This list of 25 picture books about quilts originally started as a unit study through U.S. American history. It evolved in such a way that several themes emerged. Quilts are not only versatile in their function as a textile, but they are a quite dynamic subject for introducing a range of concepts.
As you peruse the list below, keep an eye out for books that you could group for U.S. history, or studies of immigration, or a look at the diverse people groups of the U.S., or quilts as art, or family ties, or styles of quilts. It is a wonderful lens to launch into a host of topics. We also found it to be quite affirming of the contributions of women.
2 Possible Activities for Quilt Lessons
My girls and I kept a list of the various functions that quilts played in history and in stories – both as warmth, guides, and chinking. We also added our own modern uses such as: fort building and picnic blankets. Have students brainstorm some ideas before and then add to their lists as you engage the subject.
Another activity option that you could use if you choose to read a range of books is to have your students design their own quilt blocks with paper. We made an example from possible Underground Railroad symbols, one that represented Hawaiian quilt style, story quilts like Faith Ringgold, one from the pioneer traditions and so on.
Here are the quilt blocks that we created.
25 Picture Books about Quilts
I’ve listed the picture books about quilts that we’ve read at the top of the list, and then also included several others that my research uncovered (you’re welcome for that pun!), but that I have not actually read or used.
The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau
This is the book that started it all for me. I loved the story and was stunned by the colorful and intricate illustrations. A king likes receiving gifts so much that he demands them from his subjects on a regular basis. He’s looking for the one gift that will make him happy. One day he learns of a quiltmaker who makes stunning quilts, and he demands that she make one for him. She refuses. The arrangement that ultimately results will point him to the gift he was looking for – but not at all in the direction he was searching.
The Quilting Bee by Gail Gibbons
Gail Gibbons focuses mainly on the process of making a quilt. She takes the reader from the origin of the “quilting bee” and through to modern times with a sewing machine. Definitions help clarify terms unobtrusively and vivid pictures show over twenty patterns for quilt-blocks. She also identifies different types of quilts and different uses for them. A good, quick introduction to quilting with accessible writing and colorful examples.
Shota and the Star Quilt by Margaret Bateson-Hill & Christine Fowler
This book is written in both English and Lakota. Shota and the Star Quilt is the story of two girls, Esther and Shota, who are preparing to visit Shota’s grandmother for the annual pow-wow. The night before they leave Shota’s family receives a notice that their building has been sold and they must move out of their apartment. After a restless night, Shota is inspired to take action – in the form of making a Lakota Star quilt. Can she save her apartment with a gift? Don’t miss the history of Lakota nation and the explanation of the significance of the Lakota Star Quilts at the end!
Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt by Lisa Campbell Ernst
Sam Johnson sets out to prove that men can be quilters, too. In the end, it’s when the men and women work together that they make something unique and truly creative. This was one of our favorites!
Stichin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt by Patricia McKissack
Follow the story and history of the Gee’s Bend Quilters. In poems and vivid colors, McKissack captures the evolution of their story from secluded quilting community to celebrated historic artists. It also charts the growth of a little girl learning to make her first quilt as she is finally allowed to join the community of artisans committed to deeper principles flowing from her mother’s advice to “look for the heart” of a quilt. A vibrant book with a big lens on history and craft through the perspective of a young child learning to quilt.
Reuben and the Quilt by P. Buckley Moss and Merle Good
Reuben, his Mamm, and his five sisters work on a log cabin quilt to sell in order to raise money to cover their grandfather’s unexpected hospital expenses. When the quilt is stolen the next day everyone is distressed. Dawdi’s response is even more surprising: “‘It’s wrong to steal, Dawdi said. But how we respond can also be wrong.’” A positive message all-around and a glimpse of Amish living in the United States.
