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The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy Children's Book Review

Updated on March 11, 2016

Has a special someone ever made a patchwork quilt for you or with you?

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Story Summary

Every once in a while a special children's book comes along. The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy is just such a book. This story spans an entire year in the life of Tanya, her mother and father, her two brothers, and her grandmother. Tanya's grandmother decides to make a patchwork quilt, using scraps from old clothes and leftover pieces of cloth.

This quilt will be a piece of living history and artistry, and Grandma declares I'm gonna make a masterpiece . Later she adds a quilt won't forget. It can tell your life story . These lines particularly resonated with me, because I have a family quilter in my own life.

Tanya promises her grandma that she will help make the quilt, thinking they will get it done quickly and easily, but it takes much longer than that. Tanya marvels at the way Grandma incorporates scraps from her brother Jim's old blue corduroy pants, and from the leftover scraps of her African Princess costume for the school play.

In December Tanya's mother frets about Grandma's loneliness. Grandma isn't lonely. She and the quilt are telling each other stories . Tanya tells her mother. Finally understanding how meaningful this project is, Tanya's mother gets involved and begins working side by side with her mother. The quilting project brings the family together iand the experience of making the quilt together creates a sense of harmony and family unity in the story.

But suddenly everything changes. Grandma takes ill and is bedridden for months. The signs are written in illustrator Jerry Pinkney's details. Mother's eyes are puffy and her face is drawn and tired. Although it isn't overtly stated, a mature reader will wonder at the seriousness of the Grandmother's illness. She remains bedridden for weeks and then months, and the quilt project is sadly abandoned.

But Tanya, with the help of her mother, take over this labor of love, and both work to complete the quilt on their own. Although Tanya's grandmother slowly begins to recover, Tanya perserveres with her work on the quilt. And by March, Grandma is up and about. But it is June before her Grandmother resumes work on the quilt herself. And the finished product IS a masterpiece, full of meaning to Tanya's family. Each scrap contributed by a different family member has its own memories, including the making of the quilt itself.

This is the patchwork crib quilt my grandmother made for me.
This is the patchwork crib quilt my grandmother made for me. | Source

Thoughts About Families, Traditions, and Quilting

The Patchwork Quilt in and of itself isn't a wholly unique story. I have recently read three other stories about quilts shared between grandmothers and granddaughters, and they are linked by many common threads. The quilt is a family heirloom, the grandmother shares special wisdom with the child that helps her to understand that she is part of the family whose rich tradition is honored by the quilt, and in at least one other story, the child protagonist helps to create a new quilt, to honor the old tradition.

This book is special because it isn't written in sing-song rhyme, but instead it portrays family love, commitment, and unity in a realistic manner that remains true to its characters. Tanya deeply loves her grandmother but for the most part she acts like a little girl. And Flournoy doesn't preach about family love, or quilting traditions tying families together. Instead, it is Grandma's character who raises the deeply held notion that the quilt "will be her masterpiece," even when Tanya's mother, who is for all intents and purposes a busy and sometimes careworn caregiver, would rather purchase something at the store. Tanya's Grandma convinces us that the quilt is special.

Throughout the story, Tanya's grandmother alludes to her faith in God. I couldn't help recall in one scene from this book, where Tanya's mother sits at her own mother's feet, listening to her explain the meaning of the quilt and the patches, the story of Mary and Martha from the New Testament. In this scene of the story Tanya's mother reminded me of a reluctant Martha turning into Mary and "choosing the better part."

Because Tanya's mother doesn't deeply care about quilting as part of her family's heritage, as played out in the beginning of the story, it is all the more touching that Tanya's mother gets deeply involved in making this project. She is an example of caring and honoring and respecting her own mother, and Tanya mirrors this love, respect, and devotion through her actions when her Grandmother takes ill.

Illustrator Jerry Pinkney was given the Coretta Scott King award in the illustrator category in 1986 for his work on this book. His realistic illustrations have an expressive quality that show the interplay of love, caring, and respect between characters that don't at first understand one another. Jerry Pinkney created the realistic-looking illustrations using watercolor, ink, and graphite (pencil). Each illustration captures the essence of an organized and well-run home teeming with life and effervescing with family love. The characters have evocative expressions, and especially endearing are the scenes where Grandma holds Tanya in her arms for a tender hug. In each page, as family members gaze at each other with tenderness, it is surprisingly easy to believe this story and to become transfixed by the feelings of peace and harmony that seem to emanate from this book.

The finer points of this book may not be appreciated by a very young child. I recommend this book for second grade readers and up, merely on its lengthy story. But it is a strong recommendation. This book shines.

Related Books

I'm Going to Grandma's by Mary Ann Hoberman and Tiphanie Beeke. A young girl goes away for the first time ever to spend the day AND the night at Grandma and Grandpa's house. She has a wonderful day until bathtime, when she becomes homesick for her parents. But her Grandmother brings out a family heirloom quilt, and tells her a story that her own grandmother told her. The little girl falls asleep holding the quilt and has pleasant dreams. This book has rhyming text and can be enjoyed by younger preschoolers, and Beeke's childlike illustrations will appeal to young readers.

Learn about more children's books featuring quilts and quilting here.

More Recommended Children's Picture Books

Explore some of my other children's picture book recommendations. 

Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing by Judi Barrett · A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams · Babies by Gyo Fujikawa · Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See by Bill Martin and Eric Carle · Charley Harper's ABCs by Charlie Harper · Christmas Cookies: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons · Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes · Daughter of a King by Rachel Ann Nunes · Excuse Me! By Lisa Kopelke · Gregory the Terrible Eater by Mitchell Sharmat · Harry and The Terrible Whatzit by Dick Gackenbach · Hilda Must Be Dancing by Karma Wilson · I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll · I'd Choose You by John Trent · Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback · King of Kings by Susan Hill · Ladybug Girl by Jacky Davis and David Soman · Lily's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes · Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney · Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney · Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle · No David! by David Shannon · Olivia by Ian Falconer · Out of the Ocean by Debra Frasier · Snowballs by Lois Ehlert · So Much by Trish Cooke and Helen Oxenbury · Souperchicken by Mary Jane and Herm Auch · The Gingerbread Boy by Paul Galdone · The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle · The King With Six Friends by Jay Williams · The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah by Leslie Kimmelman · The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza by Philemon Sturges · The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell · The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy · The Red Shoes a Fairy Tale by Gloria Fowler and Sun Young Yoo · The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats · Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel · Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White · Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak · Yoon and the Christmas Mitten by Helen Recorvits


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