Children’s picture book of the week: That Book Woman

It’s Saturday, and that means it’s time to take a look at another book for children or young adults. This week we shine the light on Kentucky native Heather Henson and her picture book, That Book Woman.

It’s honestly a coincidence, but Henson’s illustrator on this great little book is David Small. Yes, the same David Small who illustrated last week’s selection, Once Upon a Banana.

That Book Woman

WPA's Pack Horse Library program of the 1930s

Henson grew up in one of my favorite towns – Danville, Ky. – amid the creative energy of the Pioneer Playhouse, which was founded by her father, Col. Eben C. Henson.

As a child, Henson always thought she would become an actor, but by the time she finished college in New York, she knew that the written word was her true calling. After serving time in Manhattan, Henson returned to central Kentucky, where she lives today with her husband, Tim Ungs, son Daniel, and twins Lila and Theo.

That Book Woman came to be after Henson stumbled across a picture album containing photographs of a Pack Horse Librarian from the ’30s. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration determined to bring books to the mountains of Appalachia by any means possible. In eastern Kentucky and other locales, mobile librarians (mostly women), packed books into the mountains by horse.

Once Henson researched the story, she knew it had to be told to children, and this book resulted. 15 awards later (16 if you count NewAlbanyBooks’ book of the week), the book is edging its way into the territory of classic children’s literature.

The story is familiar. Cal, a stubborn mountain boy, is eloquently dismissive of the lady on the horse who brings books to his sister, Lark. But Cal is soon so impressed by the stamina and determination of this pack horse librarian that his attitude softens.

When that book woman perseveres through a snowstorm, that’s enough to convince him that this “reading” thing might be worth exploring, Cal asks Lark to teach him to read, bringing the story full circle and demonstrating the importance of the Depression-era program, which left a legacy of lifetime readers.

Here’s just a brief snippet of the text, which gently utilizes the mountain vernacular:

Now me, I do not care one hoot for what that Book Woman has carried ’round, and it would not bother me at all if she forgot the way back to our door. But here she’ll come right through the rain and fog and cold.

That horse of hers sure must be brave, I reckon.

If you’d like to learn more about the WPA’s Pack Horse Librarian program, follow this link. And to learn more about Heather Henson’s picture books, middle grades readers, and young adult books, click here.

I can’t say enough about how impressive is David Small’s work. To discover more about his career as an illustrator, see his Website here.

by Heather Henson, David Small, illustrator
Simon & Schuster
For pre-school and early readers
$16.99 HC

An aside: Ann and I have decided to organize a bus trip to the Pioneer Playhouse in Danville, Ky., referenced above. In late July and early August, this storied outdoor theater will be putting on the play Don’t Cry for Me, Margaret Mitchell, by V. Cate and Duke Ernsberger. Here’s a description of that play (scroll down).

We think it would cost about $60 a person, including dinner at 7:30 and the play at 8:30. Each traveler will receive a paperback copy of the Margaret Mitchell novel. I’d guess we could only pull together one bus load, so space will be limited to 44 participants . If you are interested in joining us, call me at the store – (812) 944-5116 or e-mail destinationsbooksellers (at) This is all very preliminary, but I thought we’d go on a Tuesday night, leaving New Albany at 4:30 and returning about midnight. We’ll either show the movie Gone With the Wind down and back or have guest authors to enlighten you during the trip. And, we’ll try to have Heather Henson join us for dinner to talk to us about That Book Woman and her other books.


Filed under Book Review

3 responses to “Children’s picture book of the week: That Book Woman

  1. Here’s a link to Heather Henson’s blog, which most recently discussed her love for the Kentucky Book Fair.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Children’s picture book of the week: That Book Woman | NewAlbanyBooks --

  3. Pingback: Children's picture book of the week: That Book Woman | NewAlbanyBooks | Children Picture Book

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