Stitch by Stitch: Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly Sews Her Way to Freedom by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. Holiday House, 2021. 9780823439638
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
Format: Hardcover picture book
What did you like about the book? Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly was born enslaved in 1818. Taught to sew by her mother, she used her considerable skills to earn money for her enslavers and herself. While enslaved she became a dressmaker popular among the ladies of St. Louis. She asks her enslaver if she can buy her own freedom and that of her son. He initially refuses but agrees when he finds himself in need of money. When Lizzy cannot raise the full amount, a group of ladies for whom she has made dresses offer to buy her freedom. Lizzy agrees to take the money but promises to pay it back. She goes on to have an illustrious career, moving from St. Louis to Washington DC. She makes dresses for society ladies including the wives of Senator Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. She even made dresses for Mary Todd Lincoln, with whom she became good friends. She goes on to become an activist, a teacher, and the author of her autobiography. Lizzy dies at a home for destitute women that she had helped to establish.
The author explains that unlike today’s clothes, dresses made at this time were labor-intensive, one-of-a-kind creations. The refrain “stitch by stitch” throughout the book accentuates the time- consuming, exacting nature of Lizzy’s work. Passages from Lizzy’s autobiography are interspersed throughout the text. Lizzy’s writing in her own voice gives a greater sense of time and place to the story. Backmatter includes a timeline of important events in Lizzy’s life along with a bibliography for further reading.
The appealing mixed-media illustrations feature fabric and trimmings to bring Lizzy’s creations to life. The reader is taken on a visual journey from Lizzy’s impoverished, enslaved youth to her more comfortable, self-determined adulthood. One charming illustration features President Lincoln sitting casually on a couch as Lizzy helps his wife try on her new dress, a unique look at this first family.
Anything you didn’t like about it? No
To whom would you recommend this book? Elementary readers
Who should buy this book? Elementary schools, public libraries
Where would you shelve it? Picture book biographies
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Kerry A Lamare, Robbins Library, Arlington MA
Date of review: November 26, 2021