cover image Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt

Deborah Hopkinson. Alfred A. Knopf, $15.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-82311-7

A compelling story about an African American girl's escape from slavery on a Southern plantation brings power and substance to this noteworthy picture book. When the rigors of cotton-field labor overwhelm Clara, a kindly woman she calls Aunt Rachel trains the girl to be a seamstress in the main house. Like most slaves, Clara longs for freedom and, in her case, yearns to be reunited with her mother. Becoming proficient in her sewing, she begins in her off hours to put together a map-quilt, stitching in any information she can glean from overheard conversations about an escape route to Canada. Clara is indeed reunited with her mother (``her eyes just like I remembered, her arms strong around me'') in a chronicle made all the more touching for being rooted in fact. (The concluding flashback, a denouement explaining how the quilt may help others only slightly interrupts the fluid narrative line.) Ransome's ( Aunt Flossie's Hats . . . And Crab Cakes Later ) paintings here are among his finest: more lifelike and accessible than in some earlier books, the full-page, borderless oils exude an extraordinary warmth and humanity that lend credibility to the story. Himself a descendent of plantation slaves, the artist brings both dignity and realism to his work. This first-rate book is a triumph of the heart. Ages 5-10. (Feb.)