Cover image for Sweet Clara and the freedom quilt
Sweet Clara and the freedom quilt
1st Dragonfly Books ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Dragonfly Books, 1993
Physical Description:
[32] p. : col. ill. ; 27 cm.
Reading Level:
AD 680 L Lexile


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book EASY HOP 1 1
Paperback book EASY HOP 1 1

On Order



An inspiring tale of creativity and determination on the Underground Railroad from Coretta Scott King Award winner James Ransome and acclaimed author Deborah Hopkinson.

Clara, a slave and seamstress on Home Plantation, dreams of freedom--not just for herself, but for her family and friends. When she overhears a conversation about the Underground Railroad, she has a flash of inspiration. Using scraps of cloth from her work in the Big House and scraps of information gathered from other slaves, she fashions a map that the master would never even recognize. . . .

From the award-winning author-illustrator team of Deborah Hopkinson and James Ransome, this fictional tale of the Underground Railroad continues to inspire young readers 25 years after its original publication.

"Inspiring." -- The New York Times

"A triumph of the human spirit." -- Publishers Weekly , starred review

Author Notes

Deborah Hopkinson has written many acclaimed picture books, including A Letter to My Teacher ; Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building , a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book; and Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale , an ALA-ALSC Notable Children's Book. She lives in Oregon with her family. Visit her at

James Ransome is the illustrator of many award-winning titles for children, including The Creation by James Weldon Johnson, which won a Coretta Scott King Award for illustration, and Let My People Go: Bible Stories Told by a Freeman of Color by Patricia and Fredrick McKissack, winner of an NAACP Image Award. His other titles include This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson, Young Pelé: Soccer's First Star by Lesa Cline-Ransome, and Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building by Deborah Hopkinson. He lives in New York. Visit him at

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

K-Gr 3-- Clara, a young slave, works as a seamstress and dreams of freedom. Overhearing drovers talk of escaping North enables her to make a patchwork map of the area. When she escapes, she leaves the quilt behind to guide others. Based on a true event, this is a well-written picture book. Ransome's oil paintings, however, are perhaps too smooth and rich for the story they tell. The world depicted is too bright, open, and clean. For example, in the first scene Clara has been put to work in the cotton fields. Supposedly too frail to last long at such work, she is pictured as a slim, serious, yet sturdy girl. The bright yellow sky and the charming smile of the boy with her belie the realities of the back-breaking work. In another scene, young Jack, who has been brought back the day before from running away, looks solemn, but not distressed, and is wearing what appears to be a freshly ironed white shirt. Again, the image distances viewers from the realities of the situation. Clara's escape to Canada, too, is marvelously easy, although she does say, ``But not all are as lucky as we were, and most never can come.'' It is not easy to present the horrors of slavery to young children; thus, even though Ransome's illustrations, and to some extent the text, err on the side of caution, this is an inspiring story worth inclusion in most collections. --Karen James, Louisville Free Public Library, KY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

A compelling story about an African American girl's escape from slavery on a Southern plantation brings power and substance to this noteworthy picture book. When the rigors of cotton-field labor overwhelm Clara, a kindly woman she calls Aunt Rachel trains the girl to be a seamstress in the main house. Like most slaves, Clara longs for freedom and, in her case, yearns to be reunited with her mother. Becoming proficient in her sewing, she begins in her off hours to put together a map-quilt, stitching in any information she can glean from overheard conversations about an escape route to Canada. Clara is indeed reunited with her mother (``her eyes just like I remembered, her arms strong around me'') in a chronicle made all the more touching for being rooted in fact. (The concluding flashback, a denouement explaining how the quilt may help others only slightly interrupts the fluid narrative line.) Ransome's ( Aunt Flossie's Hats . . . And Crab Cakes Later ) paintings here are among his finest: more lifelike and accessible than in some earlier books, the full-page, borderless oils exude an extraordinary warmth and humanity that lend credibility to the story. Himself a descendent of plantation slaves, the artist brings both dignity and realism to his work. This first-rate book is a triumph of the heart. Ages 5-10. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

Clara, a slave in the Big House on Home Plantation, begins to save scraps of colored cloth for a quilt that becomes a map depicting the route of the Underground Railroad and the way north to Canada and freedom. Clara eventually escapes herself by the path that has by now been stiched into her memory, leaving the quilt behind as a guide for others. The smooth, optimistic, first-person vernacular of the story is ably accompanied by Ransome's brightly colored, full-page paintings. From HORN BOOK 1993, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

When Sweet Clara, not yet 12, is taken from her mother and sent from North Farm to Home Plantation as a field hand, she's put in the care of ``Aunt Rachel,'' not ``my for-real blood aunt, but she did her best.'' Fearing for Clara's health, Rachel teaches her to sew and is lucky enough to get her a place in the Big House, where Clara listens, learns, and saves scraps that she eventually pieces into a map-quilt showing the way to the Ohio and freedom. The troubles Clara escapes are so muted here that her accomplishment seems almost too easy; in a straightforward narrative flavored with dialect, she mentions that recaptured slaves might be beaten and describes her grief at leaving her mother, but Ransome's moving depiction of the hug when the two are reunited on the way north is a more poignant clue to the pain of their separation. What's emphasized are Clara's resolve and creativity and the accomplishment of winning her freedom; in the same vein, Ransome depicts the characters as sturdy, purposeful, and mutually supportive and sets them in colorful landscapes eloquently proclaiming the earth's beauty. A well-told, handsomely illustrated story that effectively dramatizes young Clara's perseverance and courage. (Young Reader/Picture book. 5- 10) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Gr. 3-5. In this picture book for older readers, Clara is a slave in the Big House, a seamstress for the woman who "owns" her. Separated from her mother and desperately unhappy, Clara plans her escape. Piece by piece, stitch by stitch, she maps out the route to Canada and freedom on a brightly colored quilt. No one speaks of the quilt outright, although every now and then someone gives a hint about the route: "That swamp next to Home Plantation is a nasty place. But listen up, Clara, and I'll tell you how I thread my way in and out of there as smooth as yo' needle in that cloth." When the quilt is done, Clara heads for her mother, the Underground Railroad, and freedom, leaving the quilt to lead those who would follow. Ransome's paintings reflect an affecting text, and the faces of Clara and her fellows are well drawn and expressive. The story backtracks slightly as it nears conclusion, interrupting the strength of the narrative flow, but Clara is a sympathetic and determined character not easily forgotten (Reviewed Apr. 15, 1993)0679823115Janice Del Negro