Saturday, November 10, 2012

That Book Woman

Title: That Book Woman
Author: Heather Henson
Illustrator: David Small
Copyright Date: 2008
Genre: Historical Fiction
Theme: Appalachia, history, Social Studies, reading, librarians, school
Grades: 2-5
Awards: Anne Izard Storytellers' Choice Award (NY), Beehive Award Master List (UT), CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book, Christopher Award, Golden Sower Masterlist (NE), Great Lakes Book Award, Kentucky Bluegrass Award Master List, Keystone to Reading Book Award (PA), Parents' Choice Award, Storytelling World Award, Storytelling World Award Honor Book, "Stories for Young Listeners, Texas Bluebonnet Master List (Source)


Cal, his Pap, Mama, sister Lark, and the rest of his family live on their farm high up in the Appalachian Mountains, away from schools, towns and other people. Lark always seems to have her head in a book, but Cal feels that since he knows how to help run the farm, there isn't a need for "dumb old books." One day a visitor, a woman wearing pants, arrives on horseback to give Cal's family some books for free. Not only does she visit once, but she returns again and again to exchange those books for new ones.

What will the Book Woman do when winter hits the mountain? Will Cal's disapproval of reading ever change? Read this book to find out.

Pre-reading Activity

Before reading the story, it would help to get students to understand the educational situation Cal's family and other families living in the Appalachian Mountains during the Great Depression. Start by talking to the class and asking how far away they live from the school. Some will live in close walking distance and some need a car or bus ride. Ask them how easy it would be to get to school if they had to walk because cars would be much too expensive to own and there weren't any school buses. Then how hard it would be if they had to walk miles to and from school? Then what if that distance included going up and down a mountain? Then what about during blizzards?  Would you be able to do that and still work a full day of work on a farm? Explain that during the Great Depression, children living in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky were put in this exact situation. Because of all of these challenges, many children never went to school, and so they learned things like reading in a different way.

During Reading Activity

This book is a great one for tracking changes in characters throughout the story. Classes could take notes on Cal's feelings toward reading at the beginning, middle, and end of the story, as an example of character evolution. 

Post-reading Activity

After the story has been read, students can make connections to their own life by writing a response, with a prompt such as "Has there ever been a time in your life when you changed your opinion about something you disliked like Cal did? What caused you to change your mind?." It also may be good for students to write a comparison piece, describing how they learned to read (in an organized school, with a building, teachers, etc.) and how Cal and other Appalachian students during that time period (at home, teaching themselves and each other with materials provided by the Pack Horse Librarians). 

Author and Illustrator

Heather Henson worked at HarperCollins Publishers in Brooklyn for years editing other people's books before returning home to Kentucky to write her own. Along with That Book Woman, she has written five other books, including Grumpy Grandpa and Making the Run. She currently lives in Kentucky. (Source: book jacket and here)

David Small has won numerous awards for his work illustrating over forty children's books including the Caldecott Medal for his work on So You Want to Be President?. Not only does he illustrate other authors' books, but also is an author himself, including being the author and illustrator of the classic book, Imogene's Antlers. He currently lives in Michigan. (Source: book jacket and here)


I am sadly unknowledgeable about the history and culture of those living in Appalachia, and so I found this book no only enjoyable but also educational for me. I learned a lot about this often overlooked part of history and the country, and I'm sure students of all grades would take away something new as well. I loved how it was written with the dialect of the region represented and respected and of course the art is fantastic. I highly recommend it.

If you are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

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