Atkins’ A Name on the Quilt (1999)

A Name on the Quilt (1999), published by Antheneum Books, was written by Jeannine Atkins and illustrated by Tad Hills. Simple, but warm illustrations face evocative text that describes the family and friends of Ron, a man who passed away from AIDS complications, sewing a quilt to memorialize him.

The story is told from the point-of-view of Ron’s niece, a young girl named Lauren. Lauren, her parents, grandmother, and little brother, all gather, along with three of her uncle’s friends, to work on the quilt.

Making the quilt brings memories of her uncle to the surface. Lauren and Ron had a very close relationships; she recalls swimming in ponds, ice skating on them, dancing and laughing, with her uncle.

As the group makes the quilt, Lauren takes her negative feelings out on her little brother. She doesn’t think he understands how serious their project is, but she eventually realizes he is mourning too.

This story of love and loss beautifully captures the pain of mourning and does a wonderful job making the important work of memorializing present throughout.

Although Ron’s family and friends are clearly participating in a community ritual by making the quilt, the story is deeply personal, only subtly gesturing towards the AIDS Memorial Quilt as a social and political project. However, information on deaths related to AIDS complications and the AIDS Memorial Quilt Project are discussed in the back-matter.

This is a wonderful book about grieving loved ones that also introduces an important form of community activism and collective memorializing. As described on the AIDS Memorial Quilt Project website, the quilt is “a powerful visual reminder of the AIDS pandemic”.

I recommend A Name on the Quilt for personal and school libraries. Although almost twenty years old, the book remains relevant and is a sensitive, age-appropriate discussions of the themes mentioned in my review. The content and fairly text-heavy style make it most appropriate for children over five-years-old.

This review is part of my “Snapshots of LGBTQ Kid Lit” project. I’m working on a book, The New Queer Children’s Literature: Exploring the Principles and Politics of LGBTQ* Children’s Picture Books, which is under contract with the University Press of Mississippi. Part of my research is identifying and interpreting English-language children’s picture books with LGBTQ* content published in the US and Canada between 1979 and 2019. Follow my blog to follow my journey!

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