Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt

lesson plans contributed by: Lynne Knight, Salusbury World

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Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt

written by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James Ransome

Published in 1995 by Dragonfly Books

ISBN: 0-679-87472-0


Sweet Clara is a slave in the cotton fields of Southern USA. she uses her skills as a seamstress to sew a quilt, which doubles as a map. This leads escaping slaves to ‘the Underground Railroad’, which takes them to Canada and freedom.


Possible National Literacy Strategy focus:

Year 3/Term 3  
Text level 4:  To consider credibility of events, e.g. by selecting some real life adventures either written or retold as stories
Text level 5: To discuss 1) characters’ feelings; 2) behaviour
Text level 12: To write a first person account
Year 5/Term 3  
Text level 1:  To investigate a range of texts from different cultures considering patterns of relationships, social customs, attitudes and beliefs, evaluate features in relation to own experience
Text level 2:  To identify the point of view from which a story is told and how this affects reader’s response

Below are some ides for activities which could follow on from reading the story.

  • Read the story to the class, and let the children give initial responses.
    • Clarify the historical context, and ensure that the children understand what it meant to be a slave in the USA at that time.
    • Introduce the term ‘refugee’, essentially as someone who has had to leave their home and country because they are suffering from persecution or their lives are in danger
  • Ask the children to retell the main parts of Sweet Clara’s life story in pairs. Challenge them to retell it in seven sentences, including all the essential points of her life.
  • This could then be retold as a series of tableaux, a newspaper article, or a line map of her life and travels. The story could also be told within a patchwork quilt, using paper or fabric and gluing on the symbols for the individual patches (see websites below).
  • Drama: Sweet Clara was afraid that her mother and baby sister would not go with them. Role play the discussion they might have had, including Young Jack.
  • Compare Sweet Clara’s journey with that of a modern day refugee, e.g. Arjun’s story. How are they the same, and how are they different?
  • Research: What can the children find out about slavery in the USA, and the Underground Railroad? Who was Harriet Tubman? Plot the journey of the slaves in an atlas. Can they make a persuasive argument against slavery?


‘Follow the Drinking Gourd’ by Jeanette Winter, (Dragonfly Books,1992) ISBN 0-679-81997-5. This book starts with a brief historical introduction.

'Wanted Dead or Alive: The True Story of Harriet Tubman'  

Ann McGovern, Richard M. Powers (Illustrator)
(Scholastic Paperbacks 1991)  ISBN: 0590442120,  £2.53 from Amazon


‘Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad’ by Ann Petry (HarperTrophy 1996), ISBN: 0064461815 (256 pages) £3.36 from Amazon.


Websites about the Underground Railroad:

Pocantico Hills School, New York 'Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railway' : excellent school site with good background information and many ideas for future work

National Geographic 'The Underground Railway' An interactive site, suitable for young people with good historical background information

Underground Railroad Quilt - This children’s quilt teaches the secret codes and symbols used

Our virtual Underground Railroad quilt Attractively presented school site giving basic definitions

Map showing the Underground Railway escape route

America's quilting history explores the historical basis for the stories

A brief historical overview


iRespect is an education resource for the development of positive tolerance - find out more...