright Sr., a former slave, called on local and national leaders to meet in Philadelphia and formalize a national day of remembrance. In 1947, a year after Wright’s death, the U.S. Congress passed a bill marking February 1 as National Freedom Day. The proclamation was signed into law on June 30, 1948 by President Harry S Truman. The holiday led to Black History Day, which was later expanded to Black History Month.

Freedom in Congo Square

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford | Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

 

From sunup to sundown slaves brought to the state of Louisiana from their homelands in Africa and the West Indies toiled on plantations six days a week. The seventh day, Sunday, was set aside as a day of rest and worship, and in the afternoon people of African descent gathered in Congo Square in the heart of New Orleans to dance, play instruments, and talk. On Monday morning the long week began anew, but the rhythms of Congo Square sustained the men, women, and children through “hogs to slop, / mules to train, and logs to chop. / Slavery was no ways fair. / Six more days to Congo Square.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

On Tuesdays, with “cows to feed, / fields to plow, and rows to seed,” five more days stretched out in endless labor. “Wednesdays, there were beds to make, / silver to shine, and bread to bake. / The dreaded lash, too much to bear. / Four more days to Congo Square.” Thursdays came with wash tubs and drying lines, scrub brushes, and brooms. “Spirituals rose from the despair. / Three more days to Congo Square.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

Fridays were spent in back-breaking work and though some brave souls dared to run, most were counting “Two more days to Congo Square.” Saturdays brought no more relief, but the days had whittled down to hours and “Freedom was slaves’ ardent prayer. / One more day to Congo Square.” At last came Sunday afternoon, and slaves and free rushed to Congo Square—“…a market and a gathering ground / where African music could resound.”

They met their kinsmen by nation, tribe, or language and revived their own stories and music played on drums, fiddles, shells, flutes, gourds, and bells that led to chants and dancing. “This piece of earth was a world apart. / Congo Square was freedom’s heart.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

Through powerful rhythmic couplets, as spare and austere as the work they describe yet ending in a focal point of hope, Carole Boston Weatherford recreates the steady thrum that resonated in the hearts of slave and free men and women as they anticipated each afternoon in Congo Square.  As the days remaining until Congo Square are counted off, Weatherford’s predominantly one-syllable words form a staccato beat, the pounding of hard, physical work. When Sunday comes and people find joy in their shared music and dance, Weatherford’s phrasing within the same structured couplets rises, employing multi-syllable words that give the verses a pulsing flow that echoes the freedom they find in Congo Square.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

Gregory Christie’s vivid folk-art illustrations are a perfect complement to Weatherford’s verses. The elongated figures stand tall and proud amidst the fields and workrooms of the plantation. In some scenes the slaves’ angled bodies, leaning over to pick cotton, wash floors, or lift baskets may be bent, but they are not broken, and while two men work on building a wall, they seem to kneel prayerfully as they add another brick. In a moving two-page spread set at night, brown wood-grain houses superimposed with rows of sleeping slaves float on a blue-toned ground below a red sky, reminiscent of ships laden with Africans sailing the Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade. As the men and women congregate in Congo Square, Christie’s lithe figures raise their arms and kick their legs in dance. The fiery backgrounds swirl with color as the celebrants jump, stretch, play instruments and move with exultation.

A detailed Forward by historian and Congo Square scholar, Freddi Williams Evans and an Author’s Note following the text reveal more information on the history of Congo Square and its significance to Jazz music.

Freedom in Congo Square is both a heartrending and jubilant book that would make a wonderful and meaningful addition to any child’s home library.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499801033

Learn more about Carole Boston Weatherford and her books and discover book-related resources on her website!

If you’re lucky enough to live in Decatur, Illinois, you can visit R. Gregory Christie’s unique art studio, art school, and bookstore Gas-Art Gifts Autographed Children’s Bookstore. If you don’t live near Decatur, you can check out all the books, art, and items for sale on the website!

National Freedom Day Activity

Freedom Stone

 

Freedom is a precious right—one that can be represented in different ways by each person. For today’s activity use a brick, paving stone, large stone, or molded plaster of Paris and decorate it with a picture or design that means freedom to you. Then put it in a special place—in a garden, near your front or back door, in your room, or in another spot—where it will remind you of freedom’s gifts.

Supplies

  • Brick, paving stone, large stone, plaster of Paris
  • Paint
  • Plastic gems, bead, or other small objects
  • Strong glue or other adhesive
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Create a design that shows what freedom means to you or an object that represents freedom to you
  2. Paint your stone with the design, let dry
  3. Add gems, beads, or other objects
  4. Display your Freedom Stone

Picture Book Review

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

January 16 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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About the Holiday

Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates the life and legacy of the man who dedicated his life and work to teaching—as Coretta Scott King stated—“the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service” and led a non-violent Civil Rights movement to enact racial equality and justice throughout state and federal law. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, setting it on the third Monday of January to coincide with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday on January 15. The holiday was officially observed in all 50 states in 2000. Today, learn more about the life and work of Martin Luther King and how you can help promote justice and equality for all. Consider volunteering in your community where help is needed.

I am Martin Luther King, Jr.

Written by Brad Meltzer | Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

 

Standing inside a church, Martin Luther King, Jr. introduces himself with two anecdotes from his childhood that demonstrate his world outlook. “When I was little,” he says, “I used to get into a lot of accidents.” He was hit in the head by a baseball bat, knocked down by cars and once even “tumbled over our banister, then bounced through an open door into the basement.” While these incidents could have made him cautious, Martin instead was determined to keep “getting back up.” His second influence were the books in which he could find “big words.” Even as a child Martin recognized that “there is power in words.”

