A number of years ago my sister-in-law took me to visit an exhibit of quilts from Gee’s Bend, Alabama (Catalog of the quilts). I had no idea idea what to expect, but the quilts and their stories were incredibly beautiful.
Because of that experience I knew immediately why there were quilts hanging in the background of the cover illustration for Belle, The Last Mule at Gee’s Bend: A Civil Rights Story by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud, with illustrations by John Holyfield. What I didn’t know was the amazing true (but fictionalized) story of the connection of Belle the mule and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the story, Alex is waiting in Gee’s Bend while his mother shops for one of the famous quilts. Across the street he spots an old mule eating collards in someone’s garden. At first he thinks it is a mistake, that the mule has wandered in from a nearby pasture. He soon learns, however, that Belle the mule is given perks like collards from the garden because of the important duties she performed during the civil rights movement. One of duties was drawing the wagon that carried the casket of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through Atlanta.
Belle is a tale of quiet determination leading the changes. Reading it is a perfect way to observe Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday and to help celebrate Black History Month in February.
In this book, the quilts are in the background. However, quilts can be a powerful way to tell a story too.
Young children love to play with fabric. Have them assemble scrap pieces to form a quilt, and perhaps create some memories or a story of their own.
- Scraps of fabric from worn out clothes or leftovers from sewing projects
- White glue (dries slowly) or craft glue
- Paper for backing (optional, but gives more structure if needed)
- Fabric markers (optional)
Show the children some quilts. Let them free explore with the fabric and then ask them to make their own quilts. Once the pieces have been cut out, lay them in a pattern and then glue them together by placing glue at the edges and overlapping the pieces. Have a spot to lay the quilts aside to dry.
If your children are particularly crafty, try this marbleized paper quilt. Lovely!
For inspiration, watch this video of a quilter from Gee’s Bend who started when she was seven years old.
Age Range: 5 – 8 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3
Lexile Measure: 710L (What’s this?)
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Candlewick (September 13, 2011)
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