Sunday, January 03, 2010

Children's Book Monday

This book touched a place deep inside me.

I read it on my own, as soon as it came home from the library. And then I held it aside to read to my children when all would be quiet, when all thoughts and eyes would be trained on the book and I could read the words in an Appalachian/mountain accent and we could be in awe together.

And it's left me a little bit afraid... afraid that I won't be able to do the book justice in my review, that I won't be able to convey to you how special and eye-opening and inspiring and beautiful it is...

But I'm still going to try!

That Book Woman
by Heather Henson
pictures by David Small

First off, David Small. I could almost end this review right there, were it only going to be about the illustrations. We already love every David Small/Sarah Stewart collaboration that exists; I've reviewed some here. With this book, he teams up with writer Heather Henson, author of another Appalachian gem- Angel Coming. (Oh, please, put this on your booklist next? So much beauty. I promise.) With a blend of inks, watercolors, and pastels, Mr. Small has such a gift for capturing simplicity- in such an extraordinary way!

Narrated by Cal, I am not the first one nor the least one neither..., his soft mountain-talk paints a picture of a very poor but hardworking family of seven, with one on the way. I have a love for the mountain talk- least one for youngest, stoney-still, sassy tea, least-ways... so reading this story lights a warm fire in my heart, much as I felt when reading Christy. (Remember? Oh, Fairlight...) Children hush when they have to listen harder for the words to make sense, to connect to the pictures. They light up when they discover an unusual phrase really means something they already know... the readenest child you ever did see- that's what Pap says. "Oh, she reads a lot, doesn't she, Mama?" as we hear the words and take in the picture of sister Lark, book resting on tucked up knees as Cal glowers over his chores.

As high up as they are on the mountain, a visitor still makes her way to their tiny home. On a pack horse, with a saddlebag full of... books. Cal watches mistrustfully as Lark's eyes light up, and he turns downright angry when Pap steps in to trade a poke of berries for a book, berries that Cal picked for pie, not books.

The pack horse librarian won't take the berries, says the books are free as the air! And she promises to return in two weeks to swap for another book. Cal's mistrust turns to admiration when That Book Woman arrives regardless of the snow, rain, wind, fog... and soon that admiration turns to hope when he realizes that what she brings has opened up a whole new world for Lark. He dares to dream... and then dares to ask...

Ms. Henson masterfully weaves the story of a fictional family with the true stories of The Pack Horse Library Project, founded in the 1930's as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration, bringing books to remote areas where there are few schools and no libraries. Thanks to an Author's Note at the end of the story, we read all about those brave librarians, traveling by horse or mule through all kinds of weather to bring books to tucked away people. After we read this book (over and over!), we followed it up with Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky. There we read more true stories of these dedicated women, and found black and white photos of them reading to the families, riding their mules through creek beds, and even scrapbooks that they made from the treasured recipes families traded for books. Priceless.

My favorite picture in That Book Woman is one with Cal in the foreground, grumpily playing checkers by himself. In the background, but still the focal point, Mama holds a book, her belly swollen with child. Twin boys cling to her legs, Lark gazes at the books in her hands, and the Pack Horse Librarian, wearing riding pants, boots and a hat, holds the baby, chickens pecking around her feet.

So, although this is now entirely too long for a children's book review, (forgive me!) I'm discovering that perhaps the place inside me that was so moved by this story really doesn't run that deep after all... a mama, children, books, librarians, a love for simple farm life... reading. Makes perfect sense to me!

Story upon story, vivid picture upon vivid picture, this book is a treasure.

Happy Reading!

11 fellow travelers shared:

Julie said...

We love this one!!

The Tribe said...

Sounds Great! It's on the library list. Great review - Thanks.

Linda said...

No little ones at home any more, but I think I would like to read this just for me. Perhaps when little granddaughters visit too :-)
Thank you Elise. What a beautiful job you do.

thegypsymama said...

Oh, I love to read the words of someone who shares almost a hallowed love for books. My favorite aunt is a librarian. My mom was a literature teacher. I feel like ink runs in my veins. Thank you for this beautiful review. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this and all the treasures! They are blessing our family. We loved the Christmas books! "Good King Wencenclas" = great. My boys begged to sing the song and now it means so much more. I also bought "Amhal (sp?) and the Night Visitors" plus the score. The Christmas books in hardback I put on my paperbackswap list and may get them soon.
warmly, Mary Brooke

Bridget said...

Elise, I just think if you were here in Georgia, we would be coffee drinking friends. I with my nine, you with yours, we would continue sharing this love of books and our Saviour. Thank you for our e-friendship anyway...just thought this time I would say hello back. Bridget in Georgia

Anonymous said...

I'm putting this book on my library list. I grew up in the Appalachian mountains and now live in the mountains of NC. Both are beautiful places, and I love reading books that capture the dialect. A couple of good Christmas books set in the same regions are "The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree" by Gloria Houston and "Silver Packages"-can't remember the author. Thank you for your book reviews. You've pointed me to new delights as well as shared some old favorites.


Grafted Branch said...

I just put it on hold! Thanks, Elise.

Mrs.Rabe said...

Now I must HAVE this book! Thank you for such a beautiful review! My children and I will love it, I'm sure!

Annette said...

NOT a book for my four year.
We got it out, and his response after reading it was, I don't like that book mommy.

BUT he did ask lots of questions while reading it, So "I" like the book. :) I like when he asks questions about what he's hearing and seeing. :)

Ah well...reading it once with him is better than not! :)

Stacy said...

I feel the very same way about David Small.

I put this one on hold at the library as soon as I saw it here and oh! it IS a treasure! I'm pretty sure I was misty-eyed at one point of the story!

Thank you, Elise!

[I just got ready to post this and then realized that maybe I should mention that my CHILDREN? They also loved the book! :)]

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