Sunday, January 18, 2009

Book Reviews: Three Children's Books

We've read three wonderful children's books recently, two by author Eve Bunting. I tried to get Betty and Boo to write the reviews, but they weren't interested. Hence, you get my thoughts.

Our Library by Eve Bunting is a delightful story about - you guessed it - a library beloved by several animals who become dismayed when their librarian tells them that it will be closing forever. Dismay turns to determination as the animals use the books in the library to learn how to fix the aging building, fundraise for the monies needed to keep the library operational, and re-establish the building in a new location. From the book jacket: "As Gopher says, 'there's nothing you can't learn to do when you have books.' This cheery, inspiring tale shows how important libraries are to every community, and proves that with knowledge, hard work and cooperation, anything is possible."

"In my room against the wall, I have a nature table fulled with the wonders of the earth and sky and sea ..."

Also by children's author Eve Bunting, Anna's Table is a story of a girl who creates a special nature table in her room. Anna displays treasures such as a shark's tooth, dried pomegranates, an old bird's nest. We enjoyed this book as a reminder that beauty can be found in unexpected, everyday things as opposed to material objects. From the book jacket,

"a subtle celebration of the cycle of life, this story is about the incredible bond of children to nature, the miracle of family, and a belief in the beauty of all things."

That Book Woman by Heather Henson was my favorite of these three, and ranks among the best children's books I've ever read (and I've read a lot). Set in the Appalachian mountains, this story of a proud but poor family is told from the perspective and in the dialect of oldest son Cal, who is "not the first one nor the least one neither." Unlike his sister Lark, Cal isn't much of a reader and distains the very idea of the books that The Book Woman brings to the impoverished community on horseback, braving rough terrain and beyond inclement weather.
"Now what that lady brings it's sure no treasure, not to me, but books! Would you believe? A passel of books she's packed clear up the mountainside! A hard day's ride and all for naught, I reckon." But Cal's parents, seeing the passion that their daughter Lark has for books and reading, welcomes The Book Woman and gradually, in time, so does Cal.

According to author Heather Henson, who writes at the end of the book, That Book Woman was "inspired by the true and courageous work of the Pack Horse Librarians, who were known as "Book Women" in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky. The Pack Horses Library Project was founded in the 1930s as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration in order to bring books to remote regions where there were few schools and no libraries. .... A Book Woman would travel, by horse or by mule, the same arduous route every two weeks, carrying a load of books - in good weather and bad. To show their gratitude for what came "free as air", a family might make a gift from what little they had: garden vegetables, wildflowers, berries, or cherished recipes passed down through generations. While there were a few men among the Pack Horse Librarians, the jobs were mainly filled by women .... They were paid very little, but they were proud of what they did: bringing the outside world to the people of Appalachia and sometimes making readers out of those who had never seen much use for 'chicken scratch.'"

I found this book and the concept of the Pack Horse Librarians absolutely fascinating, and am embarrassed to admit I'd never heard of this before reading this children's book. This book is a must-read for children of all ages and provides an appreciation for the gift of reading and those who have helped provide that gift for so many.


Amy said...

I love Eve Bunting. I've read a few of her books so many times with students and they still bring tears to my eyes. :) Great writer.

Booklogged said...

I had never heard of Book Women. What a wonderful thing. Can't wait to read the book.

Betty and Boo's Mommy said...

Amy - For some reason, I'm just discovering Eve Bunting now and wondering what took me so long.

Booklogged - I know ... I'd never heard of them before either. It's really an amazing program when you think about it. Hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.