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by Marcia Vaughan & illustrated by Larry Johnson

Pub Date: May 30th, 2001
ISBN: 1-58430-021-3
Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Great Aunt Lucy recalls the time just before the Civil War when as slaves she and her older brother, Albert, helped others escape by using the patterns in quilts to send secret messages. Albert was a blacksmith who was loaned to other plantations. After one such trip, he brought home a sack of quilts, which, he explained, held secret codes—the “monkey wrench” signaled to gather tools for the trip, “tumbling blocks” that it’s time to escape. When Albert gave the signal, ten-year-old Lucy would risk her life to help by hanging the appropriate quilt over the field fence for others to see. When Albert was badly beaten after being caught one night without a pass, he decided he had to leave, but couldn’t take Lucy because her lame leg would slow them down. Lucy survives the Civil War, working as a laundress and volunteering as a teacher and always wondering about her brother. Many years later, a letter arrives from Albert; he has married, lives in Canada, and is coming to visit. Enclosed is the piece of quilt that Lucy had given him when he left. While the basic story is powerful and touching, the vagueness of the time period is problematic. Dramatic double-paged, impressionistic paintings lack details that would clear up the confusion since they illustrate neither period dress, furnishings, nor style. Due to the mature nature of the material and one particularly disturbing spread of Albert being whipped by the overseer, this is a book for older children. (glossary, afterword) (Picture book. 9-11)