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The Quiltmaker’s Journey by Jeff Brumbeau

December 1, 2011

Children’s Book Review of The Quiltmaker’s Journey      Lexile Level Adult Directed 840

I picked this book up at my local library because I have a few family members and friends who are simultaneously grandmothers and quilters, and I thought I would see if this was a book they would want to gift their grandkids.

The illustrations by Gail de Marcken are lovely and lifelike and possess a classic story book style. Quilters will be happy to see her illustrations of quilting patterns arrayed on the front and back endpapers. Budding naturalists will also enjoy instructive watercolors of a wide variety of birds.

The premise of the book is interesting, and I suppose can be interpreted based on one’s worldview and belief system. More on that as we go…

The main character is a wealthy girl whose parents have passed away and left her a “fantastic fortune,” so much that “her life was like that of a princess.” The girl lived in a wealthy town where all the people were prosperous. The girl thought everyone in the world was wealthy. The city ‘elders’ have taught the children that outside their walled city are many evils and dangers, and they should never venture outside the walls. To do so would mean they could never come back to the comfortable, easy life within the city.

As the young girl grew, she filled her mansion with beautiful possessions and gave lavish dinners. One day she simply ran out of things to buy. That was when she began to ask questions like: Why, when she had everything money could buy, was she still not satisfied? Her friend and seamstress tells her that simply asking this question has set her on a journey.

At this point I would like to interject my reaction. I think any American parent can see the value in the story so far. I hope my children realize that their life style in America is one of relative wealth and prosperity and the same is not the case for children in many parts of the world. I don’t want them to have a self centered ameri-centric view of the world. I also hope they can see the futility of trying to fill their lives with possessions.

However, I’m not too happy about the use of the term ‘elders’ as the source of misinformation. Especially since this misinformation is based on fears and self serving elitism. Actually, if an analogy to today’s source of consumerist propaganda is what is intended here, some symbol of pop culture, Hollywood media, or mass media marketing would be more accurate- and helpful.

Back to the storyline. As you might guess, the princess-girl dares to travel the tunnel beneath the city wall and finds herself in a foreign world where people are poor and in need of even the basics of life such as food and clothing. The fearful dragons and monsters the elders warned her about are nowhere to be found. The girl is overwhelmed by the struggles she sees and tries to return to her city, but she is lost. She must travel on, and as she does, she learns what it means to share with others and let others share with her. She is surprised to learn that “the people she’d been afraid of were kind to her. She learned that it wasn’t them, but living in need that was frightful.”

The girl travels until she can go no longer. She finds five apples, but soon finds people more in need than herself and gives the apples away. It’s then that she notices how good it feels to give and she sees “the world as it truly was. And so she knew where her happiness lay.” She must return to her city and tell them the truth.

In a somewhat defiant manner she confronts the elders of her town with what she has seen outside the city. She is told to ignore the poor and that it is their own fault they are poor. She states that she cannot be happy living in such abundance while the poor suffer. As a consequence of leaving the city she loses all she owns, and so, when she sets out to help the poor, she only has herself to give.

The one practical skill the girl has is sewing, and through a few more events she discovers that making and giving away beautiful quilts is the way she can help the poor people around her.  In a somewhat unnecessary addition to the tale, the birds and animals provide for her needs as she sews and starts on this new life.

There are some aspects of this story that I appreciate. Caring for the poor is a foundational teaching of scripture and an elitist mentality is definitely not in line with true Christianity as exemplified by Jesus. The protagonist also shows compassion, courage, and the willingness to sacrifice for others. For these things I can applaud this book. See my flags, below,  for areas of concern.

Flags:

  • While I don’t require a book to have overtly Christian ideas like mentions of Jesus or the gospel, the new-age oprahism in this book makes me hesitate to recommend it. It smacks of the “universe will bring it to you” faith.
  • The book states that the girl finally sees the world as it really is
  • The message of ‘Good deeds lead to happiness’
  • Mildly scary images of dragons and monsters
  • Spiders, mice, and bats depicted as scary
  • Use of the term ‘elders’ to represent the status-quo (?) or a source of misinformation
  • Animals personified as altruistically bringing the girl food, etc.
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