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

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Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

"Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt' is a picture book teachers and parents can use to raise discussion about gender roles & cooperation.

More than just a tale about a farmer who wishes to sew quilts rather than sowing seeds, Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt is a story that teachers can use to raise discussion about gender roles and cooperation. It also offers opportunities to connect the story to concepts in math, art, and history!

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

One half of the book’s namesake, Sam Johnson, is a rural farmer who leads what appears to be a relatively idyllic rural 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. Sam makes a beautiful quilt that he plans to enter at the county fair to compete against the women’s group’s creation with his fellow male quilters. In the end, an accident and a compromise combine to make for a surprisingly happy ending. 

While it’s evident by the end of the story that the characters have learned some important lessons, the story is about far more than learning to work together. Young readers can use the book to consider gender roles in American culture. 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 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 months 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 the exhibition at an upcoming fair.

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