Under the Quilt of Night
Dramatic oil paintings and compelling verse-like prose combine to portray the harsh yet hopeful experience of travel along the Underground Railroad. Hopkinson and Ransome revisit the theme of their first collaboration, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. This time readers journey the precarious trail to freedom with a young runaway as she escapes to Canada via clandestine routes and dangerous nighttime treks. The intense opening spread features three panels showing her nameless family running for their lives by the light of the full moon, some shoeless or with only rags on their feet. (Subsequent pages show snarling dogs and overseers in hot pursuit.) The story comes to a formidable climax when they’re almost discovered hiding in the back of a wagon. Hopkinson names each segment of the journey (“Running,” “Waiting,” “Hiding”) and her narrative conveys the emotional and physical hardships of the trip (“Fear is so real, it lies here beside me”). The author connects the metaphorical protective quilt of night with folkloric elements (legend has it that quilts with blue center squares indicated safe houses on the Underground Railroad). Ransome fills in the characterizations with portraits that convey a strong familial connection and the kindness of the conductors along the way. This suspenseful story successfully introduces and sheds light on a pivotal chapter in America’s history for youngest readers. Ages 5-10.