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Stitchin' and Pullin'

A Gee's Bend Quilt

Written by Patricia McKissackAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Patricia McKissack
Illustrated by Cozbi A. CabreraAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Cozbi A. Cabrera

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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE & AWARDS PRAISE & AWARDS
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
Synopsis

Synopsis

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER, grandmother and granddaughter, aunt and niece, friend and friend. For a hundred years, generations of women from Gee’s Bend have quilted together, sharing stories, trading recipes, singing hymns—all the while stitchin’ and pullin’ thread through cloth. Every day Baby Girl listens, watches, and waits, until she’s called to sit at the quilting frame. Piece by piece, she puzzles her quilt together—telling not just her story, but the story of her family, the story of Gee’s Bend, and the story of her ancestors’ struggle for freedom.
Patricia McKissack

About Patricia McKissack

Patricia McKissack - Stitchin' and Pullin'
“To me, reading is like breathing; both are essential to life.”—Patricia C. McKissack

Award-winning author Patricia McKissack wishes she could have talked to her hero, Frederick Douglass, about his rise from slavery, his daring escape, and freedom—at last! She is the author of The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural, which is a Newbery Honor Book and also received the Coretta Scott King Award. She frequently collaborates on books with her husband, Fredrick. They have three sons and live in St. Louis, Missouri.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Long before I became a writer, I was a listener and an observer. My relatives, who were dynamic and skilled storytellers, helped develop my listening and observation skills before I could read or write.

On hot summer evenings our family would sit on the porch and listen to my grandmother tell a hair-raising ghost story, or my mother would recite Dunbar poems or Bible stories. Sometimes we’d get a real treat when my grandfather would dramatize an episode from his childhood, told in the rich and colorful dialect of the Deep South. I can still hear him beginning a yarn, saying: “It was back in nineteen and twenty-seven. I disremember the exact day, but it was long ’bout July, ’cause the skeeters was bitin’ whole chunks outta my arms. . . .”

As a youngster I had no idea that my heritage would one day be the springboard for my writing career.

Somewhere around age seven I discovered reading. And so began my lifelong love affair with the printed word. To me, reading is like breathing; both are essential to life.

I grew up, went off to school, majored in English literature, acquired a teaching certificate, and married right after graduation. (They said the marriage wouldn’t last six months. . . .) I knew then I wanted to be a writer. But the children came—one, and two and three together. Not much time for writing.

The library was my lifesaver. Besides being free, air-conditioned, and quiet, it was a wonderful place to learn my trade. There I learned to identify the complex reading/interest levels in children’s literature from beginning reader through young adult books. My reading included publishers’ catalogs, writers’ magazines, and book reviews. And whenever time and money would permit, I’d attend a seminar or workshop, often taking all three children with me. That’s where I heard about keeping a journal and the benefits of belonging to a literary organization. My parenting period turned out to be a very productive time for the kids and me. I didn’t publish anything, but my spirits were high and my determination steadfast. And the boys turned out to be excellent readers and writers.

My sons grew out of diapers and into size eight shoes; I grew out of size eight jeans and into size twelve business suits. Then, after nine years of teaching junior high and senior high English and after earning a master’s degree in children’s literature, I changed careers and became a children’s book editor. Six years later I became a freelance writer. A year later my husband Fred joined me, and we’ve been writing together since then. On days when I get a rejection slip—oh yes, I still get them—I close up shop and work with my flowers or go antique shopping. Then it’s back to more writing and “yesterday” deadlines.

I enjoy teaching other people to write too. What better way to combine all my training as teacher and writer? For the past ten years I’ve been teaching a course in writing for children at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. One of the greatest joys is seeing a student’s face when he or she tells me, “I’ve just sold a story!” It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s great!

I’m reminded of the day my editor, Anne Schwartz, told me Flossie and the Fox was going to be published. I squealed for joy! When Mirandy and Brother Wind was accepted, Anne knew to hold the telephone away from her ear. The delight of selling a book has never diminished—and I hope it never does.

I write because there’s a clear need for books written about the minority experience in America—fiction and nonfiction. I also write for the love of it!


