Thursday, November 8, 2012

I Lay My Stitches Down

Title: I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery
Author: Cynthia Grady
Illustrator: Michelle Wood
Copyright Date: 2012
Genre: Poetry
Theme: Poetry, non-fiction, Social Studies, African-American, slavery, biography, history
Grades: 5 and up
Awards: Parent's Choice Silver Honor (source)


This book is a beautifully written and illustrated collection of poems about the experiences of those living as slaves in America. The poems cover topics such as working in the home and fields, punishment, secretly educating themselves, and their escape through the Underground Railroad among others. These poems are backed up with great quilt inspired illustrations and sections of historical context to help explain the poems.

What was life like for the African-Americans living in slavery? Read this book to find out.

Pre-reading Activity

Because this book covers so many different aspects of life as a slave, it lends itself well to a KWL chart. Before reading the book have the students share everything they know about slavery and record it in the first column of a three columned chart. This will be the "what I already Know" column. Record everything, even if it is a misconception. All of this is their background knowledge of the subject. Next, in the second column, write down all the questions they might have about slavery. This is the "What I want to know" column. Any question about slavery will work here. This is the information they will be looking for during the story. 

During Reading Activity

While reading the story, if an answer to a question comes up, write a note next to the question in the third column of the chart. This is the "What I learned" column. This is also a good place to write some information that may contradict some of the misconceptions students may have had before too.

Post-reading Activity

After reading through the book, and finishing the chart of all the new information and greater understanding they have about slavery, this would be a great time for students to do some writing. Since the KWL chart contains the notes from the book, students can use the information to write a paragraph about life in slavery. For older students, you could bring in more texts and have them synthesize them into a true research paper.   

Author and Illustrator

Cynthia Grady works as a middle school librarian when she isn't writing or making quilts. This book is her very first book to be published. She currently lives in Washington DC. (Source: book jacket and here)

Michelle Wood is an award winning artist, earning the American Book Award for the first book she illustrated, Going Back Home. Since then she has earned other awards, including the Coretta Scott King Award and her work has received lots of praise from critics. She currently lives in Indiana. (Source: book jacket and here)


I'm a big fan of this book. Not only are the poems meaning AND accessible, but the illustrations just makes everything come alive. This is a great way to introduce this difficult part of American history to young students, especially with the contextual paragraphs on each page. A very good book.

If you are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

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