When I spotted Sandra Dallas's name on the cover of a middle reader book in the Sleeping Bear Press booth at BEA (BookExpo America) this year, I knew immediately I had to read it.
In 1864, the Hatchett family decided to move from Illinois to Golden, Colorado, to open a business block catering to gold miners. Ten-year-old Emmy Blue is excited to go on an adventure, especially because she's sure she'll never again have to work on her sewing. The women in her family, especially her ma, are known throughout their part of Illinois for crafting beautiful quilts, but Emmy Blue would rather run and play.
When it comes time to leave, Emmy Blue isn't quite so sure about the move. She hadn't thought about what it would be like to leave her best friend, her cat, her grandmother, and her home. Just before their covered wagon starts down the lane, Emmy Blue's grandmother gives her a present, saying, "Don't open this bag until you've crossed the Missouri River."
Imagine how Emmy Blue felt when weeks later she opens her bag to find precut scraps, thread, needles, scissors, and a thimble so she can make a quilt for her doll? She's utterly disappointed and is not looking forward to the chore of stitching the fabric together. But her mother prods the girl, and eventually Emmy Blue learns how to stitch while walking next to the wagon, an activity her aunt (who is traveling with them) calls "quilt walking."
Sandra Dallas based her first children's book on the true-life story a pioneer family that she discovered when researching her nonfiction work titled The Quilt That Walked to Golden: Women and Quilts in the Mountain West--From the Overland Trail to Contemporary Colorado.
The fictional story of the Hatchett family's wagon train journey across the Great Plains touches on both the hardships and the joys of the pioneer movement, mostly as it affected women and girls. Some women, like Emmy Blue's ma, were reluctant to undertake the trip but decided to make the best of things; others were bullied by their husbands; and still others were looking forward to a new life.
One of the strongest themes in The Quilt Walk is needlework and the importance of quilts as both practical items and as one of their few means women had for self-expression. Dallas brings up the many uses of quilts: as an art form, as a method of storytelling, as a means of expressing friendship and loss, and as way of preserving memories, for example. Even Emmy Blue comes to appreciate the skills, beauty, and stories found in the quilts her mother makes.
Here, a woman in the wagon train is talking about what quilting means to her:
"Quilting is a woman's way of dealing with troubles. There's nothing so bad that piecing with the colors doesn't help," Mrs. Reid said. "Working with a needle in my hand brings me peace."Besides the historical details of life in the wagon train, The Quilt Walk also touches on a number of other themes that makes the book a perfect choice for a book club or for school. Readers can discuss how family duty and gender roles have changed or not since the nineteenth century, the ways in which Emmy Blue and her mother learned to find the best in a situation instead of dwelling on the negative, and the importance of friendships and the things that bind women together.
"Amen," Aunt Catherine said. (pp. 72-73)
Although Emmy Blue's journey took only a few months, she grew up quite a bit on the trip because of all she saw and heard. Young readers might like to talk about how different their modern lives are from that of a pioneer girl's.
The Quilt Walk is Sandra Dallas's first foray into children's books, and I hope it won't be her last. I was charmed by Emmy Blue's story and thought it had just the right tone: uplifting without being silly, and realistic without getting bogged down in the facts. I would recommend this novel for lovers of middle grade books of all ages.
This review will be linked to Kid Konnection, hosted every Saturday by Julie at Booking Mama.
Published by Sleeping Bear Press, September 2012
Source: Review (see review policy)
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