"When Soonie's Great-Grandma was seven, she was sold from the Virginia land to a plantation. . . ." So begins Jacqueline Woodson's lyrical telling of her family history. Soonie's memory of her ma and pa is a mere remnant of muslin and thread, from which she fashions quilt pieces. Soonie listens "real hard" to stories of freedom and before long, she too has a daughter born a slave and sold away. Mathis May, as she is called, continues in the tradition of sewing and becomes known for her "Show Way," a quilt to guide those who slip away in the night, seeking freedom. With passing time, history presents new challenges for Woodson's ancestors. But the strong women of each generation face what life brings, with an eye for beauty: sewing, teaching, making art and writing.
Woodson's musical phrases draw the reader in, creating such images as the sky changing "from pink day to blue-black night." The story, though a work of fiction, has a genuine sense of history which is enhanced by Hudson Talbott's inky watercolors. In keeping with the story's textile theme, Talbott uses collage with muslin and other fabrics. His use of period artwork, photography and newspaper clippings hints at the many aspects of slave life. Quotes by Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Mary McLeod Bethune and others, all patched together with stitching, whet the appetite of readers who might wish to know more about this time in our nation's past.
Parents and teachers alike will find Show Way a perfect springboard for discussion with school-age children about slavery, the Underground Railroad, segregation and the civil rights movement. Both the text and richly detailed illustrations serve to pique the reader's interest in the past and the people who created it. Woodson's conclusion imbues readers with a sense of unity. Everyone has their own family stories that have bearing on who they are and it is these events that create, for each of us, our own Show Way.
Jennifer Robinson is a teacher in Baltimore. Copyright 2005 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2006 Spring
With a refrain of mother love, Woodson traces eight generations in her family, from "Soonie's great-grandma," sold at seven, to Woodson's own little daughter. The earliest in this female line have skills and creativity that will serve their descendants well. Talbott uses the patchwork motif to good effect. Hope, courage, and perseverance light this handsome book. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2005 #6
Woodson traces eight generations in her family, from "Soonie's great-grandma," sold at seven, to Woodson's own little daughter, Soonie's great-great-granddaughter. The earliest in this female line, born into slavery, have skills and creativity that will serve their descendants well. Leaving her native Virginia, that first child takes with her needles, thread, and a bit of muslin; her daughter Mathis May is already an accomplished seamstress when she, too, is sold from her family at seven. The patterns of her "Show Way" quilts point north to freedom; later generations, born free, earn economic emancipation by selling quilts now valued for their beauty as well as the stories they tell. Soonie, Woodson's great-grandmother, worked the fields; but her descendants are readers and teachers, and later artists and writers who commemorate the past. Although its structure is somewhat unwieldy, Woodson stitches her story together with a refrain of mother love: "Loved that baby up so. Yes, she loved that baby up." Talbott uses the patchwork motif to good effect with vignettes from the several lives plus numerous topical spreads: Blue and Gray states literally ripped apart by a fiery glimpse of the Civil War; a collage of 1960s turmoil. A handsome die-cut cover reveals Mathis May lighting the way; it opens to her Show Way quilt, a potent symbol of the hope, courage, and perseverance that light this handsome book. Copyright 2005 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2005 September #2
Show Ways are quilts with secret meanings-guides to freedom. In this beautiful volume, quilts are the connecting threads of the generations, from Soonie's great-grandmother, sold away from her Virginia home as a girl of seven, to Soonie's great-great-granddaughter Toshi, Woodson's daughter. It's a celebration of mothers-all of those strong women through the generations who "loved those babies up." Gorgeous multimedia art includes watercolors, chalk and fabric, photographs incorporated into original art and joyous watercolor figures jumping broom. Patchwork and crazy quilts are two common motifs used, the latter, with jagged stitching resembling railroad tracks, representing the harshest of times. Whether quilts were actual maps to freedom or such stories are simply folklore, quilts are a perfect device to portray the generations of a family. Like Deborah Hopkinson's Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (1993) and Under the Quilt of Night (2001) and Doreen Rappaport's Freedom River (2000), this takes a difficult subject and makes it accessible to young readers. One of the most remarkable books of the year. (Picture book. 5+) Copyright Kirkus 2005 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2005 September #2
This affecting, poetic paper-over-board picture book stands out from the first glance. On the innovative cover, a montage of black-and-white pictures of African-American captives, arranged to resemble a quilt, act as a background to a diamond-shaped die-cut opening that frames the image of an African-American girl holding a lighted candle. Woodson's (Coming on Home Soon) story, both historical and deeply personal, begins as a seven-year-old girl is sold into slavery and taken to a South Carolina plantation "without her ma or pa but with some muslin her ma had given her." There she learns to "sew colored thread into stars and moons and roads that slave children grew up and followed late in the night, a piece of quilt and the true moon leading them." Later, her daughter also stitches quilts that become "a Show Way" to guide captives escaping to freedom. The quilt becomes a metaphor not only for physical freedom but for freedom of expression. Long after emancipation, subsequent generations of women in this family stay connected through quilting, using needle and thread as a means of support and as a creative outlet. Woodson eventually reveals that this is her own lineage, and "[her] words became books that told the stories of many people's Show Ways." Talbott uses the quilt motif in rousing ways, piecing together quotes or news items for a pair of spreads about one generation "walking in a line to change the laws" as well as in softly quilted patterns that tie together the love of a child, a theme throughout this elegantly designed volume. Ages 5-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2005 November
K-Gr 5 -Soonie's great-grandma was only seven when she was sold away from her parents in Virginia and sent to South Carolina. All she had was a piece of muslin from her mother, two needles, and bright red thread. She was raised by Big Mama, who cared for the plantation children and at night whispered stories of freedom. Big Mama taught great-grandma how to sew messages and directions into quilt patterns, a "Show Way." The quilt-making tradition is passed down through successive generations of women in the family. Finally, readers meet the narrator, who grew up to become a writer and tell "the stories of many people's Show Ways." A poignant trail at the end of the book shows eight generations of women and the author's baby painted against the background of quilt patterns. Show Way is a sophisticated book that introduces readers to the passage of time, family traditions, and the significance of quilts and their patterns in African-American history. The gorgeous, multimedia art includes chalk, watercolors, and muslin. An outstanding tribute, perfectly executed in terms of text, design, and illustration.-Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH[Page 111]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.