Monday, November 06, 2006


ABBIE IN STITCHES by Cynthia Cotten, illustrated by Beth Peck (Farrar Straus Giroux)
Needlework was an important part of a girl's education in the early 19th century; she would someday need the skill to sew household linens and clothing for her family, or use her ability to help provide support. But this is of little concern to Abbie, whose crooked stitches and blood-spotted linens from pricked fingers are evidence of her frustration at being put to the task, when she would so much rather be reading! When she, along with a gaggle of more gifted girls, is called upon to make a sampler, and she can't decide what the subject should be...but when she decides to put what she really feels into words, her fingers fly. This story misses some visual opportunities; a few examples of the stitches on the endpapers, for example, or a photograph of a finished sampler along with the informative afterword would have been welcome. That said, the expressive figures throughout done in evocative oil pastels go far to capture this girl's true spirit, and a spirit that was surely shared by booklovers both then and now. The resolution and ultimate, if measured, understanding from her family is believable. Overall, a lovely and liberating historical picture book. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
One good reader deserves another! Try this other period piece about a title-seeker who will not be thwarted:
THE HARD-TIMES JAR by by Ethel Footman Smothers, John Holyfield (Farrar Stras Giroux) Emma is one book-hungry little girl. But money is "scarcer than hen's teeth," which means "no extras" for this family of African American migrant workers, and that includes no store-bought books. So Emma makes her own , fastening brown paper pages with safety pins. When Emma starts school, it is with much trepidation, until kind Miss Miller reveals-- wonder of wonders!--a coatroom full of books! The temptation to take one home proves too much for Emma, Will her lapse be the end of her chances to read, or will it be the beginning of her mother recognizing that maybe a book is worth taking money out of the family's "hard times jar"? Beautiful paintings featuring elongated figures against lush backdrops are frame-worthy, a perfect accent to this sensitive story about the allure of literature and it's value. You'll be glad you took money out of your "hard times jar" for this one; it belongs in the collection of anyone whose heart has beaten a little bit faster at the sight of a brand-new book. (6 and up)

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