CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2006
Based on a true story, this picture book gives voice to one woman's life and artistic legacy. In 1817, Martha Ann Ricks was born into slavery on the Doherty Plantation in Eastern Tennessee. When she was 12-years-old, her father had saved the $2,400 needed to buy the family's freedom and they sailed to Liberia to start a new life. Happiness was short-lived as an outbreak of typhoid fever soon left Martha Ann an orphan. She resolved to stay in Liberia "and go to school. I want Papa and Mama to be proud of me."
As an adult, Martha Ann would watch ships of the British navy patrolling the African coast to stop slave catchers. She vowed to personally thank Queen Victoria for her efforts. She found her father's old red tin box, and, for the next 50 years, she saved spare coins in it. In the evenings, she sewed a quilt for the Queen, using the coffee trees that grew on her farm as inspiration for her designs. Local townspeople knew of her dream and mocked her lofty ambitions. Undeterred, Martha Ann was 76-years-old when she had finally saved enough money for a trip to England. With the help of the Liberian Ambassador in London, Martha Ann met the royal family and presented her gift to the Queen.
The tragedies in this ex-slave's life are told in an unsentimental, straightforward manner: "Martha Ann cried when Sion died unexpectedly. She lived alone many years until she met and married Henry Ricks, a widower with three sons."
Lee Edward Födi's watercolour illustrations have a naive, folk art appeal. The full-page scenes provide a sense of place, from the coffee fields to Windsor Castle.
An author's note gives more information on the "Coffee Tree Quilt." Kyra E. Hicks' interest in quilts and the personal histories they contain is evident in this book.
This simply told story of perseverance and determination will inspire readers to search for more biographies of often over-looked lives.
Linda Ludke is a librarian in London, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.