8 by Eight: I Lay My Stitches Down Poems of American Slavery

9780802853868Writer Cynthia Grady and illustrator Michelle Wood have put together an intricate collection of poems and quilt-inspired illustrations that focuses on slavery ($17). Grady explains that “Quiltmaking and poetry share similarities in craft” and shows how color, shape, sound, and structure create the overall pattern in both types of art. The poems are unrhymed verse, 10 lines of 10 syllables, which follows the shape of a quilt block. Furthermore, each poem contains three references: biblical, spiritual, and musical, to mimic the three layers of a quilt. The illustrations are equally nuanced and complex and also utilize visual references to quilting and history.

The poems range in subject matter from work to celebrations, education to freedom. The poem, North Star, for example focuses on how slaves, who were inherited by non-slavers, were often educated and highlights the North Star, which was used to navigate the way to freedom.

North Star

Age six saw me with a new master. He
was no slaver. Instead of tobacco
fields, I blowed the planes of Euclid. Instead
of flax, I spun my way through Homer’s verse.
I longed to hear the heavenly hymns of
Pythagoras one starry night, when a
voice in the salt shed said, “Make no diff’rence
what you know. A body wants to be free.”
I bade my master farewell. His blessings
send me north, lighting my way to freedom. 

For the rest of our recommendations for Black History month, visit our 8 by Eight page. The 8 by Eight books change every two weeks. Starting on February 14th, the new selections will focus on Teen Dating Violence awareness.

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