Thursday, August 6, 2015

Show Way
by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Hudson Talbott

Awards: Newbery Honor Book 2006, Booklist Editor’s Choice, BookLinks Lasting Connections

As I was reading Show Way  for the very first time, I found myself thinking, ‘Wow—what an incredibly powerful historical fiction this is!”.  

Then I got to the end of the story and thought, “Whoa—this is really about the real women in Jackie Woodson’s life/family, including Jackie—is this an autobiography?—not really. 

But it’s not fiction if it is about the real women in her family—hmmmm….

A family tribute? A woman’s narrative?  A family narrative???

Are those actually considered genres??? 
Could they be genres if I wanted them to be?? Well, maybe!”

Show Way  is a story whose lyrical vernacular kept me spellbound as it wove it’s way through the tapestry of a family’s (Jackie Woodson’s) poignant, yet inspiring history. It completely captured my imagination as I followed the story of the strength and courage of these women and their, sometimes quiet, yet immensely important contributions to their families, friends and communities.

So back to that genre issue—where could Show Way fit as a mentor text for reading or writing workshop? It’s obviously a hybrid genre which, according to my handy-dandy Fountas and Pinnell’s Genre Quick Guide flipbook: “Hybrid texts are texts that include at least one nonfiction genre and at least one fiction genre, blended in a coherent whole.”  It seems to me that this beautiful book is a combination of a historical fiction and a narrative non-fiction.

And—I think it is okay—more than okay—wonderful, really—that every single book that we read to our students doesn’t fit into a ‘genre box’.  It is a very good thing to expose our students to this type of  sophisticated writing  and appreciate it for the contribution to the writing world that it is.

I have no doubt that the exquisite writing of Jacqueline Woodson will inspire many of the writers sitting in your class.  For that simple, yet significant reason, this book should absolutely be used as a mentor text.

Book Talk
The story begins with readers meeting Soonie’s great-grandmother as she is being sold as a slave at seven years old and being separated from her family.  She is able to take with her is some muslin material, a needle and some thread.  The muslin,needle and thread turn out to be bridge, connection and bond to the future generations of women in the young girl’s family.

She was raised by Big Mama, a woman on the plantation who would tell the slave children stories about children that would/could somehow get themselves free. Big Mama also taught the children to sew quilt patches with stars,moons,roads,rivers and trees that would eventually help to lead escaped slaves to the path of freedom. Both of these activities greatly influenced the women in the family.

Soonie’s great grandmother grew up, married, had a daughter whom she taught to sew moons, stars, roads, rivers and trees onto the quilts. The pattern is then set for the generations of the women in this family. Soon readers learn that the quilts are called “Show Way” quilts because indeed they show people the way to freedom. 

Some favorite lines: 
"Sewed so fine, she was making clothes for everyone in the big house
and slaves, too.
And at night, she sewed stars and moons and roads--
tiny patch pieces of stars and moons and roads.
Slaves whispered what no one was allowed to say:
That Mathis know how to make...
...a Show Way.

For several generations, the women in the family continue to sew quilts that to lead others on better paths and journeys to improve their lives.  When the family is finally freed, the women continue to sew quilts and this time, they sell them to make a living.  They also hold fast to the stories about the quilts, making sure that rich history lives on.

Some other favorite lines:
"When Soonie was seven, she was tall and straight-bones like her mama,
took in wash with her mama. Sewed stars on patch pieces. 
Sewed stars and moons and roads; sewed fields and rivers and trees.
Patched the pieces together for her mama to sell come market day.
Called those quilts 'Trail to the North'. Called the quilts 'Show Way'.
Didn't much need that secret trail to the North anymore, 
but started living well off the money those quilts brought in".

Fast forward through many generations to th late 1950s, when twin girls are born into the family.  Instead of making quilts to help others journey, they help march on the Freedom Lines that took place during the 1960s. They were scared, but their grandmother had sewn patches of the family’s quilts into their dresses to give them strength and courage, and of course, that works.

Finally,the author,Jacqueline Woodson, is born. One of the twins is her mother—the twin who wrote poems (of course!)  Jackie grew up, had her own daughter and passes on the love, creativity and tenacity that has embraced the women of their family for generations.

Suggest Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Hybrid Text (historical fiction and narrative non-fiction)
Reading Workshop strategies: Critiquing, Inferring, Analyzing, Synthesizing, Questioning
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Narrative Writing, Personal Narrative, Strong lead, Strong female, Elaboration
Curricular Themes: US /Civil War History, Black History Month, Family roots/family tree/ family contributions, We Need Diverse Books

Jacqueline Woodson's website:
Bio on Hudson Talbott:

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