Reviews for I Lay My Stitches Down : Poems of American Slavery

Booklist Reviews 2012 February #1
In a preface, Grady points out the similarities of quilt-making and poetry. In one, you arrange colors and shapes into a pattern; in the other, you arrange sounds and structures. Each of her free-verse poems about the African slave experience consists of 10 lines of 10 syllables that, as laid out on the page, mimic the square shape of a quilt block. They also include three references--to spirituality, music, and fabric arts--that reflect the three layers of a quilt. The vivid poems, written in colloquial language, tackle subjects from the Underground Railroad--A slave to greed, the hunter aine no match for this old pilgrim in the woods--to schoolhouse lessons. Kids struggling to decipher the meaning in some of the phrases will find help in the additional information about each poem, written in more straightforward, contemporary language, that appears in footnotes. Wood's intricate illustrations reflect folk art motifs and vibrantly express the rich culture of African American slaves. Author and illustrator notes as well as a list of suggested further readings conclude. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

ForeWord Magazine Reviews 2012 - Spring Issue: March 1, 2012

This stunning, artful tribute is without a false note. A middle school librarian/quilter seamlessly blends history about the everyday lives of slaves with musical, biblical, and quilting references. Complementary images by an award-winning illustrator--saturated paintings evoking emotions associated with the Underground Railroad, traditional spirituals, and families torn apart--combine to portray lives of desperation that nonetheless glimmered with integrity, and even hope. Ages ten and up.

© 2012 ForeWord Reviews. All Rights Reserved.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Spring
Grady crafts her fourteen poems to honor the art of quiltmaking. Pieces recall quilt squares by using ten lines of ten syllables each. Working in intensely hued acrylics, Wood bases her quilt-shaped designs on the patterns that give the poems their titles, incorporating forms into carefully composed scenes inhabited by heroic, emotion-charged figures. Author's and illustrator's notes are appended. Reading list.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2012 #1
Crafting her poems to honor the art of quiltmaking, Grady reflects on a "metaphorical patchwork of circumstances encountered by enslaved people in America." Each poem recalls a quilt square by using ten lines of ten syllables each; each incorporates references to music and to sewing as well as "a biblical or spiritual reference." Grady's intricate plan enriches rather than constrains these fourteen examples of joys, sorrows, and achievements, each keyed to such traditional quilt patterns as "Log Cabin" and "North Star." "Cotton Boll" bears witness to the soothing nature of sewing itself, "the rhythm of the stitching, humming low / the melody of ‘Gilead.'" As in Joyce Sidman's books, each entry is supplemented by essential facts (What is the balm in Gilead? What is its metaphorical meaning in the spiritual?). Here are bitter memories (a man is tied to the "Tree of Life," "a patchwork of cuts / on fire across my back") but also happier vignettes (in "Traditional Fish" three boys -- master, slave, Indian -- go fishing together). Working in intensely hued acrylics on canvas, Wood bases her quilt-shaped designs on the patterns that give the poems their titles, reiterating them to form backgrounds and incorporating other stylized forms into carefully composed scenes inhabited by heroic, emotion-charged figures. Altogether, a stunning achievement for both author and artist. Author's and illustrator's notes; books for further reading. joanna rudge long

Kirkus Reviews 2012 January #1
Enslaved African-Americans voice the weariness, drudgery, agony and dreams of their lives in a beautiful and informative collection of poetry and paintings. In her debut title, Grady structures free verse to mirror the patterns of traditional American quilt blocks, variations on a square. In the poems, each 10 lines with 10 syllables per line, the words and thoughts read seamlessly and build to heart-rending finales. They speak of daily lives made bearable by the words of a preacher, the joys of singing and the quiet rhythms of stitching. A woman bent over her basket of scraps can see her "troubles fall / away." A man calming a horse can find a "patchwork field of freedom." Children outside a school building scratch out the alphabet because "[i]t gives us hope; it sings us home." Each poem is accompanied by brief background information on slavery and on the quilt-block pattern that inspired it. Full-page paintings by Wood, a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner, pulsate with vibrant colors and intensity. Each incorporates the quilt pattern that served as Grady's inspiration into a collage-styled portrait. Readers will find themselves poring over the many details in the art and connecting them with the verses. A powerful grouping of thought-provoking poems and brilliantly designed paintings. (author's note, illustrator's note, bibliography) (Poetry. 10 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 November #4

Newcomer Grady's compact poems about the lives of slaves cover an emotional range from gossamer ("Like the wren's/ song, she hits the grace note just so") to leaden ("drag my heart clean/ out of my chest"). Quilting runs through the poems as a theme ("Before I know, I'm rocking with the rhythm of the stitching"), and Wood (I See the Rhythm of Gospel) paints the slaves and their surroundings against backgrounds of quilt patterns and African textiles. Swirls of checks and triangles unfurl along with the movement of the stylized figures, softening the nightmare quality of scenes like one in which an overseer carries a girl away from her mother--"This morn he come for my baby girl--she/ done reach her breeding age. Fetch a good price." The poems appear above detailed notes, opposite Wood's paintings at right. The notes anticipate classroom use, where discussion will arise from the varied aspects of slavery--companionship between the master's children and slave children, early horse racing's domination by slave labor, and more--that Grady covers in this well-researched collection. Ages 10-up. Illustrator's agent: Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Jan.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2012 January

Gr 4-8--Grady combines the tradition of American folk-art quilting with a series of original poems written in unrhymed verse that depict the hardships of American slaves. On each spread, a full-page illustration on the right depicts a scene from a slave's life, while a corresponding poem appears on the top left-hand page, with corroborating historical facts listed below. Fourteen traditional quilt patterns are used, and the name of the particular pattern appears above each poem. Some selections are more powerful than others. In particular, the last poem, "Basket," poignantly describes the feelings of tiredness and oppression as well as the solace and hope that embody the slave's harsh existence, "I lay my stitches down and troubles fall away…I'm breathing with the rhythm of my quilting…the threads that weave the fabric of my life." The author notes that she has included a biblical, spiritual, and musical reference in each poem to reflect the three layers of a quilt and used 10 lines of 10 syllables to mimic the square shape of the quilt block. Using acrylics on canvas, Wood has created striking illustrations that add a masterful visual component to the volume. She successfully draws readers in and brings the characters and their stories to life. She presents the strength and determination of people who have endured unspeakable injustice and hardship with a grace born out of spirituality. This ambitious work offers a bit of poetry, history, folk art, quilting, religion and more. It will definitely fill a niche in libraries.--Carole Phillips, Greenacres Elementary School, Scarsdale, NY

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