The Reading Quilt

The whole world opened to me when I learned to read.”

              -Mary McLeod Bethune, educator

Artist Unknown

It started with my first born, Jessalyn, wrapped papoose-style in her cotton candy pink quilt, and tucked in my elbow. With my other hand, I held a magazine with lots of pictures and slowly turned the pages one by one. I talked to her about everything my heart longed to express. Of course, at two or three months old, this cuddle time meant more to me than to her, but hopefully the sound of my voice, the warmth of my body, and the bright pictures created a comforting bond between mother and baby. As Emilie Buchwald states, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”

As Jessalyn grew, we graduated to board books. Cardboard with pictures that sticky fingers touched, drool slid down, and served as a teething ring when left in the crib. Again, the language, the intonation of the words, the imitation of the word, and the coziness continued. However, as we cuddled on the couch, a lap quilt, stitched in love by my sister-in-law, Lois, kept our legs toasty. Jessalyn focused on the pages, and anticipated certain repeated phrases to which she joined in on the refrains. The whole Little Red Hen plot became a duet. The rhythm and melody of language became part of Jessalyn’s verbal output. She mimicked my undulating or sing-song tones as I tried to create emotion in my reading. As we giggled at favorite phrases, our fingers slid along the patches of corduroy, tweed, satin and hand woven fibers on Lois’ quilt.

The best time of Jessalyn’s childhood occurred when I spent each Saturday at the local library as the preschool story teller. When I returned in late evening, my arms ached under the weight of the pile of picture books: some new authors, some classic preschool stories. After supper, we slipped under a scrappy quilt made by another sister-in-law, Wanda, who used pieces of fabric from decades of sewing projects in her creation.  Cuddled together, we shared the joy and amazement of each illustration and text. The whole pile. Every night before bed. Neither of us tired of the routine as we snuggled under the patchwork comforter.

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There were times when Jessalyn wanted a particular book to be re-read every night. This perseverance took me back to when I was a child. I almost drove my mother to distraction when she pressed her hand stitched feed sack quilt around me each night. I insisted that she read Kerry the Fire Engine Dog over and over and over. This true account of a dog saving a family of puppies from roaring flames brought comfort to my four-year-old soul as I grieved the death of my father. Over and over. The warm emotions from that story as I lay in the softness of my mother’s work of love still resonate.

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Times changed. A sister and brother joined the group. Jessalyn attended school and learned to read books by herself. She chuckled over the humor of Amelia Bedelia. But, Jessalyn always had time to read to me, as we lounged on the couch with mended quilts wrapped cocoon style around us. As my daughter read aloud, it became apparent how much creativity, imagination and understanding of the world she had acquired. Teachers remind parents: “A child who reads will become an adult who thinks.”

Jessalyn grew up with her nose in a book as she lay under thrift store quilts on her bed illuminated by insufficient lighting on the pages. Still does.  And so do her four children. My grandchildren amaze me with their vocabulary, knowledge of the world, and empathy for disadvantaged people. Much of their character was formed by the ideas from the plot lines on the pages of books while hand-made quilts warmed their bodies and cuddled their souls.

Quilts and books. A cozy combination. Literary genius.

“It is not enough to simply teach children to read: we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imagination- something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.”

                                                            – Katherine Patterson

Honey for a Child's HeartGladys Hunt’s book Honey for a Child’s Heart gives a parent a lot of advice on how to select memorable books for all levels and ages of readers.






Cleo’s book, Grandpa’s Remembering Book, is also another great book to read with your children.

One Comment:

  1. Well said. There is an unspoken emotional element in the act of combining books and quilts that does, indeed, deepen the experience.

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