Notes from a Children's Librarian: Texts on Textiles

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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Exploring the art of sewing? Here are some tales to comfort and inspire.

Book Cover Cloth Lullaby

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois, by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, follows the life of the sculpture artist who grew up restoring old tapestries with her mother. Textured fabrics come to life through Arsenault’s illustrations alongside Novesky’s beautiful language. Louise’s mother “loved to work in the warm sun, her needle rising and falling beside the lilting river, perfect, delicate spiderwebs glinting with caught drops of water above her.” Louise learned about warp and weft, spindles and needles, and how to dye wool from plants. The image of the spider takes on symbolic meaning throughout, i.e. “Her mother, like a spider whose web is torn, didn’t get angry, she just got on with the fixing of it.” After her beloved mother died, Louise harnessed her grief—cutting up bed linens, handkerchiefs, dresses, and wedding napkins for sculptures and cloth books.

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In A Pattern for Pepper, by Julie Kraulis, Pepper wants to make the perfect dress for tea with her grandma. Mr. Taylor (the tailor) shows her many different types of material, explaining the origin of each. From herringbone to seersucker (a Persian word, meaning milk and sugar—bumpy and smooth), to ikat to pinstripe to paisley. This one could be a mentor text for procedural writing, in that Pepper helps Mr. Taylor measure, sketch and make a pattern before cutting, pinning and sewing.

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Mr. Frank, by Irene Luxbacher, also features a tailor. He creates the final costume of his career, recalling the changing decades—from military uniforms to stylish suits, and mini-skirts to patched jeans. A surprise ending shows the tailor creating his most important piece yet.

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Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad, is a portrait of the life of an artist, including her doubts, failures and rejections. This first-person narrative starts in Rome with Elsa being called “Bruta” as a child. Her lifelong quest for beauty begins with her planting seeds in her ears, nose and mouth, waiting for them to bloom. Elsa ends up in Paris with a passion for dressmaking and a community of artists (including Salvador Dali and Picasso.) Her daring, original designs include a coat with many drawers and a shoe-hat.

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In Something From Nothing, by Phoebe Gilman, Joseph’s grandfather makes him a blanket when he is born. When Joseph outgrows it, his grandfather makes the blanket into a jacket. Wonderful alliterative language with repeating refrains (“scissors went snip snip snip and his needle flew in and out”) are the backbone of this story. His grandfather repurposes the material, from tie to handkerchief to button, until, "Even your grandfather can’t make something from nothing.” And with that, it finally becomes a story.

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For younger readers, Fox and Raccoon, by Lesley Anne Green, is a simple tale of friendship but the illustrations are tiny felt sculptures sewn by Green. Raccoon wants to play with Fox but Fox is too busy. Raccoon runs errands, helping Fox out, so Fox can play, but there seems to be an endless number of tasks to be done. Until finally it comes clear….the mailing of invitations, picking up fruit, etc. have all been to organize a surprise party for Raccoon. The illustrations may inspire the making of felt animal creations, with help from Green’s instructive online video.

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Malaika’s Costume by Nadia L. Hohn, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher, shows the transformative power of sewing. Malaika is sad because it’s carnival time for the first time with her mother far away in Canada. Grandma offers Malaika a costume from her own childhood. Malaika rebels against the idea until her neighbour inspires her with some “throwaway” material. Malaika and her grandmother sew a headpiece and wings onto the old costume, creating a peacock for carnival, full of cultural pride.

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On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.

June 15, 2020
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