|Pic courtesy Flipkart|
Written by Bettye Stroud
Illustrated by Erin Susan Bennett
Published by Candlewick Press
Hannah is a 10 yr old slave living on a plantation with her parents and younger sister Mary. When she turns 10, her mother teaches her to make a special quilt using special patterns, with special meanings. Each pattern had a meaning, and stitched together, they would make a pattern that would help them to run away to freedom.
Soon after, the master sells Mary to someone else, and her mother dies of a broken heart. Hannah and her father decide to escape, afraid that they, too would get separated some day.
How do they do it? How does the Quilt Code work? Do they manage to get to freedom? How do they recognise the friends and the enemies along the way? Quite a few of the white men were against slavery, even in the south. There was a whole network of these abolitionists, along with certain religious groups like the Quakers who were anti-slavery, and freed slaves (a well-known example was Harriet Tubman) along the escape route who would help the escapees along what was termed 'the underground railroad, as the slaves travelled in hiding.
According to the afterword, the story about the use of quilt codes was given to was told to historian Jaqueline Tobin by an African American quilter Ozella Williams and together with another scholar Dr. Raymond Dobard, they published the first account of this amazing system that had originated in Africa, and was extensively used by slaves to run away to the US Canada border and freedom.
This was in 1994. Following this, there was a lot of debate on its authenticity, as there was no written or material evidence of this story, and was believed to have come from African American folklore. It has been theorised that this could be because slaves in those days did not know how to read or write, as it was illegal, and any quilts from that time might not have survived the wear and tear of so many years.
Knowledge of the controversies around the supposed history on which our book is based, however, did not deter A and me from enjoying it. It was the perfect picture book for the 9 yr old who is no longer into picture books big time, as it was a dip into the rich African American history, which is proving to be fascinating and horrifying by turns. And an escape story is always welcome, especially one that makes use of secret codes. Full page illustrations in earthy colours by Erin Susanne Bennett compliment the text and bring it to life.
February will be Black History month, and the history enthusiast at home hopes to find many more such books.
Those interested in the craft can go here to find printable templates of the patterns that were supposed to be in the Quilt Code.