National Poetry Month Kid Lit Review of “I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery” by Cynthia Grady

This patchwork quilt of poems by Cynthia Grady, who is a poet, a librarian, and a quilter, includes fourteen poems that describe the lives of enslaved people in America. Each poem is named for a traditional quilt pattern, which also echoes the theme and style of the poem.

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For example, this is the poem “Log Cabin.”

“The finds of archaeologists beneath
dilapidated cabins down the hill:
some chicken bones, the skins and skulls of coons
and squirrels – hard remains of suppers stalked
by moonlight, faith, starvation. Caches, too,
of divination: sea shells, broken beads,
and bundled roots suggest how slaves survived
a knotted life of cornmeal, cruelty, death.
The dig won’t yield the stolen, lost, withheld:
shoes, safety, drums, dignity, daughters, sons.”

A log cabin pattern quilt square. The center square is usually red, which in quilt lore represents the fire in the cabin's hearth. The rectangular strips are meant to represent the logs from which the cabin was built. Photo Credit: Womenfolk.com

Other poems include “Anvil” about a blacksmith and “Rail Fence” about slaves who were horse trainers or jockeys. “Wagon Wheel” describes a girl separated from her family, and “Tree of Life” tells of a slave tied to a tree and under the lash. The form of the poems is unrhymed but tightly metered lines of ten syllables apiece, in order to mimic the square shape of a quilt block.

Not all poems are about fear and suffering (although most are); some reflect moments of joy or spirituality.

A vibrant acrylic painting by award winner Michele Wood illustrates each poem. The pictures incorporate the quilt pattern used in the title of the poem.

A school discussion guide is here.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2011

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7 Responses to National Poetry Month Kid Lit Review of “I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery” by Cynthia Grady

  1. That looks and sounds like a gorgeous book!!

  2. Another beautifully illustrated book. I really enjoy the ones that tell the stories about how important quilts were on the Underground Railroad.

  3. parrish lantern says:

    Still I Rise – Maya Angelou

    You may write me down in history
    With your bitter, twisted lies,
    You may trod me in the very dirt
    But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

    Does my sassiness upset you?
    Why are you beset with gloom?
    ‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
    Pumping in my living room.

    Just like moons and like suns,
    With the certainty of tides,
    Just like hopes springing high,
    Still I’ll rise.

    Did you want to see me broken?
    Bowed head and lowered eyes?
    Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
    Weakened by my soulful cries.

    Does my haughtiness offend you?
    Don’t you take it awful hard
    ‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
    Diggin’ in my own back yard.

    You may shoot me with your words,
    You may cut me with your eyes,
    You may kill me with your hatefulness,
    But still, like air, I’ll rise.

    Does my sexiness upset you?
    Does it come as a surprise
    That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
    At the meeting of my thighs?

    Out of the huts of history’s shame
    I rise
    Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
    I rise
    I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
    Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
    Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
    I rise
    Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
    I rise
    Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
    I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
    I rise
    I rise
    I rise.

  4. sandynawrot says:

    Gorgeous illustrations! And what up with Maya Angelou? Someone was inspired.

  5. It’s a creative idea, and I think those illustrations would appeal to me the most.

  6. bookingmama says:

    What a unique idea for a book. I could never quilt but I love the meaning behind them. I bet this is a very special book.

  7. zibilee says:

    A very intrguing book that will grab a lot of attention, not only from it’s targeted audience, but from quilters alike! I wish I had an email address for all the quilters I know, because I would totally send them a link to this review!

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