Earlier this week I pulled out our small stash of Thanksgiving picture books. The kids are older now, but they seem to like it when the old favorites come out. I got lost, as I always do, in The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau, illustrated by Gail de Marcken. I’ve written about that book for Red Reading Boots — you can find that here.
I went in search of its companion, The Quiltmakers Journey, which wasn’t with the Thanksgiving books for some reason. Found it — and lost myself in it, as well. It’s a prequel, really. Explains how the Quiltmaker came by her values of generosity, beauty, and love of people, not things.
When the Quiltmaker was a young girl, she lived a materially advantaged and privileged life. Because everyone in her town was rich, the girl assumed everyone in the world was. This was by design, we learn. A wall had been built — a stone wall, thick and high — around the town. The children in the town never saw what was outside, but they were warned by their elders that horrible, terrible things were on the other side of the wall….
When I read this in storytime to kids, you can see them imagining what’s on the other side of the wall. Their sweet faces morph into troubled ones — brows furrow, eyes worry, thumbs and fingers travel to their mouths…. Which is exactly what happened to the children in the town. And so they understandably stay inside the wall where everything and more was provided and where an obscene abundance reigned; but not, we learn, the assumed happiness that would come from such luxury.… Our young heroine grows restless!
The girl who becomes the quiltmaker goes out, of course — beyond the wall — that’s the main story. And she learns that the terrors on the other side of the wall are nothing like what she’d imagined. No monsters or ghouls, witches or dragons. Rather, extreme poverty. And though she sees the ravages of hunger and unhappiness, she also witnesses extraordinary generosity and kindness. She learns that it’s not the people who are frightful, but the circumstances in which they live.
When she returns to her life inside the wall and makes a plea before the town elders for their town to help those who are outside the wall…she faces resistance. Ignore the poor, she’s told. “If they wanted to be rich, they shouldn’t have been born poor.”
This does not sit well with the girl who has now had her eyes, ears, and heart opened. She’s been outside the wall — she knows things the elders do not. She leaves her life of comfort and makes a new life outside the wall as she struggles to figure out what her gift to the world will be. Eventually, she sells the ring her mother gave her to buy bright cloth and thread…and she uses the skills bequeathed to her by the kind old seamstress who sewed her gowns when she was a child…and she makes quilts. Thick and warm quilts. Beautiful quilts. Beautiful, warm quilts she gives, not sells, to those who need them most.
The Quiltmaker’s Journey takes longer to read than many picture books, but her journey is an important one. Try reading the book during your Thanksgiving festivities this weekend. It will not disappoint. It’s an inspiring way to begin this season of holidays.