Review: I Lay My Stitches Down by Cynthia Grady

i lay my stitches down

I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Michele Wood

This collection of poems tell the story of slavery in America from the points of view of many different slaves.  There is the poem of the house slave who breaks some dishes, the story of the Underground Railroad, children being sold away from their parents, whipping, and much more.  Still, Grady manages to also weave into the stories softer moments of learning, art, and music.  They all focus around slavery and its ugliness, despite the beauty that the slaves create.  The message is the same in the illustrations, a wrenching mix of brutality and beauty that speaks directly to the difficult subject matter.

Grady’s poems are built with references in each poem to spiritual, music and quilting.  The poems are brief and powerful, filled with language that soars and lifts despite the horror of the subjects.  This dance of harshness and loveliness makes the poems particularly compelling.  Following each poem is a paragraph or two of explanation about that aspect of slavery or references made in the poem.

The illustrations are done in paint, but directly reference quilts.  Quilt patterns form the ground, walls, water and sky.  The people are woven into the quilts, surrounded by the art form.  It conveys a certain beauty as well as a sheltering feeling that would be missed if the illustrations had a bareness or minimalist nature.

Brutal, beautiful and educational, this book uses poetry to create a memorable book about slavery in America.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.