A mysterious quiltmaker. A greedy king. Kindly animals. Lavish gifts. Soldiers in pajamas. Jeff Brumbeau’s enchanting story, The Quiltmaker’s Gift, has all that and more.
The Quiltmaker’s Magic
The Quiltmaker’s Gift is a fairy tale of sorts. It begins with the words, “There was once a quiltmaker who kept a house in the blue misty mountains up high.” The quiltmaker is old — old like Tom Bombadil is old, ageless like the mountains themselves. She seems to be magical, but she doesn’t have a magic wand. She doesn’t cast magic spells. Her magic is in the work of her hands and her love for the poor.
The king, on the other hand, has no love for the poor. He loves nothing, and wants everything. He thinks that, somehow, having more stuff will make him happy. So he fills his palace with more and more stuff, but his heart remains empty and bare.
When he hears of the quiltmaker and her magical quilts, he thinks that perhaps one of her quilts will be the thing that finally makes him happy. But she gives her quilts only to the poor. Even the threat of death will not induce her to give the king a quilt. Not now. Not yet.
But she offers him a way to get the quilt, and in accepting her offer, he falls under the spell of her magic. This magic has the power to change, not just the king, but the world.
The Book’s Magic
For many years now, the style in children’s picture books has tended towards small, spare, even sparse. Thirty-two pages, no more than a few sentences on each page. A story short enough to be read to a child by a busy parent in five minutes or less and simple enough to be completely grasped by a young child in a single sitting. A book with simple, cartoon-like drawings and lots of white space.
And there’s a place for picture books that fit that model. But there’s still a place for the other approach, for longer books with more words, for richly layered stories with nuances that reveal themselves with multiple readings, for lavish illustrations that fill the pages and the imaginations of those who spend time with them.
The Quiltmaker’s Gift is the second type of book. The story is longer than most newer picture books, and every word adds to the magic. And the illustrations! Gail de Marcken’s illustrations are lavish beyond words. The art fills every page, spills over to the end pages, even finds its way to the reverse side of the dust jacket.
And pay attention to the quilt patterns on the end pages. You’ll see them on the pages of the story, where you might expect to see a large embellished capital letter. They’re pretty. And if you know the name of the block, it tells you something about what’s going on in the story.
Children too young to listen to all of the story will love looking at the pictures, finding the friendly bear, or the waltzing blue cats, or the quiltmaker’s own cat, who goes with her everywhere. They’ll love the toys, the king’s crown (and the soldier standing ready to catch it when it falls!), the tiny sparrows wearing tiny purple jackets. And the quilts. Of course the quilts.
What Is the Quiltmaker’s Gift?
The quiltmaker gave many quilts away, but the title of the book is not The Quiltmaker’s Gifts. It is The Quiltmaker’s Gift. Singular. One special gift.
Perhaps the gift was the quilt she made for the king. But the quilt was not the only gift the king received from her hands. It was incidental, in a way. The true gift was repentance, voluntary poverty, and radiant joy. Which were, for the king, different facets of one splendid, sparkling, shining gift.
The camel passed through the eye of the quiltmaker’s needle.
St. Brigid’s Cloak and Blueberry Jam: The King of Leinster was wealthy and powerful, but no friend of the poor. Until St. Brigid asked him to give her as much land as her cloak would cover.
The Lord’s Wise Handmaiden: St. Melania the Younger wanted to give away all of her vast wealth. That turned out to be far harder than she could imagine.
Leave Me Alone: A Review: A grandmother just wants to be left alone long enough to knit sweaters for her grandchildren before winter sets in. She finally runs away, and encounters some interesting adventures before she finishes her knitting. (Sharp-eyed Orthodox children may notice that she has an icon hanging over her front door.)