PRAISE

THE DARK-THIRTY
Southern Tales of the Supernatural

—A Newbery Honor Book
—A Coretta Scott King Award Winner


A MILLION FISH . . . MORE OR LESS

—A Junior Library Guild Selection

“A lively, well-cadenced tale.”—Kirkus Reviews


NETTIE JO’S FRIENDS

—A Parents’ Choice Award Winner

“Pure joy . . . McKissack’s authentic Southern vernacular is rich and rhythmic with a natural flow to read aloud.”—Starred, School Library Journal


MIRANDY AND BROTHER WIND

—A Caldecott Honor Book
—A Coretta Scott King Award Winner for Illustration
—An ALA Notable Book
—A Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies

“Sparkles with energy . . . a treat.”—The Bulletin


MONKEY-MONKEY’S TRICK

“Young readers will enjoy practicing their reading skills to find out which animal is the best trickster.”—School Library Journal

Praise | Awards

Praise

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2008:
"An outstanding way to introduce aspects of African-American history and explore the power of community."

Awards

WINNER 2008 Kid's Indie Next List "Inspired Recommendations for Kids from Indie Booksellers"
HONOR 2009 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award
WINNER Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide



ABOUT THIS BOOK

Mother and daughter, grandmother and granddaughter, aunt and niece, friend and friend. For a hundred years, generations of women from Gee’s Bend have quilted together, sharing stories, trading recipes, singing hymns–all the while stitchin’ and pullin’ thread through cloth. Every day Baby Girl listens, watches, and waits, until she’s called to sit at the quilting frame. Piece by piece, she puzzles her quilt together–telling not just her story, but the story of her family, the story of Gee’s Bend, and the story of her ancestors’ struggle for freedom.

WHAT RESEARCH TIPS CAN YOU SUGGEST FOR YOUNG READERS/RESEARCHERS?

-Familiarize yourself with your topic
I usually begin my research by reading what others have written about the topic. For STITCHIN’ AND PULLIN’, I read about quilts and quilting in general so I understood the process. I also used THE QUILTS OF GEE’S BEND from Tinwood Books as a major source. In it are the biographies of the quilt makers and a collection of the work each woman had produced. There was also a film about the women in which they discussed their work and their community.
-Connect with your subject
I try, when possible, to talk to people who know the subject I am writing about. Or I’ll read an autobiography to help me understand from a personal point of view. For STITCHIN’ AND PULLIN’, I went to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to see the Gee’s Bend quilt display, and I was at the Memphis Museum to actually meet the women and view their quilts hanging on display. I watched other people respond to them–and that gave me a whole other perspective.
-Primary sources are key
Primary sources are always best. Whenever possible, I try to go to the place I’m writing about or meet the person or the people involved in the story that I’m trying to tell. I went to Gee’s Bend to meet with the women who quilted the marvelous pieces that now hang in museums all over the country. I saw the quilts on their beds. I even slept under one. And the feel of that you can’t experience by reading about it! I could have written a good book about the quilters without visiting Gee’s Bend, but I never would have found the layers of textures, patterns, and emotions that add depth to the story. Facts keep a book honest. Details give it heart. I’d like to think my books have both. The quilts were beautiful to look at and to study, but there’s nothing like touching them and seeing the stitches that some “nut-brown hand” had stitched.


DESCRIBE YOUR RESEARCH PROCESS FOR STITCHIN’ AND PULLIN’. WHAT WAS YOUR PLAN FOR THE TRIP TO GEE’S BEND? DID YOU FOLLOW THE PLAN?

First, I sent my editor an overview, a list of things I wanted to include in the book. This list was based on the following questions: Who is the book written for? Why am I writing it? What do I want to say? After my initial research–seeing the quilts in Washington, D.C., reading THE QUILTS OF GEE’S BEND, and researching quilts and quilting in general–I outlined my ideas. You wouldn’t begin a trip without a map, so I never start on a writing adventure without a map–an outline of where I’m going and how I intend to get to the end of the story. The STITCHIN’ AND PULLIN’ outline helped me to decide how much I wanted to include, plan the order and sequence, and set the tone of my work. I followed my outline when I visited Gee’s Bend, but I also expanded it to include new and interesting things that I hadn’t known until I got there. I realized there was so much more to the Gee’s Bend story. With all the new information I learned, I decided to change the whole purpose of the piece. Back at home I incorporated important history into the story . . . the history of a people, a time and a place. For example, I didn’t know that Martin Luther King Jr. had come to Gee’s Bend, that the closing of the ferry ended Gee’s Bend’s connection to the main land, that Gee’s Bend was once a plantation, that during the Depression in the 1930s Gee’s Bend was the poorest places in America. I didn’t know how much love and family and family connection and concern for others
existed in one small place.


