Interview: Adrienne Yorinks and Jeanette Larson on Quilt of States: Piecing Together America

Quilt of States: Piecing Together America written by Adrienne Yorinks and 50 Librarians from Across the Nation, quilts by Adrienne Yorinks, librarian contributions compiled and edited by Jeanette Larson (National Geographic, 2005). From the catalog copy: “There is no book quite like Quilt of States—the unique combination of handmade quilts with the voice of each state heard through the writing of one of the state’s librarians to illustrate the coming together of the United States of America. Using one of the only two original American folk art forms—quilting (jazz is the other)—Adrienne Yorinks demonstrates her amazing talent for using quilts not only as art, but as information sources. Her work illustrates the history of our country and is accompanied by the words of librarians from every state in the Union.”


What was your inspiration for creating this book?

AY: Quilt of States is an evolution of an earlier book I did called, The Alphabet Atlas [by Arthur Yorinks (Winslow, 1999)(scroll)]. I loved illustrating that book which featured a different country for each letter, so a book on how the United States came together seemed natural. My approach was to be chronological–that is how the United States actually came together as a country from Delaware, the first to Hawaii, the last.

AY: I also wanted to know why and how each state chose statehood instead of remaining separate. I thought this was fascinating.

AY: Early on, I decided to feature a different librarian from each state to tell his or her story. I thought it would create a much more interesting book to hear 50 different voices telling the story of their state the way they wanted to tell it. I wanted quilt of States to reflect the diversity of our country.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

AY: The process is always important. From the spark of the idea to publication took over five years. That is a pretty long time but as my mother would say, “things work out for the best.” Sometimes a book as important as Quilt of States, (meaning a book that speaks about the coming together of the United States) needs a lot of time to create a quality product. Part of the problem was the first publisher went bankrupt but then National Geographic stepped in, and I can’t even imagine a better outcome.

AY: I am also indebted to my good friend and colleague, Jeanette Larson [of the Austin Public Library], who, when I told her my idea for getting a librarian from each state, she not only thought it was a great idea, she asked them all! With her support, this happened in a great way.

AY: I had three editors who worked on the book and each added something to the mix. As a true “middle child,” I do value people’s input, but then I like to go off by myself and put it all together– my way!

What were the challenges (literary, research, logistical, psychological) in bringing it to life?

AY: One of the challenges I presented to myself was how to make Quilt of States different, exciting and full of interesting information. As a child, I found many history and geography books boring, where states could be interchangeable. I wanted each state to shine on its own as you turned the page.

AY: The fact that my medium is fabric, added to the interest but also the challenge of illustration. I had collected thousands of “conversational” prints which are any fabrics that depict objects (cows, pigs, tomatoes) in order to NOT replicate a cow or pig or a tomato! We do have a lot of cows in this country but I did not want to picture the same symbol in each state that had them.

AY: I was so excited when I found the Liberty Bell fabric for Pennsylvania but my most favorite “find” was the fabric featuring Mount Rushmore for South Dakota. I still can’t get over that.

AY: I loved working on Quilt of States. I created 65 pieces for this book and though at first it seemed daunting to me to figure out which motifs I would use for each state and what aspects I wanted to feature, I loved the process.

PART TWO: INTERVIEW WITH JEANETTE LARSON: one of the 50 librarian-writers from Quilt of States, she also compiled and edited the librarian contributions.

Adrienne mentions above that not only did you support her idea to include 50 librarian voices, you identified and invited the contributors for her as well. Wow! How did you go about that?

JL: When Adrienne asked me to find librarians and coordinate their writing about their own state, I started with my many contacts from national conferences. So, many of the librarians are very familiar faces on the national scene. After I exhausted all the people I knew, I posted cryptic messages to library listservs inviting librarians from specific states to contact me regarding a project. The secrecy must have been intriguing because I often heard from three or four people from the same state. Everyone was great!

JL: They understood the project and wanted to be involved. I especially enjoyed helping the librarians hone down the essence of their state’s interest in being part of the United States and learned a lot (I’m ready for “Jeopardy!”) about each state. Each librarian wrote more than we could use in the book, although Adrienne took some of the fun facts and incorporated it into the art.

As a librarian, what do you see as the book’s appeal? Who’s the audience? What makes it so special?

JL: I asked that the librarians focus on what was unique about their state’s reason for wanting to be part of the Union. That makes Quilt of States very different from other “state” books. Fun facts are included, along with the information a student needs to include on a school report (flower, date of admission, etc.) but learning a bit of history from a unique angle makes the book very appealing to kids. The audience is first and foremost middle grade students. A lot of kids are fascinated by geography and learning state facts. Quilt of States makes this fun. Adrienne’s fabulous art is fun to peruse, kind of like a puzzle where you look for the state flower in the fabric, figure out what is different in the cows, and such. A secondary audience has been grandparents and great-grandparents who want to share their enthusiasm and patriotism with kids. Every grandparent I’ve shown the book to wants to give it as a holiday gift!

JL: I don’t know of another book that speaks with so many voices and that makes Quilt of State special. And of course, the beautiful art and the “snapshot” pieces that summarize where the country was as a Union at milestone moments is unique and special to this book.

Cynsational News & Links

The Américas Award: recognizes “U.S. works of fiction, poetry, folklore, or selected non-fiction (from picture books to works for young adults) published in the previous year in English or Spanish that authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States.”

Bringing Mysteries Alive for Children and Young Adults by Jeanette Larson (Linworth, 2004) from cynsations.

Hot Off the Press: A Sneak Peek at Publishers’ Newest and Hottest Titles from CBC Magazine.