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Stitch by Stitch to California!

by Susan Lowell & illustrated by Stacey Dressen-McQueen

Age Range: 7 - 9

Pub Date: April 7th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-374-38223-0
Publisher: Melanie Kroupa/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Inspired by an actual quilt and armloads of memoirs, this account of an 1859 journey along the Santa Fe Trail bubbles over with verbal and visual vim. “I’m sewing to California!” proclaims young Lily Rose, needle in hand, as she and her Grandma make records on cloth about the mountains, storms, flora and fauna, a new baby and other milestones of their “BO-dacious” wagon trip. The trail also brings encounters with friendly groups of Apache and Pima. With a look and exuberance reminiscent of Patricia Polacco’s art, Dressen-McQueen’s painted scenes feature fine fabric patterns and stitchery, along with stylized figures high-stepping, nestling cozily together and eventually gathering around in a festive bee beneath California oranges to assemble the pieces of Lily Rose’s quilt. The “elephant” of the title refers to a 19th-century catchphrase about having, as Lowell puts it, “the thrill, or shock, of a lifetime,” and is also used (in a far more somber sense) in Pat Hughes’s Seeing the Elephant: A Story of the Civil War (2007), illustrated by Ken Stark. This iteration of the popular “wagons-west” theme kicks the energy level up a notch above the usual. (afterword, resource list) (Picture book. 7-9)