Show Way

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Show Way Book Poster Image
Beautiful story of family's journey from slavery to freedom.

Parents say

age 7+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 2+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows glimpses of slavery, the U.S. Civil War, the civil rights movement and protests, how quilts are sewn. 

Positive Messages

A family can stay together through hardship and history. Even in hard times, there is love, hope, and family. A passed-down family tradition can become a way to make a living.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The women hold this family together through hard times, keep hope alive, and pass down their wisdom.

Violence & Scariness

An enslaved person is killed while running away. A silhouette shows a man aiming a gun at a runaway slave, who's also being chased by dogs. Several images in a collage show slaves being whipped, one with his pants pulled down. Some violent images from '60s-era civil rights conflicts.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Show Way, a picture book that won a Newbery Honor, is by Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming) and illustrated by Hudson Talbott. It traces nine generations of African American women in Woodson's family own family, through the quilts they made. There are historical references, including to the era of slavery in the United States and he civil rights movement, that will need explaining to younger kids, as will the information in Talbott's collages. There are some references to violence: An enslaved person is killed while running away. A silhouette shows a man aiming a gun at a runaway slave, who's also being chased by dogs. Several images in a collage show slaves being whipped, one with his pants pulled down. And there are some violent images from '60s-era civil rights conflicts.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bysnowbound February 2, 2012

Excellent Read

I just read Show Way as multicultural children's book and was very pleased. I enjoyed the wonderful illustrations that brought each text to life on every p... Continue reading
Parent of a 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10-year-old Written byk.kenna February 3, 2011
Teen, 13 years old Written bybokey lover January 22, 2009

I was really touched and moved

This book has really torched me because, it tells a real story about real ppl. and it like moves u and u think like that’s sad and u want to now what happens n... Continue reading

What's the story?

In SHOW WAY, author Jacqueline Woodson draws on the lives of each of her female ancestors on her mother's side of the family, covering nine generations up to her daughter. She begins with a little unnamed girl sold away from her family at a young age, who learns to sew quilts, called Show Ways, that show the road to freedom. Her daughter, Mathis May, is also sold away, and also learns to sew the Show Ways. When freedom comes, the daughters in the family continue to learn how to sew beautiful quilts, which they sell to earn a living. Eventually some of them learn to read, become teachers, participate in the civil rights movement, and on down to the author, who becomes a writer who still sews quilts, and has a daughter, to whom she tells the stories of her family.

Is it any good?

This beautiful story traces nine generations of African American women and has spectacular art. Some of the pictures are gorgeous watercolor paintings, some are historical collages, and some are visual metaphors, such as one showing a map of the U.S. with the states crudely sewn together and a large, frayed rip along the Mason-Dixon line. The rich, complex, two-page, borderless pictures reward repeated viewings and close inspection.

The text is wonderfully written, with recurring motifs about mother love and roads of stars, quilts, and stories. But there are many references that some younger children may not understand, such when characters are said to have "jumped broom" (a wedding ceremony tradition). The author refers to "the north side of the war," but doesn't say which war. So Show Way is probably best shared with an adult.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the history referenced in Show Way. What was slavery and how did it end?

  • What happened to the slaves after they were freed by President Abraham Lincoln when the U.S. Civil War was still going on? What happened after th Civil War ended?

  • What was the civil rights movement? How is life for African Americans different now than before it happened? How different is it since your parents were kids?  

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love books about racism, social justice, and the Civil War

Themes & Topics

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