North Street Book Prize, first place award in the Children's Picture Book category, Winning Writers 2019.
The judges and screeners were in agreement about loving Mama's Needle, Jeanette W. Stickel's excellent children's book about a young African-American boy whose mother is an artistically gifted quilter. She uses her needle not only to patch clothes but to create a beautiful quilt for his bed, a project that connects perfectly to the book's theme of dreaming.
Annie Keithline wrote this after screening the book:
"Boy muses about his mother's constant sewing. This entry [is] the perfect marriage of the illustrations, which look cut out and quilted together, and the prose, which is like a thin thread of words tying them together. The whole effort evokes homespun so completely that although the elements look a bit rough, it only enhances the charm, authenticity, and deliberateness of the message. What I like most about it is the message of thrift, which can never be delivered too often to our culture of disposability."
Jendi appreciated the dimensions of history, quilting as an African-American women's traditional art form, and a way to make beauty out of necessity.
I agree with both these assessments. I love the book's focus on the needle and the way it symbolized joy and imagination, power and empathy, creativity and thrift. Consider these lines from the book, in which the boy is describing his dream: "That needle caught a bird flying by, but it didn't hurt it" and "it speared some leaves shivering in a tree, and rays from the sun." These poetic words meld beautifully with the colorful drawings of fabric and scraps.
Some minor concerns: A few pages featured white print on a blue background. White print is very hard on anyone with less-than-perfect eyes (consider a grandparent reading this book aloud) and impossible to see in low-light situations such as reading a child a bedtime story.
I would have liked the boy and his sister to have names, and to have seen more of their faces and expressions. The characters were often shown with their backs to the viewers, making it pretty much impossible for a child reader to discern their emotions. Despite these issues, we are proud to recommend this book as a wonderful addition to a child's collection.
We congratulate writer and illustrator Jeanette W. Stickel and illustrator Helen S. Worcester on this excellent joint effort.