Barbara Ciletti (Author)

Maria Cristina Pritelli (Illustrator)

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The elegant textile art of Sashiko is celebrated in this picture book about the embroidery style's origins as a way to strengthen the jackets of fishermen from Awaji Island.

Bank Street's Best Books of the Year 2023 9–12 List. —Bank Street College of Education, 2023

Accepted to the 2023 Original Art Exhibition at the Society of Illustrators


With meditative prose and soft-edged imagery, the creators weave a mythlike history of sashiko, a traditional Japanese style of embroidery that dates to the 17th century. A kimono-clad child recounts the tale. Father, a fisherman on Awaji Island, works year round: when “cherry blossoms bloom” and when “hillsides are blue with icy mist.” After snow and cold result in empty nets, the narrator’s mother stitches three jackets together, whispering her hope that the thread will “run like the fish of summer,” Ciletti writes. Covered in short stitches and becoming a model for other garments, the warm jacket marks the start of sashiko. Pritelli’s traditional-leaning visuals glow with luminous tones even while being vague about time period. An author’s note describes the history of sashiko, but omits details about the creators’ research.

Publisher's Weekly, 07/21/2022

Barbara Ciletti relates the development of the stitch through a long-ago fictional narrator, a young girl who lives on Awaji Island, where sashiko originated. In spare language, the child explains to readers ages 6-10 that in winter her father and the other fishermen suffer from the cold: “They come home in empty boats, freezing in their thin cloth jackets.” Hunger follows cold. Something must be done. The girl watches her mother set to work: “One, two, three jackets together. Her long needle pokes white cotton thread into cloth as blue as the summer sea.” Illustrator Maria Cristina Pritelli evokes the look of sashiko in her soft, glowing pictures; there’s also a touch of Hokusai in her rendering of fishermen amid icy, white-capped seas. “Sashiko” is an unusual title not only in its subject—when did you last see a children’s book about embroidery?—but also in its beauty.

–Meghan Cox Gurdon, Wall Street Journal, 07/29/2022

Sashiko, by Barbara Ciletti and gorgeously illustrated with muted and beautiful colors by Maria Cristina Pritelli, celebrates the intricate textile of Japanese embroidery style. The origin of this type of stitching came about long ago during the Edo period meant to strengthen fishermen’s jackets to last longer. The exquisite artwork displayed in this book, along with the poetic imagery from the text, evokes the splendor of Japan. This thread will rise like the fish of summer/As they ride on waves that rise and curl. The ages best for this book is five through nine.

–Holly Newton, Newton's Book News, 09/16/2022

With visual and textual mastery, Ciletti and Pritelli provide picture book readers a thirty-two page journey through the eyes of a young girl in Japan of the seventeenth century. Our young narrator navigates us through the Awaji island life that she, her family, and village fishermen experience. Readers are quickly drawn in to wade through the difficult winter waters of the fishing village. Through majestical watercolor illustrations, Pritelli captures the harrowing experience fishermen faced in the winter, as well as the brilliant heroic steps local women and mothers took to keep their fishermen warm. Cilietti’s colorful language allows readers to feel the warmth from the new coat our narrator’s mother makes for her husband. Detailed stitched illustrations allow readers to see the intricate sashiko (“little stabs”) that title the book and protect the Japanese fishermen of yore. The final page of this work of historical fiction offers additional insight about this specific period of Japanese history and its cultural significance. Young readers will be interested to learn the background behind the story and how the beautifully patterned sashiko continues to inspire pride in Japanese artistry today.

Children's Literature, 12/04/2022

Bank Street's Best Books of the Year 2023 Nine to Twelve Historical Fiction List, Diversity merit. Sumptuous watercolors accompany a fictionalized account of the origins of a type of Edo-period Japanese embroidery, originally used for repair, now an art form.

Bank Street College of Education, 04/01/2023

Through spare, poetic text, a young Japanese girl relates the life of her fisherman father on Awaji Island in the 1600s during the Edo period. Large-scale, soft watercolor illustrations (many full-page), reminiscent of classic Japanese landscape prints from the nineteenth century, carry the story. Striking scenes of fishing boats move readers through the seasons until winter arrives and the fishermen return, freezing and empty handed. To warm her husband, the girl’s mother begins to sew a three-layered jacket with white cotton thread and blue fabric in running stitches of embroidery, or “little stabs,” known as sashiko. In increasingly surreal illustrations, the mother’s stitches weave through water, pulling in elements of sky and nature until “The stars, the moon, the sun, / The waves, and tides, and fish all found their / place in the cloth” and the jacket comes to life. Realistic embroidered scenes reveal the final result. An author’s note concludes this beautiful blend of history and art, providing more information on this nature-inspired embroidery that helped protect fishermen and continues today as a textile art.

–Angela Leeper, Booklist, 09/08/2023

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