The Book That Makes Me Cry

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We started a new feature over at the Parking Lot Confessional called “From The Stacks”. These are reviews of books that are on our shelves or in our To Be Read stacks — books that aren’t necessarily new or well known, but books we want to shout about. Below is my cross-post from today’s “From The Stacks”.

Almost every night when I ask my daughter what book we’re reading before bedtime, she says, “The one.”

“Which one?”

“You know. The one that makes you cry.”

She means Show Way, by Jacqueline Woodson.

From Jacqueline’s website: “This is the first time I’ve written a book based on some of my own family history. ‘Show Ways’, or quilts, once served as secret maps for freedom-seeking slaves. This is the story of seven generations of girls and women who were quilters and artists and freedom fighters.”

I bought this picture book in January, after hearing Jacqueline read it during her keynote address at the SCBWI Annual Winter Conference in New York. Hearing her read it blew me away. I knew I had to have this book to read to my kids.

Now I own it, and my kids love it, and I can’t read it without having to fight back tears. Most nights I just give in and cry my way through it, my voice pinched and my kids gawking at me.

Show Way is a powerful message wrapped in gorgeous illustrations. It walks the reader through the enormity of slavery, emancipation, desegregation and civil rights, giving each epoch a name and face by linking the events to the author’s own ancestry.

What I find so striking about this book is how the words and illustrations weave together to tie the personal story to history. For example, at one point the text speaks of twin girls gathering their courage to go to school. Combined with the illustrations, the reader understands the girls are facing their first day of going to a desegregated school. From a writing standpoint, this is a powerful reminder of the impact both words and illustrations have on the reader. From a parental standpoint, it provides page after page of history to teach my kids.

I didn’t realize until I went to find the link at Amazon that there is some controversy over whether or not slaves actually used quilts as road maps to freedom. Honestly — in the context of this book — I don’t care. The magic of good writing is drawing the reader into the story world and convincing us it’s real.

Show Way does more than convince the reader’s head, it engages the reader’s heart. Especially the heart of this writer-mom.

Thank you, Jacqueline, for writing Show Way. It’s an honor to read it to my children.


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