Module 10: Show Way


Show Way, by Jacqueline Woodson, tells the story of multiple generations of African – American women. In what was undoubtedly a rich oral tradition passed down for many years the author recounts how her own  great great great great grandmother was sold off into slavery, leaving her parents with nothing but a scrap of cloth to remember them by. This girl grows up and has her own daughter, who she teachers to sew and who is also then sold into slavery. This child, Mavis may, uses her sewing skills to create quilts called “A Show Way” which showed slaves which routes to take in their search for freedom. Successive generations are no longer enslaved, but it takes some time to move out of poverty. Regardless of the situations these women find themselves in, they all love their daughters, they “loved those babies up….” Finally in our generation, the author, Jacqueline Woodson has her own daughter who will have opportunities her forbears could have only dreamed of.

Hudson Talbott’s  illustrations are powerful, using dramatic lighting to add a sense of urgency to the scenes. Almost every page has some sort of reference to either cloth, sewing or quilting, which is are key  components to the story. One particularly poignant page has a line of African Americans, walking and protesting on top of a black quilted field containing inspirational quotes from slaves and modern day freedom fighters such as Dr. Martin Luther King.

This book is incredibly powerful even though the story told is fairly simple. The many generations of women raising their daughters, some into slavery, others into freedom, all with love and the ability to sew and quilt portrays the simple dignities that were absolutely absent from the lives of slaves in our country. While reading, I was reminded of another fight we are going through in our country, which is the rights of gay people to legally marry. Like the story of slavery, there will come a day when we look back on this time of not affording basic human rights to a group of people as barbaric and shameful. Books like “Show Way” are so important for children and adults alike to read to remind themselves that just because something is legal or accepted doesn’t make it right.

I used this book in a Book Talk entitled “Everyday Heroes” which I gave to students in Grade 6. I had slides of some of the illustrations in the book and some slides of actual people involved in the Underground Railroad, such as Harriet Tubman. I also included slides of the various types of quilt patterns and let the students guess the meaning behind the designs. After the Book Talk, students checked out the two copies of “Show Way” and others found books in the library about the Underground Railroad and the people involved.

Woodson, Jacqueline (2005)  Show Way New York: Putnam & Sons.

Review One

This affecting, poetic paper-over-board picture book stands out from the first glance. On the innovative cover, a montage of black-and-white pictures of African-American captives, arranged to resemble a quilt, act as a background to a diamond-shaped die-cut opening that frames the image of an African-American girl holding a lighted candle. Woodson’s (Coming on Home Soon) story, both historical and deeply personal, begins as a seven-year-old girl is sold into slavery and taken to a South Carolina plantation “without her ma or pa but with some muslin her ma had given her.” There she learns to “sew colored thread into stars and moons and roads that slave children grew up and followed late in the night, a piece of quilt and the true moon leading them.” Later, her daughter also stitches quilts that become “a Show Way” to guide captives escaping to freedom. The quilt becomes a metaphor not only for physical freedom but for freedom of expression. Long after emancipation, subsequent generations of women in this family stay connected through quilting, using needle and thread as a means of support and as a creative outlet. Woodson eventually reveals that this is her own lineage, and “[her] words became books that told the stories of many people’s Show Ways.” Talbott uses the quilt motif in rousing ways, piecing together quotes or news items for a pair of spreads about one generation “walking in a line to change the laws” as well as in softly quilted patterns that tie together the love of a child, a theme throughout this elegantly designed volume.

(2005).  Publishers Weekly [Review of the book Show Way]. Retreived from

Review Two

K-Gr 5-Soonie’s great-grandma was only seven when she was sold away from her parents in Virginia and sent to South Carolina. All she had was a piece of muslin from her mother, two needles, and bright red thread. She was raised by Big Mama, who cared for the plantation children and at night whispered stories of freedom. Big Mama taught great-grandma how to sew messages and directions into quilt patterns, a “Show Way.” The quilt-making tradition is passed down through successive generations of women in the family. Finally, readers meet the narrator, who grew up to become a writer and tell “the stories of many people’s Show Ways.” A poignant trail at the end of the book shows eight generations of women and the author’s baby painted against the background of quilt patterns. Show Way is a sophisticated book that introduces readers to the passage of time, family traditions, and the significance of quilts and their patterns in African-American history. The gorgeous, multimedia art includes chalk, watercolors, and muslin. An outstanding tribute, perfectly executed in terms of text, design, and illustration.-Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

School Library Journal [Review of the book Show Way]. Retreived from


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