Name of Book: The Keeping Quilt
Author: Patricia Polacco
Illustrator: Patricia Polacco
Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks
Audience: 4-8, though this book would be useful for adults in a congregation that is facing significant internal changes.
Summary: Patricia, the author, tells the story of six generations of her own family since her Great Grandmother immigrated to the United States from Russia by highlighting the way a family quilt was used during times of change for the family. The “keeping quilt” was originally made from her great grandmother’s favorite dress and babushka, was decorated by all the Russian ladies in their neighborhood, and used as a tablecloth, a picnic blanket, a wedding huppa, and was wrapped tightly around all the new babies in the family for generations to follow. Giving accounts of how the quilt was used allows the author to describe many of the traditions of her family, culture, and religion, and how the traditions changed and adapted with the passage of time and the mixing of cultures. It ends with the author wrapping her own newborn daughter in the keeping quilt and looking forward to the day when her daughter will do the same.
Literary Elements at Work in the Story: The Keeping Quilt is the author’s own true family story, spanning over a century. The immediate social group is a family of Russian Jewish immigrants living in a large city in America. While you do not learn a great deal about individual characters in the story, the author gives you a clear picture of the values of a family and the community it is a part of. The plot is carried out by the continued use of the keeping quilt as generations of her family get married, have children, and pass away. Though it is not always stated how the quilt is used, the colorful quilt stands out against the black and white illustrations on each page allowing readers to visualize its central role in the life of this family.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? This book is clearly a story about a particular culture. Traditions of a Russian Jewish family fill the book and offer opportunities for readers to learn unique things about that culture. It also can present opportunities for the many cultural traditions represented in a classroom or group to be explored. Patricia Polacco does focus on a woman in each generation and gives a glimpse of what life was like for her and her role in continuing the family traditions. This book also encourages the reader to think about how traditions and cultures change and adapt over time.
Theological Conversation: Traditions are a big part of Christianity and a big part of being the Church. There are items and activities that believers hold dear and that serve to remind us of where we came from and give us comfort during times of change. Change is another big part of Christianity and the Church. Children face change within their families, at school and at church. The Keeping Quilt can be used as a tool to talk about those changes and to explore the things we can claim as our own (both personally and as a community) that will stay with us. This book would also be useful with adults who are experiencing major change within a congregation, such as new leadership or new worship styles, to encourage discussion about what constants we can lean on when change feels inevitable.
Faith Talk Questions:
1. Why do you think Patricia’s family loved the keeping quilt so much?
2. What are some things or traditions your family passes down from generation to generation?
3. What kinds of things do we do at church that Christians have done for a long time?
4. How does it make you feel to know that your family has had this item/tradition for many years or that Christians have done this same thing for thousands of years?
5. What is it that makes doing new things hard sometimes?
6. What are some new things that you were frightened to do at first but turned out to be really great or exciting?
7. What are some ways that we can remind ourselves and each other that God is with us during times of change?
Reviewed prepared by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Megan Argabrite