When a child learns to stitch at a young age, they are able to develop confidence as well as fine motor, practical life, and problem solving skills. They learn that it’s OK to make mistakes and about the joy to be found in creativity as they grow in independence and positive self-expression. Whether a child explores sewing, knitting, embroidery, weaving, or other textile-based art forms, each of these mediums have the power to aid in cognitive and sensorial development at the most crucial stages of development for young learners.
Sitting down to learn from, craft with, and teach a child hands-on life skills is an amazing experience. Reading is another wonderful way to reinforce and contextualize these lessons. Today I’m sharing some of my favorite children’s books that will help to do just that. I have fond memories of some of them from my own childhood and have happily discovered others as an adult.
As an adult, I’ve never grown tired of beautifully illustrated storybooks and the artwork in these books is no exception. I want to highlight the artistic depth of these books as well as the fact that textiles offer us a pretty useful bridge between cultures and time periods.
These books aren’t “just” about fabric, yarn, or making things. Many explore a wide range of subjects that can be more difficult for young learners to grapple with in isolation. These include poverty, family relationships, slavery, loss, recycling, bullying, compassion, war and human rights, imagination, economy, and love, to name just a few. For me, that gets at exactly what I find so compelling about textiles! They seem like an innocent enough thing, but despite or perhaps even because of that, they allow us to connect to so many other experiences and ideas that span time and cultures.
Are there any other textile-related books that you think belong on this list? Let me know which ones you know and love!
Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois—Amy Novesky and Isabelle Arsenault
This is a stunning book about the artist Louise Bourgeois and how a life in textiles shaped her work. A fellow teacher brought it to work one day and I was blown away by the thoughtful illustrations and powerful message. It is certainly worth checking out whether you are younger or older!
Key Themes: Memory, fine art, identity, family relationships, purposeful occupation, material culture
The Hundred Dresses—Eleanor Estes and Louis Slobodkin
When we talk about textile and fashion history, it’s impossible not to consider the fundamental concept of having or not having. The lovely illustrations of Slodbodkin and sensitive storytelling of Estes create a classic in this story about a young immigrant girl whose brilliant dreams of 100 dresses are mocked by her classmates. It confronts big issues in an elegant and compassionate manner that makes it a pleasure to read.
Key Themes: Poverty, bullying, style identity, fashion design, immigration, morality
A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love—Michelle Edwards and G. Brian Karas
This book gets right to the core of what makes the knitting community such a rich and wonderful place and highlights the imperfect perfection of handmade. It tells the story of Sophia who makes it her mitzvah to help Mrs. Goldman—an older woman in her community who spends so much time knitting things for others, that she ends up hatless herself. It’s a great book if you have a young learner in your life who is just beginning to strike that balance between the joy and frustration of trying their hand at something new (plus it actually includes a knitting pattern!).
Key Themes: Community, kindness, creative acceptance, inter-generational relationships
The Patchwork Quilt—Valerie Flournoy and Jerry Pinkney
“A quilt won’t forget, it can tell your life story”
I remember checking this book out from the library over and over again as a young child. It may be personal bias, but the illustrations feel warmly nostalgic and rich. Like many, I cherish the patchwork quilts made by my grandmother using bits and pieces of all the clothes my mom grew up wearing and I cherish this book too. The story shows the growth of the quilt as each family member and their memories are “added” to it.
Key Themes: inter-generational relationships, material culture, craftsmanship, heirlooms, economy, health and aging
A New Coat for Anna—Harriet Ziefert and Anita Lobel
This book tells the story of Anna and her mother as they work to survive and keep warm in post-WWII Europe. The pair set out to procure the raw materials and skills to make a new coat for Anna. I love the way it breaks down the process of creating just one garment and the meaning and value in each step that we may overlook in times of fast-fashion.
Key Themes: War and poverty, cultural identity, value of material goods, craftsmanship, textile production, gratitude
I Had a Favorite Dress—Boni Ashburn and Julia Denos
If you have a young sewer or fashionista in the house, this book presents a fun way to get them thinking about incorporating the tenants of reusing, reducing, and recycling into their projects. After all, no hobby is exempt from environmental effects and outcomes.
Key Themes: Creative reuse, mother–daughter relationships, style identity, economy, environmental awareness
Extra Yarn—Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
Extra Yarn takes an imaginative look at how creativity in action can alter the landscape (and mindscape!) around us. It’s message is empowering without lacking in narrative interest and it is delightfully illustrated in the contemporary style of Klassen.
Key Themes: yarn bombing, imagination, creative vision and value, humor
The Keeping Quilt—Patricia Polacco
This book is similar to Flournoy’s The Patchwork Quilt in some ways, but equally valuable in its own right. It presents a more expansive view of many generations and how a quilt is made and passed down, facilitating the translation of traditions and identity for an immigrant family. Only particular bits of textiles are drawn in color and this brings the quilt’s critical role into sharp relief. Be sure to check out Polacco’s other works including Fiona’s Lace.
Key Themes: Immigration, heritage and identity, material culture, heirlooms, family relationships, inheritance, economy, traditions
Stitchin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt—Patricia McKissack and Cozbi A. Cabrera
This book combines poetry and images that provide kids with a springboard for understanding and connecting to the art of quilting, and in particular, the beautiful quilts of Gee’s Bend. It talks about the women who made them, what their lives were like, what goes into a quilt. I love finding resources like this that allow young learners to connect with exhibitions or any body of work that they might otherwise not be able to engage with.
Key Themes: Community, heritage and history, memory-keeping, design, craftsmanship, inter-generational relationships