(This book may be directly ordered from the Black Threads site, so there's no excuse).
Back in December, I accepted a children's book to review, the second book written by Kyra E. Hicks, a nationally known and respected quilter, lecturer, and the author of a most resourceful site, Black Threads. When the book arrived, my curiosity was stoked. It was a true, but little-known story I thought would be great to review during Black History Month.
Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria (Brown Books Publishing Group, $16.95) tells the story of Martha Ann, a former slave who, made a quilt as a gift to Queen Victoria, out of gratitude for the protection of the people in her new home-land of Liberia, against their kidnapping and sale into slavery. She saved her money for 50 years, to make the voyage to England to present it.
As a storyteller's book, it's fabulous. Enhanced with illustrations, realistically portrayed by Lee Edward Fodi, It's the kind of book you'd want to read-aloud to your young children crumpled around you on the bed, or, during the children's story hour at the library.
Older, and more worldly kids reading on their own, may find the narrative less interesting. It reads a bit flat, but remember––picture books do not need the amount of adjectives necessary, to form the sharper mental images for greater engagement. Additionally, Martha Ann goes from childhood to elderly woman in only thirty-six pages, so there are some pretty big gaps––which will raise as many questions as it answers. Don't fret. These are questions that have answers, for the most part. Do the research with your kids, since you probably never heard of Martha Ann, either. Besides, discovery is fun.
The events that precede the gaps, may seem more exciting to kids, than the heroine saving money. For instance, during a time after Martha Ann's family re-settles in Liberia, the majority of them, with the exception of her older and younger brother, are wiped out by "African Fever" (Wow! What's African Fever?). But then, she grows up and gets married (what happened between then?). In another episode, the mission where she and her husband resides, are attacked by 300 tribesmen, led by their chief, Gotorah (Gee! Why don't they like each other. Isn't everybody the same?). All the while, she is still saving money, towards her visit (yeah).
Do you see what I mean?
Kyra Hick's book fulfills its purpose of bringing to life a true story of persistence and keeping a dream alive. It will be energizing to young children––of all races––still filled with wonder about what must have been a huge undertaking (when I was six, I thought ten years was a long time, and five dollars big money). Other kids, may find the spaces between the gaps more interesting. A young friend of mine, about nine, read the book. While she enjoyed the story (it was different), it was hard for her to understand saving money for fifty years ("what did Martha Ann do for work? My mom gets paid every week"). Ah, kids today.
She was more curious, about the country in which Martha Ann's family re-settled (the British Navy patrol boats, the fighting, and Queen Victoria). Cool! The history of Liberia and its subsequent drama, is a subject of major interest for me, and is not often covered in Black History Month classroom teaching; which is shameful as it contains some very relevant info for kids today. My friend was shocked to find out that Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is that country's president, and the first female elected head of state on the continent. It was more shocking to find out that the sister made it, despite being beaten and jailed (the odds).
"Do you think it could happen here? A black woman president?"
"Why not?" you could do it. And it may be easier for you, too."
Now that's relevant. Thanks, Kyra.