Fantastic Fiction for Kids – Sewing

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This week’s Fantastic Fiction for Kids has got me very excited! Ever since I received this wonderful list from Andi at Laundry on the Line I’ve had to sit on my hands to prevent me from going and buying every single book she mentions!

Andi is an elementary school teacher who currently teaches an energetic and creative group of 6 and 7-year olds. She lives in a small town on the East Coast of Canada where she spends her free time trying to capture the lost arts of growing and preserving food, cooking from scratch, and sewing and quilting for the household, as well as taking time to curl up with a good book! So now for her books and comments…
something_from_nothing_frontcoverSomething from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman

This is definitely one of my all-time favourite books on the sewing theme. It is the story of Joseph, whose Grandfather made him a blanket when he was young, “to keep him warm and cosy and chase away bad dreams.” Joseph brings his blanket everywhere until it is worn and his mother threatens to throw it out. Joseph takes it to Grandpa to fix it and Grandpa turns it into a “wonderful jacket.” And so the story goes, each time Joseph wears his Grandfather’s creation until his mother threatens to throw it out and then Grandpa turns it into a new, but smaller, item. The illustrations in the book are phenomenal and my 6 and 7 year-old students especially love the second story told by the mice in each illustration, which grab Grandpa’s scraps and turn them into items for their family, page by page. The language is repetitive and it is easy for children to join in the telling. It’s a wonderful way to share with children the joy of turning something old and worn into something new and beautiful.

joseph_overcoat_frontcover Joseph had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback

This book actually tells the same Jewish folk tale as Something from Nothing but it is a story worth telling twice! The story here is much simpler, the illustrations brighter, livelier, and full of texture. On each page there is a window cut out, the size and shape of Joseph’s next sewing project. When the page is turned, it fits over that favourite item and turns it into something new. For those who play instruments or sing, the words and music for the song behind the story are included in the back. I read this one often when I taught younger students (4 and 5 year olds) as they loved the “magic windows” and guessing what Joseph would make next.

sam_johnson_frontcover Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt by Lisa Campbell Ernst

For the first several years that I was a teacher I made a quilt with my class every year. Once in a while I would come across a boy who thought sewing and making quilts was “just for girls.” This book was the answer. In the book, set in the days of bonnets and quilting bees, one man decides he wants to join the ladies quilting guild. After being turned down, he rallies the men to create their own quilting guild and thus begins a battle for the best quilt at the county fair. Children of all ages enjoy this book and I particularly like the peaceful ending. Best of all, it always convinced the boys that men could be quilters too! Making quilts is a great activity for children of all ages. When I was teaching 3-year-olds, I let them use fabric paints to create their quilt blocks, and one class even dyed their own fabric using non-toxic egg-dye at Easter time. I taught older children to use the sewing machine (the smallest ones on my knee!) and some of them even did some hand embroidery on their quilts. The finished product was always a wonderful keepsake!

One of the quilts made by Andi and her class
One of the quilts made by Andi and her class
pockets_frontcoverPockets by Jennifer Armstrong

This is a beautiful, fanciful story about a seamstress who enters a dull, plain town and changes their world with her sewing. She sews the utilitarian clothes they ask her to, but lines their pockets with images that dreams are made of, causing the townspeople to see visions of far-off seas and colourful places. It is a slightly strange tale, heavy with language, and yet I can’t help being swept into the story anyway. It is well illustrated, with the colour being bolder and brighter as the story unfolds. In my classroom we put our hands deep in our pockets and pretended that we were in each far-off place and then drew pictures of our travels. If I were sewing clothes for children who had read this book I imagine I would want to sew them with beautiful images in the pockets, so they could be carried away by their imaginations whenever the mood strikes.

bruno_the_tailor_frontcoverBruno the Tailor by Lars Klinting

This sweet little book follows Bruno the beaver as he creates himself a new apron. Although simple, it follows the process of sewing an item from start to finish including finding the right fabric, using the right tools, cutting out a pattern, sewing and hemming. I especially love the look on Bruno’s face when he discovers that he has made his apron too long! A pattern and instructions for making Bruno’s apron are included in the back of the book.

Thanks, Andi, for these lovely suggestions!

I mentioned several sewing related kids’ projects and pieces of music when I reviewed Halibut Jackson (in case you don’t click through then you should at least have a listen to the very wonderful Sewing Machine Song by TR Kelley – an utterly delightful, moving ballad about the history of a singer sewing machine!), but if you want more sewing projects that kids can enjoy take a look at Kids Sewing Projects and at Sewing School, a really lovely collaborative blog written by 2 friends who enjoy teaching children how to sew.

If you’d like to find out more about Phoebe Gilman (author and llustrator of Something from Nothing) you could check out her website. Here too are Simms Taback’s website and Jennifer Armstrong’s site.

Finally, this post from Planet Esme reviews a couple more books about sewing/quilting that sound just lovely, and the January Picture Book of the Month over at is a quilting book. Now it’s your turn – what books would you recommend which have a sewing theme?

9 Responses

  1. TR Kelley

    Thanks so much for the mention of my “Sewing Machine Song” in this wonderful column. It’s a song that I have found that kids enjoy, especially after seeing and sewing on an actual treadle machine. I come from a long line of tailors and haberdashers, and worked for the Singer Sewing Machine Company several decades ago. I’ve always liked sewing and textiles, but during my time with Singer, I also developed a great appreciation for the practical, mechanical and social aspects of the sewing machine, the first home appliance designed to save time and energy for WOMEN!!!! 🙂
    Thanks again! When I have grandkids, I’ll know which books to get!

    • Zoe

      Wow! It’s lovely to have you stop by. Very interesting to find out your have a background in needles and thread! Certainly the lyrics in your Sewing Machine Song have always come across as very genuine and now I know why! Right, off to put it on the CD player straight away 🙂

  2. Kathy Martin

    I use Joseph Had a Little Overcoat and Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt in my quilt unit with first graders. The kids color quilt squares and we make class quilts that hang on our walls in the Media Center.

    I also use A Far-Fetched Story by Karin Cates and Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson in the unit.

  3. Emi

    What a pleasant surprise to have found this list!My daughter is having a sewing birthday party and I am very excited about these books.One that I would definitely recommend is ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’ by your own Beatrix Potter.I think it has its own Museum.
    Sewing is a very recurrent activity in our household.We love it!Thanks again and I will definitely be visiting your blog from now on!
    Any ideas for the party will be welcome!

    • Zoe

      Hi Emi,

      Here are some more sewing themed picture books:

      Elliot’s emergency by Andrea Beck
      Abbie in stitches by Cynthia Cotten
      The Quilting Bee by Gail Gibbons
      Betsy Ross and the silver thimble by Stephanie Green
      My best friend Bear by Tony Johnston
      Stormy’s hat by Eric Kimmel
      The bone talker by Shelly Leedahl
      The Hinky pink by Megan mcDonald
      The seasons sewn by Ann Whitford Paul
      The Blizzard’s robe by Robert Sabuda
      The whispering cloth by Pegi Shea
      The princess gown by Linda strauss
      My forever dress by Harried Ziefert

      We always read some stories at our kids parties – just before sitting down for food – and maybe there’ll be something in this list that will be just right for you! Hope you and your daughter have a wonderful party.

  4. Emi

    Hello Zoe,

    Thank you for the wishes and the wonderful list!My daughter is turning 10 but I am sure I will be able to use some of these titles.
    I also liked the idea of reading before sitting down for food.

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