I Lay My Stitches Down by Cynthia Grady


Written by Cynthia Grady, Illustrated by Michele Wood

(2012) Grand Rapids, Michigan

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

This book of poems shows what life was like for American slaves. Each poem describes a different aspect of life for these men and women, ranging from living conditions, the jobs they were often given, to how they dreamed of freedom. Each poem is accompanied by beautiful illustrations, as well as an informational section at the bottom of the page explaining more about the real-life situations behind each of the poems.  

Phrases to describe this book: poetry, history, emotional, informative, beautifully illustrated

Lexile Measure: 990L

ATOS Level: 6.3

Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

Suggested Delivery: Small group reading, with adult support.

Reading Strategies:

Before Reading: Have students create a whole-class  KWL chart to determine what their background knowledge about American slavery consists of.  This will also stimulate their thinking about certain research questions they might have about the topic, which they can reflect on after reading the book.  This will help to organize what they already know and what they will learn and create interest in the topic. Support this activity by showing the American Slavery video found in the “Additional Resources” section below.

During Reading: A ‘jigsaw’ activity might be useful to do while reading this book.  Students are split up into small groups and in these small groups they read an assigned poem from the book.  They should determine what the theme of the poem is, what the author is saying, and be able to give a summary.  After the groups are done, they will come back together and report to the class about what they read in their poem to make the pieces of the puzzle fit.  Students can compare the ideas in their poems and track certain themes found in the book. This will support comprehension of multiple subjects and poems within the collection.

After Reading: Have students reflect on what they have learned about American slavery and fill out the ‘Learned’ section of the KWL chart.  Then have students complete an exit slip to demonstrate their comprehension of the subject.


Writing Activity: The following activity from readwritethink.org requires students to write a one-page newspaper directed at slave owners or for an underground slave newspaper. Students should use information and themes from the poems they read in their newspaper.  They may even choose to quote from the poems to support a position or argument they might make.  The interactive newspaper creator tool can be found here.

Additional Resources:

This teaching guide from the publisher includes information about the author and illustrator, reviews, a list of thematic connections, as well as discussion questions and suggested activities for teachers.

This video from History.com provides a brief overview of the system of American slavery, and it does a good job of demonstrating and explaining the emotional impact as well as the economic impact that slavery had on America. This would be a good tool to support learning about slavery with this book.


Key Vocabulary:

  • Archaeologist-a specialist in archaeology, the scientific study of prehistoric peoples and their cultures by analysis of their artifacts, inscriptions, monuments, etc.
  • Dilapidated-reduced to or fallen into partial ruin or decay, as from age, wear, or neglect.
  • Divination-the practice of attempting to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge by supernatural means.
  • Forebears-ancestors or forefathers.
  • Opportunistic-exploiting chances offered by immediate circumstances.
  • Bounty-a premium or reward, especially one offered by a government.
  • Needling-irritating abuse; teasing; heckling

(all definitions obtained/modified from Dictionary.com)


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