She Stitched the Stars: A Story of Ellen Harding Baker’s Solar System Quilt – Jennifer Harris, illustrated by Louise Pigott. Albert Whitman, 2021. 9780807573228
Format: Uncorrected proof
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 2
Genre: Historical fiction
What did you like about the book? All that is really known about Ellen Harding Baker is that she created a quilt depicting a map of the solar system as it was known in the late 19th century. It took her 7 years of research and stitching, beginning in 1876, during which time she was also raising a family of five in her Iowa home. The quilt was donated to the Smithsonian and is kept at the National Museum of American History. She Stitched the Stars is a highly fictionalized account of the creation of that quilt, seen through the eyes of Baker’s three oldest daughters. As their neighbors and teachers constantly remind the girls of their proper place in society, they look to their mother for inspiration and encouragement. They admire her intelligence and efficiency, and learn astronomy as they help her with her masterpiece.
The highlight of the book is definitely the folk-art style illustrations, which paint a cozy picture of midwestern life in the late 1800s; many will enjoy looking at the details in the scenes of the Baker family and their community. The first person perspective is sweet, but a little choppy, as the narrator is usually “we,” but occasionally “I.” Young readers will probably be frustrated to learn of the stringent social mores the girls talk about, and will cheer for them as they flaunt the rules. But they will also likely be surprised to find out that the story, although inspired by a real person, is largely imagined. Even the author’s note includes a lot of suppositions about Baker’s life.
Anything you did not like about the book? A photo of the quilt in the back shows that it doesn’t represent the solar system as we understand it today. Kids know a lot about the planets and would probably appreciate some context about what was known during Ellen Baker’s time, and some information about the astronomer Maria Mitchell (briefly alluded to in the story, and mentioned in the author’s note).
To whom would you recommend this book? It might make a nice addition to a women’s history month or STEM display, but it has limited appeal for an independent reading choice.
Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries
Where would you shelve it? Picture books
Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.
Date of review: 7/30/2021