This blog is a continuation of a class assignment for the TWU course 5603, Literature for Children and Young Adults. Subsequent entries are for TWU course 5653, Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults. The new entries are for TWU course 5663, Poetry for Children and Young Adults.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Patchwork Quilt

The Patchwork Quilt
By Valerie Flournoy
Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

cover image retrieved 9/27/12 from

Flournoy, Valerie, and Jerry Pinkney. The Patchwork Quilt. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1985. ISBN 978-0803700970.

Tanya is a sweet young girl who adores her aging Grandma. When Grandma expresses her desire to work on a quilt made from scraps of clothing that is wearing out Tanya eagerly joins the project. As Grandma says, “A quilt won’t forget. It can tell your life story.” Grandma proclaims that the quilt will be her masterpiece. Grandma becomes too ill to work on the quilt, so Tanya determines to complete it. Family members join in, and the work continues until Grandma is finally able to put the finishing touches on what has become a family keepsake that will be cherished.

Critical Analysis
This gentle story of the love and special times that bind a family is enriched by magnificent watercolor illustrations by Jerry Pinkney. Ms. Flournoy’s mild tale of a family experiencing the limitations of age endured by their beloved grandmother is a beautiful story of love and devotion. Pinkney’s illustrations add depth and fullness. Words are almost unnecessary, with the expressive paintings communicating the bond among the family and the beauty of the quilt they are creating.

Pinkney paints with such clarity, some of the artwork is akin to a photograph. Varying skin tones capture the reality of an African American family. The family’s essence is felt through evocative facial expressions, with tenderness and love evident repeatedly. That characteristic, of course, could be found in any culture; that Pinkney displays it here shows his commitment to having this African American family portrayed realistically, not derogatorily as in some caricatures of Blacks.

Grandma speaks in “old lady slang,” which would be common for an aging African American, or honestly, many grandmothers in the South. The flow of Ms. Flournoy’s words, though, somehow communicates the slow Southern drawl and expressive inflections that surely must be present when this grandma speaks. Tanya’s choice of Halloween costume, an African princess, is a glimpse into the value the family places on honoring heritage in their family. That Grandma would find the costume worthy of inclusion in the quilt reflects the value she places on this heritage, as well.

This precious story of a family’s love and respect for elders is a must-read for all ages. Pinkney steals the show with his gorgeous artwork., but Flournoy adequately keeps up with his excellence through her timeless tale. Readers of all ages will find enjoyment and tenderness between the covers of this book.

Deborah Zink (Children's Literature)
Essential qualities of family--love, cooperation, diversity, and responsibility--are woven through a tender story centered on the construction of a quilt. A contemporary family teams up to complete the squares and stitches that will preserve for the future that which was honored in the past. This lesson demonstrates affection and esteem across the generations.

·      Students will read a sequel to this book, Tanya’s Reunion, to discover more of the family’s story. Tanya is a bit disappointed in a family reunion at first, but warms to the experience when Grandma shows her the family farm through her own eyes and stories. Students will write a three sentence summary of both books, and then a statement of which book they like best and tell why it is their preference.
·      Students will read and reflect on poetry about families, such as found in Some Kind of Love: a Family Reunion in Poems by Traci Dant, or Families: Poems Celebrating the African American Experience by Dorothy S. Strickland and Michael R. Strickland. Students will observe and discuss how illustrations can add to the experience of poetry. Students will make connections between these poems and events or people in their own lives. Students will each select one of the poems to practice and present to the class orally.
·      Students will write an original poem about a dearly-loved family member or event, and illustrate their poem. These will be shared with the class, displayed in the room, and/or bound into a class book of family poetry.
·      Students will create a class patchwork quilt that reflects each individual. Each student will design a square using his/her name, initials, or other symbols that he/she feels identifies him. The individual squares will be arranged in a large rectangle, and joined together to form a class quilt to be displayed.

Social Studies:
·      Students will explore the history of patchwork quilts, as used by slaves to map a path to freedom. Read The Patchwork Path: a Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroud. This book tells the story of a father and daughter who escaped to Canada by following the symbols and directions cleverly sown into a quilt. Students will further explore this piece of African American history by viewing Threads of Freedom: The Underground Railroad Story in Quilts at

Social Studies/Math/Literature:
·      Students will discover more about Freedom Quilts in history, and experiment with the mathematical side of quilts by engaging in the activities found on Mathwire at  Here students will interact with tessellations, use spatial reasoning, and design mathematical patterns in quilts. Links to other stories about quilts, particularly quilts used as a part of the Underground Railroad, will expand students’ experiences.

Other Books by Valerie Flournoy
·      Celie and the Harvest Fiddler
·      Tanya’s Reunion
·      The Twins Strike Back
·      The Best Time of Day
·      The Christmas Talisman

Other Books Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
As Mr. Pinkney says on his website, "I have illustrated over a hundred children’s books. The most favorite is always the work in progress on the drawing board, because my strongest feelings about a particular book are tied to the experience of creating it.  I love the act of making marks on paper, and seeing those marks develop into a picture.  My intent and hope is to lead the viewer into a world that only exists because of that picture.  Many of these speak to my culture, while other works are based on my experience of being Black in America."
Visit Jerry Pinkney’s amazing website at to see a list of books he has illustrated or contributed to.

“Jerry Pinkney Studio.” Jerry Pinkney Studio. Accessed September 30, 2012.

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