Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson

A celebration of African American women and their traditions from generation to generation are detailed in Jacqueline Woodson's picture book, Show Way. This is the first book I've written that is based on my family's history - tracking my family down the maternal line, from my great-great-grandmother to my daughter, Toshi." (

Show Way begins with Woodson's great-great-grandmother being sold at the age of seven and taken away from her home in Virginia to live in South Carolina. While listening to stories about freedom from Big Mama, she used the piece of muslin, red thread, and two needles to create a Show Way, or a quilt that showed messages and directions for slaves to escape through the Underground Railroad. The craft of quilting is passed down from woman to child year after year, and soon culminates through eight generations, ending with Woodson and her daughter Toshi on the final pages, as the story comes full-circle. "Writing Show Way made me remember that that's the not only the blood that runs through my veins, but it's the blood that runs through my daughter's veins and it's the blood that runs through all of our veins. I mean, the fact that we as human beings have gotten this far is amazing."

Together, both Woodson and illustrator Hudson Talbott emphasize the importance of how these quilts represented the memories of the past and present. Talbott's stunning illustrations link closely with the text while also carrying the same quilt-like motif. Just by looking at the pictures, not even reading the words, a story is told about the culture, traditions, trials, and tribulations through the use of color, size, shape, and background effects. Quilts are also used in the design of the book; for example, on the cover Mathis May is holding a candle. "A diamond is actually cut into the cover as diamonds represent the four stages of life in African textiles." ( Pictures of African American leaders such as Martin Luther King, words by Sojourner Truth, and other inspriational historical figures are stiched together on the cover surrounding Mathis, demonstrating an importance and celebration of their efforts for equal rights.

Woodson's family stories in Show Way created an opportunity for readers to reflect and learn about the past experiences of these women. Readers obtain a firm understanding of the importance of how these quilts and patterns told a story that was shared from mother to daughter. This story will encourage readers to seek information about their own family's background, while learning about how their experiences and traditions helped shape their present lives.

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