cover image I Lay My Stitches Down: 
Poems of American Slavery

I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery

Cynthia Grady, illus. by Michele Wood. Eerdmans, $17 (34p) ISBN 978-0-8028-5386-8

Newcomer Grady’s compact poems about the lives of slaves cover an emotional range from gossamer (“Like the wren’s/ song, she hits the grace note just so”) to leaden (“drag my heart clean/ out of my chest”). Quilting runs through the poems as a theme (“Before I know, I’m rocking with the rhythm of the stitching”), and Wood (I See the Rhythm of Gospel) paints the slaves and their surroundings against backgrounds of quilt patterns and African textiles. Swirls of checks and triangles unfurl along with the movement of the stylized figures, softening the nightmare quality of scenes like one in which an overseer carries a girl away from her mother—“This morn he come for my baby girl—she/ done reach her breeding age. Fetch a good price.” The poems appear above detailed notes, opposite Wood’s paintings at right. The notes anticipate classroom use, where discussion will arise from the varied aspects of slavery—companionship between the master’s children and slave children, early horse racing’s domination by slave labor, and more—that Grady covers in this well-researched collection. Ages 10–up. Illustrator’s agent: Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Jan.)