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Book Review: The Patchwork Path


Reading Level

Ages 4-8

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Underground Railroad
Civil War

This book is an excellent example of how a story can be crafted to appeal to children and adults alike. It is the story of a slave girl and her father who follow a secret code woven in a patchwork quilt and travel along the Underground Railroad to safety in Canada.

Based on true events, the book recounts the vivid terror and horrible life of enslaved Americans during the first half of the 19th Century. They would risk their lives to escape from the horrid conditions on plantations and other slave-heavy locations. And following clues like those found on the quilt in this story is exactly one of the ways for escaping to a better life.

The girl and her father in this story find freedom at last. In this way, the book has a happy ending. But they leave behind a sister (enslaved elsewhere) and a mother (who died in slavery), both of whom are with them all along the journey to freedom. So many runaway slaves did not find a happy ending, however. The dangers of that are hinted at in this book but not expounded on in great detail (which is just as well, for younger readers).

The illustrations are vivid and definitely put you the reader in mind of the times being discussed. Emotions on the characters' faces come through in the pictures drawn of them.

Perhaps the most impressive element of the book is the secret code itself. The author presents the entire code all at once, when the girl's mother finishes the quilt and explains it to her. But on the journey to freedom, the girl and her father experience the elements of the code one or sometimes two at a time. This has the effect of enabling the reader to follow along slowly, to see the genius of the code unfold.

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