Show Way

11May10

By Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Hudson Talbott

On the front cover, we see a dark background compiled of various photographs of African Americans from the times of slavery. Including among these images is are snippets of text referring to the movement to abolition slavery. There’s a diamond shaped cut out in the middle of the cover that reveals a young African American girl holding up a candle, and what appears to be a basket of colorful fabric scraps. As we begin reading the story, we soon learn that this is the story of Soonie’s grandmother, who is this little girl featured on the cover.

Woodson’s writing in Show Way uses fragmented sentences to sound more like informal speech, as if they reader is hearing this story around a fire, just like Big Mama tells all the slave children stories: “And the children leaned in. And listened real hard.” The story-line is connected and brought full-circle by “seven’s”:  Soonie’s great-grandma was sold when she was seven years old, and her own daughter Mathis May (Soonie’s grandmother) is also sold when she is seven. Although taken from their families, both little girl’s took with them a skill for sewing and their knowledge of creating show ways. Years later, a seven year old Soonie is depicted who is still sewing show ways in the way their family has passed down the tradition, although they “didn’t much need that secret trail to the North anymore.”  Soonie’s own daughter Georgiana learns to read early and proficiently, which is presumably a first for the women in this family. Georgiana then grows u and has daughters of her own, who are described at age seven as growing up during the fight against segregation. One of these daughters, Ann, is learned to be the author Woodson’s own mother. The tale ends with Woodson starting the story over to her own daughter, showing how the memory and history of these brave woman is preserved in this very story as well as through the show way quilts.

This entire picture book is filled with full-bleed double-spread illustrations. The illustrative approach by Hudson Talbott is a mixed media that uses a combination of watercolors and actual objects- typically fabrics. On one spread, Talbott includes an actual needle, and thread scanned and superimposed ontop of the water color. This approach compliments the story’s main subject of a type of quilt called a “show way” that the slaves used to create secret maps to freedom. Like quilts, the illustrations have a very scrap-like feel. Some of the spreads are even actually designed to look like quilt patches. Other scenes are more dream-like, while still others are more representational of the events. Turning the page is exciting for the reader because each page-turn promises a new look and visually captivating scene.

The incorporation of actual photographs juxtaposed with the painted depictions of people balances two literacy qualities of this piece. The former supports its characterization as a work of historical fiction based on actual events, people, and times in American history, and the latter reminds us that this story is being told to us as it has been passed down many generations through the oral storytelling tradition.

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