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Image copyright Christopher Eliopoulos, text copyright Brad Meltzer. Courtesty of Dial Books for Young Readers

Before he went to school, Martin relates, his best friend was a white boy whose father owned a nearby store. They did everything together until school started. Then Martin went to a school with only black students while his friend went to a white-students-only school. Soon, Martin’s friend told him his father didn’t want them to play together anymore. Martin was confused. When his parents told him the reason was that they had different colored skin, Martin felt angry. He wanted to hate his friend and his father, but Martin’s parents taught him to love his friend, and his mother told him, “you must never feel that you are less than anyone else.”

It was a difficult lesson when all around him he saw inequality. White schools had better equipment, there were different elevators, bathrooms, water fountains, and other facilities for black people and white people, on buses black riders had to give up their seats to white riders. Everywhere black people and white people were segregated.

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Image copyright Christopher Eliopoulos, text copyright Brad Meltzer. Courtesty of Dial Books for Young Readers

When Martin was only 15 he was admitted to college. At 19 he entered the seminary where he learned about civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance—ways to use “love and peaceful methods to change unfair things in society.” These were lessons Martin wanted to share with others. His chance to put his thoughts into action came when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to relinquish her seat to a white man. Martin advocated a peaceful protest—a boycott of public buses. He reasoned that without the money from black riders, the bus companies would change their policies.

As the boycott began working, Martin gave a speech in Montgomery, Alabama, motivating people to continue their peaceful protest. Martin was put in jail and his house was bombed, but the boycott continued for more than a year. Eventually, the bus companies changed their rules. Other peaceful protests began to take place in restaurants and other public places.

One protest took place in Birmingham, Alabama.  Martin was again put in prison, where he wrote one of his most famous speeches. Children also took part in the Birmingham protest. The Children’s Crusade attracted more than 1,000 kids. On the first day 900 of them were arrested, but that only inspired the children more. On the second day 2,500 children showed up. They stood firm while they were sprayed with water hoses and attacked by police dogs. People—both black and white—watching the news reports were aghast. Three months later the rules began to change.

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Image copyright Christopher Eliopoulos, text copyright Brad Meltzer. Courtesty of Dial Books for Young Readers

“By the summer of 1963, an estimated one million Americans held their own protests in cities across the country.” Then A. Philip Randolph suggested a single huge march to convince “Congress and the president to pass laws so that no one in America can treat people differently based on skin color.” On August 28, 1963 the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place. Martin gave what may now be considered his most famous speech in which he talked about his dreams for the country, for the people, and for their children.

Although Congress began passing new laws, the ability and right to vote in elections still eluded black people. To change the voting rules another march was organized to walk 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. The 600 walkers were met by police who stopped them. Two days later 2,500 activists tried again but could not get through. On the third try 8,000 marchers showed up. This time, with the world watching on television, the activists made it to Montgomery, protected by troops sent by President Johnson.

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Martin continued to speak out, relating his philosophy and dreams for the nation. “To reach our goals, we must walk the path of peace,” he said. “We must lock arms with our brothers and sisters. We must march together. When we do…Our voices will be heard, and freedom will ring.” The lessons Martin Luther King taught still resonate today. He stands “as proof that no matter how hard the struggle, we must fight for what is right and work to change what is wrong.…if we stand together, if we remain united, nothing can stop our dream.”

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Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World: I am… series of biographies are well-known for showing young readers that they can achieve their dreams and make a difference no matter what those hopes may be. In his biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Meltzer depicts several incidents from King’s childhood and early adulthood that influenced his future work. These help readers understand not only the types of prejudice King and other African Americans experienced, but also the people who inspired his philosophy of peace.

Meltzer’s inclusion of King’s imprisonments and the violence that met the peaceful protesters deepens the understanding of the dangers King and other protesters faced, and provides an opportunity to open a discussion between adults and children about those times and what they now see in the news. Meltzer’s description of the Children’s Crusade will inspire readers, making them proud of children in the past and stirring them to actions of their own. Sections from King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and his most famous speeches are presented in speech bubbles. The text is followed by photographs of Martin Luther King, Jr. with his family and at the March on Washington as well as a timeline of his life. Sources and resources for further reading are also included.

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In keeping with the style of all of Meltzer’s and Christopher Eliopoulos’s Ordinary People Change the World: I am… biographies, the illustrations are vibrant and cartoon-inspired. Martin Luther King, Jr. is depicted with the size of a child but the features of an adult, reinforcing the idea contained in the text of the dual nature of the future adult residing in the child and the ideals of the child remaining in the adult that appeals to ambitious young readers. Speech bubbles highlight text that carry emotional dialogue. Settings, including churches, Birmingham jail, Washington DC, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument give children a look at the cities and places described in the text.

For young readers, I am Martin Luther King, Jr. offers a comprehensive biography of the man who was a national and world leader in the fight for equal rights for all people and makes an excellent starting place for classroom lessons and personal discussions.

Ages 5 – 8

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0525428527

Discover more about Brad Meltzer and his books for adults and children as well as other goodies on his website!

Learn more about Christopher Eliopoulos, his books, and his comics on his website!

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Activity

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Portrait

 

Color this printable Martin Luther King, Jr. Portrait and then hang it in your room or locker to inspire you!

Picture Book Review