Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Martha Ann's Quilt For Queen Victoria

Martha Ann's Quilt For Queen Victoria by Kyra E. Hicks, illustrated by Lee Edward Fodi. Copy donated by author.

The Plot: This is the true story of Martha Ann Erskine Ricks. She was born a slave in 1817; her father, George, was free and saved until he was able to buy his family's freedom in 1830 -- his wife, Grandma, Martha Ann, and Martha Ann's siblings, Jane, Mary, Wallace, Weir, Hopkins and Sarah.

The family then moved to Liberia with the assistance of the American Colonization Society. Once there, Martha Ann is impressed by how the British Navy patrols the coast to stop slave traders from kidnapping people, and decides she wants to thank Queen Victoria in person.

The Good: This non fiction picture book about Martha Ann is chock full of the real life details that make history interesting and bring it to life. For example, it cost Martha Ann's father $2,400 to buy his family. (According to the Measuring Worth site, this would be at least $52,000 today.)

Martha Ann's life was not easy; once in Liberia, illness killed her entire family except for Martha Ann, Wallace, and Hopkins. Martha and her first husband survived attacks on the mission where they lived.

But, Martha Ann had a dream: Meet the Queen. She also decided that she could not meet the Queen empty handed, so she designed and made a quilt for the Queen. Does Martha's dream come true? Of course.

I liked the multiple layers in the book. It includes a unique history that is not often taught, about pre Civil War life for African Americans in the United States; purchasing freedom; and then what happened after freedom was bought. Here, the family moved to Africa and while there were benefits -- freedom, education for the children -- the fear of slavery remained (which was why the ships patrolled the coast), as well as dangers from disease and conflicts within Liberia. It's a fascinating look at life in 19th century Africa.

But this is also about dreams: Martha had a dream that many knew about; Hicks includes a child's jump rope song: "Auntie Martha gonna see the Queen, stitching a quilt of coffee beans, how many stitches will it take? Two-four-six-eight!" Martha makes her quilt, saves her money; but also is introduced to the wife of the first president of Liberia. Martha's dream comes true.

And this is also about family and tradition. Hicks has Martha saving her money in the same red tin box that the family uses when saving money to buy their freedom; Martha's quilting skills are learned from her mother.

The illustrations: the endpapers reflect the design of the Coffee Tree quilt that Martha designed for Queen Victoria. Sample pages are at the illustrator's website.

Included in the links below are links to photos of the real Martha Erskine Ricks; as well as photos of what may be the quilt Martha made. The author's website includes information about Martha Ann Ricks, and also information on African American quilting, fabrics and old quilt patterns.

Links: a photo of Martha Ricks, at the time she met with Queen Victoria.
October 2002 article from the Presbyterian Voice about Martha Ricks' visit to the Queen.
More information on Martha Ricks, including a photo of the quilt.
Detailed essay on Martha Ricks by Kyra Hicks.
The Edge of the Forest Review. (also at Book Buds.)

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