Luka’s Quilt by Georgia Gubackt
The history of Queen Lili’uokalani and her protest quilt was what we discussed, but this book introduced us to another unique aspect of Hawaiian quilting. Luka loves colors and flowers. She is surprised when her grandmother makes her a quilt that has only one bright color and a pattern in white. Only two colors? Can the two find a way to bring both their expectations and values together?
The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco
For nearly a century the scraps and patches of memorable family clothes that were sewn together as a reminder of Russia are passed down generation to generation through an immigrant family. Polacco tells the story of her own family and the quilt that came to represent their history in this touching picture book.
A Far-Fetched Story by Karin Cates
Definitely the less-serious of books on this list, A Far-Fetched Story tells of a pioneer grandmother sending out various family members to collect wood for the fire. Each comes back with tattered clothes and a ridiculous story, but no wood for the fire. Grandma must take matters into her own hands.
Elephant Quilt by Susan Lowell
Lily Rose and her family begin a trip West, and she quilts their adventure as they go. Find the elephant hidden in the quilt at the end and trace Lily Rose’s journey from Missouri to California. (Plus find out why they said “We’re going to see the Elephant,” when travelers set out for the West.)
The Name Quilt by Phyllis Root
When Sadie visits her grandma every summer she gets tucked into bed beneath a special quilt. The quilt has names sewn into the patches and each night Sadie picks a name and grandma tells a story about that person. A storm takes the quilt one day and Sadie is upset. Together, she and grandma retell the stories from memory and decide to make a new quilt with a special addition.
Pieces: A Year in Poems & Quilts by Anna Grossnickle Hines
12 poems wrap around the year. Perhaps the most visually beautiful of the books on this list, Hines has written a dozen poems for the varying stages of seasonal shift in a year and placed them next to exquisite quilts. The poetry and the artistry are stunning. Plus, there’s a couple pages at the back that talk about her quilting process for each of the included pieces. Lovely!
Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
Renowned quilt artist Faith Ringgold captures the story of 8-year-old Cassie Louise Lightfoot dreaming about flying over her apartment-building rooftop in 1939 Harlem. Colorful artwork and textured illustrations inspire children to consider what it might look like and mean to fly over their own worlds.
The Quilt-Block History of Pioneer Days by Mary Cobb
This book could be an entire unit study in itself. Cobb looks at ten different quilt-block patterns inspired by settler movement west. For each chapter she includes an explanation of the pattern and a different fun activity to reinforce the pattern in a child’s mind. A great resource or straight-through read.
The Log Cabin Quilt by Ellen Howard
This is not your typical quilting story. A young girl wrestles with big changes in her life as she tries to move towards a new normal. Mourning the loss of her mother and saddened by the loss of color that has creeped into their lives, a solution to a bitter cold cabin mends the past and present so that the small family can move forward. A sweet story and one of the more unusual interpretations of how to use quilting pieces.
Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson
This picture book charts the path of Woodson’s ancestors to her daughter. Each generation pointing the next to a better way through their artistry and craft. It is harsh and it is beautiful, as history often is, but it is a powerful testament to hope.
The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy
Tanya watches her grandmother lovingly add scraps of fabric to her patchwork quilt as her grandma affirm that this quilt will be “her masterpiece.” Tanya loves the idea of the quilt keeping Grandma company and telling her stories. But when grandma gets sick it looks like she won’t be able to finish her quilt. Tanya inspires her family to help with grandma’s project in an act that is ultimately loving and healing for everyone involved.
I have not read these next picture books about quilts, but I found them during my research and I’ll pass them along for you to use if you’d like as appropriate.
Bonus Picture Books About Quilts
Eight Hands Round: A Patchwork Alphabet by Ann Whitford Paul
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson
Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson
The Patchwork Path by Bettye Stroud
The Quilt Story by Tony Johnston
The Promise Quilt: A Civil War Tale by Candice F. Ransom
Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson
The Josephina Story Quilt by Eleanor Coerr
Have you read any of these? What other themes could you pull from some of these together? Let me know in the comments!