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.
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.
Simon & Schuster
For pre-school and early readers