This week I’ve been thinking about (and missing) my grandmother. It started when F was playing with her dolls over the weekend, and she was making them a bed with a quilted iris wall hanging my grandmother made for me many years ago, and later that night when I found her snuggled up under another quilt of my grandmother’s making. And now we are moving into another season around these parts, and so there are winter clothes to pack away and summer clothes to pull back out – both girls have been sorting through hand-me-downs from cousins, and packing away too small clothes to share with other cousins and friends. These acts of shifting and sorting and saving remind me of two books F received for Christmas this past year that feature family heirlooms – intricate and simple and adaptable items around which the story of a family is told, and retold.
The first book is Patricia Polacco’s The Keeping Quilt, the story of Polacco’s own family, and the quilt made several generations before from scraps of clothing of beloved family members. The quilt becomes a way to keep those people and memories close after immigrating from Russia to America, and through the years the quilt is incorporated into the most important family celebrations and traditions – each design and fabric piece telling a part of the family’s story. Polacco uses the illustrative technique of juxtaposing sepia toned or charcoal sketches with the vibrant colorwork of fabric accents. In The Keeping Quilt it is particularly successful – the full page spreads of family members gathered together provide the backdrop for little glimpses of the quilt. My girls scan each new page for the quilt’s location, and study the various designs as they are repeated across the story.
The second book is This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson. A young girl finds a rope under a tree that she uses for skipping, and that rope joins the family in a three generation journey from South Carolina to New York City – tying the family’s belongings to the roof of the car or hanging dried flowers at the window of their city apartment to remind them of home. I love how the rope becomes this symbol of the “old home”, and how, with each generation, it helps to forge new friendships on the sidewalks of a strange place, or lashes the few treasured belongings to a car heading off (again) for a new journey forward.
Both books are visual feasts with richly woven tales about family. Home shifts, in both stories, in monumental ways. Home is recalled, in both stories, by an object that has passed through the hands of many, and is made softer, and sweeter, and more useful, and more important, by those very hands.
Do you have a favorite family item that reminds you of home? I highly recommend both of these books for young readers – they would also make a wonderful gift, tied up with a photo of one of your treasured family heirlooms that starts the storytelling of your own family.
Find these titles at your favorite local independent bookstore. Happy reading!