Literary Guide for Lisa Campbell Ernst’s “Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt”

Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt by Lisa Campbell Ernst

More than just a tale about a farmer who wishes to sew quilts rather than sowing seeds, Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt can be used to raise discussion about gender roles and cooperation – not to mention opportunities to connect the story to concepts in math, art, and history, too!

This week’s installment of Hilltown Families’ 2015 Summer Reading Resource series features Lisa Campbell Ernst’s Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt. A heartwarming tale featuring themes of rural living, cooperation, and gender roles, the story is a great read for folks ages 5 and older.

Sam Johnson, one half of the book’s namesake, is a rural farmer who leads what appears to be a fairly idyllic agrarian life. One day, he decides that he’d like to learn to quilt and asks his wife’s quilting group if he can join. Surprised that a man would request such a thing, the women turn Sam away. Rather than be discouraged, Sam stands up for himself and pickets their decision, then creates his very own men’s quilting group. With his fellow male quilters, Sam creates a beautiful quilt that he plans to enter in the county fair – in order to compete against the women’s group’s creation. In the end, an accident and a compromise combine to make for a surprisingly happy ending. 

While it’s obvious by the end of the story that the characters have all learned some important lessons, the story is about far more than learning to work together. Young readers can use the book as a means of considering gender roles in American culture, and in questioning Sam’s role solely as a farmer (and the women’s roles solely as quilters and homemakers), readers may make deep connections to their own gender-based experiences and expectations for the world. Critical thinking questions embedded in the book’s accompanying guide help to support families in considering this and other issues that arise within the story.

Additionally, using the extension activities included in the literary guide, families can use Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt as a catalyst for learning about fractions, geometry, folk art, family history, American history, and local culture. Of particular interest during the summer month’s is the book’s connection to agricultural fairs, the local season for which begins in August. Families can build schema surrounding the exhibition of hand-crafted items and homemade goods by visiting a fair’s exhibition hall, or can support multi-disciplinary learning by preparing items for exhibition at an upcoming fair.

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