YOU WROTE A GORGEOUS PASSAGE ABOUT COLORS IN THE BOOK. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE SETTING/COLORS IN GEE’S BEND?

Oh the colors are vibrant! It is said the Impressionists artists gathered in Provence in southern France because of the vibrant colors. I can imagine that if the Impressionist had visited Gee’s Bend, they would have chosen it as an artist’s haven as well. The sky seems bluer, the foliage seems greener, the Alabama River seems muddier, the sun brighter . . . and the mosquitoes bite harder! It is just a place where everything is alive, including the people–they laugh like no other people, they throw back their heads and sing praise songs. Life has not always been kind to these women, but they are warm and friendly and inclusive. They took me in as family. Because my mother’s maiden name was Petway, they told me if we are not related by blood, we are certainly related by plantation–and that just felt so right.


WHAT MOVED YOU THE MOST ABOUT THE GEE’S BEND COMMUNITY? WHAT SURPRISED YOU THE MOST?

I was moved by their openness and their ability to enjoy everyday things. Visitors might get the impression that Gee’s Bend is remote and therefore isolated and lacking in modern conveniences. They have computers, cell phones, Nintendo, bicycles, motorcycles–they have all of that. But yet they have not lost the ability to sit on the front porch and talk. They have not forgotten how to take a stranger in and treat them with kindness. My son, husband, and I all stayed in Mary Lee Bendolph’s home and we sincerely appreciated her hospitality. But most of all I will remember her allowing me to quilt with her during my visit; it is a memory I will treasure.


HOW DID YOU ORGANIZE YOUR FINDINGS? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT TRANSLATING THE INFORMATION INTO A BOOK?

When I was in Gee’s Bend, I met so many people, and I knew it would be difficult to write a book that included all their stories. So, I decided to create a character that represented the reader, a young person, learning a craft and thus earning her place among the community of women. In this way, I could honor all the women, their genius and their craftsmanship. Each one of the vignettes is like a patch. Cozbi, the illustrator, visually put them together to form a quilt. But first, I laid it out on paper, putting the big red and white gingham in the middle–the heart of the quilt. The patch that represented Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit there was a black, white, red, and yellow, and brown plaid circle. A pink patch was Pinky the horse who saved so many lives that day on Pettus Bridge in Selma. There are patches for each one of the neighborhoods in Gee’s Bend identified by color and shape. And so much more. In the end, I guess what I did was write a quilt.

ABOUT THIS AUTHOR

Patricia C. McKissack is the author of the Caldecott Honor Book Mirandy and Brother Wind and the Newbery Honor Book The Dark Thirty. She and her husband, Fred, have written over 100 books about the African American experience. She has also received the Regina Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Children’s Books and the Virginia Hamilton Award. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

BEYOND THE BOOK

-As a cotton plantation, Gee’s Bend was far from remarkable–it was practically off the map and the soil was not particularly forgiving. Yet after the Civil War, most of the emancipated slaves elected to stay as sharecroppers.

-In the 1920s and ‘30s when the Depression began, this community was hit so hard that federal government, through a number of New Deal programs, came to Gee’s Bend to offer assistance. And in turning a temporary spotlight on this community, government officials gave it the dubious distinction of being “the poorest of the poor.”

-Then, in the 1960s, Gee’s Bend was literally at the doorstep of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at their church just days before the March to Selma. Many of the quilters were there that night and were forever changed by it. Later that decade, the now-savvy community organizers formed a quilting collective. They started to sell their quilts and used the profits to give back to the community.

-And in the 1990s, an art historian saw a picture of one of those quilts, took a trip down to Gee’s Bend, met a few of the ladies, and introduced their work to some curators he knew. The rest is art history.

The Quilts of Gees Bend
www.quiltsofgeesbend.com

The Art of Quilting
www.pbs.org/americaquilts

African American Quilting Traditions
xroads.virginia.edu/~UG97/quilt/atrads.html

ABOUT THIS GUIDE

This guide features an in-depth interview with author PATRICIA C. McKISSACK on the making of this fascinating book and her research tips for kids!

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