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The Quiltmaker’s Journey

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.

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In Which the Boy Cleans His Room …

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

We’re at the one-month mark before #1 Son leaves for his first year of col­lege. This is big for our fam­i­ly. (I real­ize it’s a big thing for every fam­i­ly, but it’s feel­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly per­son­al for us right now—indulge me.) It’s entire­ly right, he’s absolute­ly ready, and he’s going to a place that’s a good fit for him. But my heart squeezes to think of it. (I’m try­ing pos­i­tive visu­al­iza­tion for the good-bye.)

ph_RRB_bedroomThis week, he’s clean­ing his room—a parental man­date. His room will remain his room when he goes, but long over­due is this clean­ing out of the sci­ence projects from ele­men­tary school, the soc­cer medals from the same era, the dusty cer­tifi­cates and papers and binders, the mess and detri­tus of a boy’s life well lived and now out­grown. He’s doing the clos­et today—he won’t fin­ish. It’s like an archae­o­log­i­cal dig with its lay­ers. He says he’s sav­ing his book­shelf for last. “It’s not so bad,” he says.

bk_Frog_and_toad_coverLast week, I sat on his bed and looked at that book­shelf. It’s one of the first my hus­band built. Floor to ceil­ing, near­ly as wide as the boy’s wingspan. Or his wingspan a few years ago, any­way. It’s stuffed and it exhibits a pecu­liar com­bi­na­tion of clut­tered and orga­nized stor­age. It’s obvi­ous he once alpha­bet­ized his fic­tion by author. This astounds me—among all of his awards, there is nary a one com­mend­ing his orga­ni­za­tion­al skills. But he likes to find the book he’s look­ing for quick­ly, and so at some point he gave it a go, I guess.

Many of the pic­ture books have moved on. A few favorites remain: Caps for Sale, an anthol­o­gy of Thomas The Tank Engine sto­ries, Clever Ali, The Vel­veteen Rab­bit, The Quiltmaker’s Gift, Frog and Toad, sev­er­al books about inven­tors, sci­en­tists, and explor­ers, Win­nie-the-Pooh 

And then there are the glo­ri­ous chap­ter books that con­sumed weeks and months and years of his life. Some we read togeth­er, but many he devoured on his own. The well-worn Har­ry Pot­ter books in Eng­lish and Span­ish both, all of the Swal­lows and Ama­zons series, most any­thing Gary Schmidt has writ­ten…. There’s a sec­tion or two of math books—cool math, not text­book math—and there’s every­thing from sto­ries of drag­ons and wiz­ards to the biog­ra­phy of Mark Twain.

bk_SwallowsThe boy has always read wide­ly. His­to­ry is mixed in with sci­ence, which is mixed in with his banned books col­lec­tion and var­i­ous works of Shake­speare. Con­tem­po­rary nov­el­ists sit piled under ancient clas­sics. He has the entire col­lec­tion of Calvin and Hobbes sit­ting next to The Atlas of Indi­an Nations, and var­i­ous graph­ic nov­els are shelved in the midst of an exten­sive col­lec­tion of Peter Pan pre­quels and sequels. I see both books he was required to read and books he could not put down.

I’m almost as proud of this book­shelf as I am the boy—it stead­ies me to look at it. With just a few weeks left until he heads out, I catch myself with pan­icked thoughts: Will he wash his sheets? Does he know the details of our fam­i­ly med­ical his­to­ry? Is the sal­ad bar in the din­ing ser­vice nice enough to tempt him to eat his veg­eta­bles? Does he know the signs of a con­cus­sion? Frost­bite? Will he call home before he makes Big Life Deci­sions? WILL HE READ? 

That last one pops up a lot for this Eng­lish major Mama. He wants to be an engi­neer. That cur­ricu­lum does not fea­ture much in the way of lit­er­a­ture cours­es; though I’m impressed they have an all-cam­pus-read that plays a sig­nif­i­cant part in ori­en­ta­tion. Will our boy read for fun, or be so con­sumed with engi­neer­ing and math that he won’t have time for sto­ries? If he decides to have a beer, will he pick up a new nov­el or an old favorite to enjoy with it? (A mom can dream.) Will he find a banned book to read in Sep­tem­ber dur­ing Banned Books Week, like we’ve always done? Will he lose him­self in the stacks of that fan­cy cam­pus library and maybe car­ry a pile of books back to his dorm room? If he stays up much too late, will it be—please let it be—because he’s fall­en into a sto­ry and can’t get out?

And then he shuf­fles into my office, laugh­ing at anoth­er arti­fact he’s uncov­ered in the deep dark recess­es of his clos­et. We agree it can be “passed on.”

Hey Mom?” he says. “What do you do with your books when you go to col­lege?”

I tell him there’s not much room in the typ­i­cal dorm room to house books out­side of those you need for your stud­ies.

Maybe I can just take a few favorites?” he says.

I ask which few those would be.

I’ll have to think about it,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of favorites.”

Oh, I’m going to miss that boy.

 

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Quiltmaker's Gift

The Quest for the Perfect Thanksgiving Book

Each Novem­ber I begin the search anew. I know what I’m look­ing for, and I real­ly don’t think it’s too much to ask of a pic­ture book: It must delve into the themes of gen­eros­i­ty, abun­dance, grat­i­tude. It should be beau­ti­ful. Com­pelling in its beau­ty, in fact. Ide­al­ly, I’d like it to cel­e­brate our bet­ter […]

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