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Monday, January 18, 2010

That Book Woman, written by Heather Henson and illustrated by David Small. Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, 2008. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"And I can bring the cow home too
come evening-time,
which is right handy,
seeing as how
my sister Lark
would keep her nose
a-twixt the pages of a book
daybreak to dusky dark
if Mama would allow.
The readenest child
you ever did see -
that's what Pap says."

Cal and Lark live far from civilization, way up in the hills. Cal helps with chores and has no interest in what his book-learned sister wants to teach him. He wasn't born to sit still and fill his head with the nonsense that books provide. Lark's head is in a book when the woman rides up on the sorrel mare. When they have finished their tea, the woman opens her saddle bags and out spill books to make Lark's eyes sparkle. Cal gets no pleasure from the visit, and scoffs at the thought that the woman has travelled so far to sell books to folks who have no money. He is aghast when his father offers to trade berries that Cal has picked for a book for Lark. They are in for quite the surprise. The woman will not take the berries...and she leaves books just the same. They are free and she will be back in two weeks to swap for more! She comes back again and again...braving much bad weather. Cal is impressed with the bravery of horse...and rider. He wonders what drives a person to do what she does. With those thoughts in mind, Cal seeks help from his younger sister and she is pleased to provide it. By the time spring arrives there are TWO readers in the house. Cal would like to offer a gift...and he does. It is gift enough!

In the 1930s in the hills of Kentucky book women made biweekly treks to the remote regions to make sure that the children of Appalachia, who had few schools and no libraries, knew the joy to be had in the written word. They took great pride in the work they did and were paid little to do it.

I have often read picture books to children and adults without sharing the illustrations that accompany the story. This book has colloquial language that endears Cal to its readers and the story stands on its own merit for being well-told. But, you would miss much if you did not get a chance to see the wonderful watercolors done by David Small. He brings the Appalachian region to full life, makes us shiver in the deep cold of the winter, and gives us a family of warm, loving people who appreciate and welcome the visits of the 'book woman'. I absolutely love the final double page spread that ends this inspiring book, and would love to hang it on one of my walls!

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