Introduction: The seven books in the Tatum Family Series, set in the Great Smoky Mountains, were written between 1953 and 1963. Typically categorized as boys' adventure stories, these books move beyond the norm of similar books, including important historical and cultural information about the region. Ruth and Latrobe Carroll, natives of New York, were committed to writing and illustrating Appalachian picture books as accurately as possible. They were notably successful, especially with the Tatum Family Series. My research for this work is based, in part, on interviews and materials loaned to me by Dr. Irene Moser (The College of West Virginia, Beckley, West Virginia) and her sister Joan Moser, family friends of the Carrolls. The annotations below for the Tatum Family Series are presented in order of publication so that readers can trace the progression of the story.
For a critical analysis of this series, see "Revisiting the Tatum Family: Regional Books by Ruth and Latrobe Carroll," written by Judy A. Teaford, originally presented at the 1998 Virginia Humanities Conference. Abstract published in The Life and Legacy of Appalachia: Proceedings of the Virginia Humanities Conference, edited by Lana A. Whited (Ferrum, VA: Ferrum College and the Blue Ridge Institute, 1998).
Ruth. From the Appalachians:
Carroll, Ruth, and Latrobe Carroll. Beanie. Illus. Ruth Carroll. New York: Oxford UP, 1953. In this, the first book of the series, readers are introduced to the Tatum family: Pa, Ma, Buck, Serena, Irby, Annie Mae—and Beanie, the protagonist of the books, along with his constant companion and friend, his new puppy Tough Enough. The family routine, the land, the sights, the sounds, and the smells of The Great Smoky Mountains—all are described in this book. However, the bulk of the book describes Beanie and Tough Enough’s first adventure. Not wanting to do his chores, Beanie sneaks out with Tough Enough in search of black bears. Beanie travels farther from home than he ever has before, "past that old thunder tree." A dark cave turns out to house not a big bear, but bats. A short time later they do come across a bear. Beanie picks up his puppy and runs as fast as he can. Beanie finally realizes that he is lost. A large cliff beckons to him. He falls over the cliff, puppy in tow. Fortunately, the drop isn’t far and neither is hurt. In the jumble of the fall, Beanie loses the puppy. He’s now completely alone. Beanie resolves to be strong, to toughen up. He climbs the cliff, and at noon sees the Tatum family cabin. His family comes to meet him, happy that he is safe. Beanie, however, is upset that he has lost his new puppy. But the smart little puppy had found its way home and is now sleeping off his first great adventure. Early afternoon finds Beanie back at his chores, happy to be at home with his family and new puppy.
Carroll, Ruth, and Latrobe Carroll. Tough Enough. Illus. Ruth Carroll. New York: Oxford UP, 1954. All the Tatums love little Tough Enough. This, changes, however, when the little puppy begins getting into mischief. He gets into the bookmobile and eats the librarian's lunch; he scares Pal, the Tatum’s horse, causing him to lose his wagon load of logs; he tears through Serena’s wash, dragging all the clothes through the mud; he digs holes under Irby’s pigpen; he chews up Annie Mae’s quilt; he eats the chicken Grandpa and Grandma Tatum are cooking for the big family reunion; and he causes mayhem when he follows Beanie to school, joining the square dance and causing everyone to fall all over each other. Though Pa still loves Tough Enough, his faith in the little puppy is tested when his chickens begin to disappear. Beanie knows how important the chickens are to the livelihood of the family, and he too fears that Tough Enough is responsible. (He has caught his puppy with the chickens several times and is afraid to tell his Pa.) Pa determines to find the "critter" responsible for the loss of his chickens and kill it. Beanie finally tells his Pa what he has seen, but Pa senses that it’s not Tough Enough that’s killing the chickens. Pa’s right. At the end of the story, the reader finds out that the "critter" turns out to be a fox. In the meantime, Beanie decides he must go to town to buy a much hated chain for Tough Enough, just to make sure he isn’t harming the chickens. Annie Mae goes with him. They live through an adventure that is very common to the mountains, a flood. Stuck in the cove when the storm comes, Beanie, Annie Mae, and Tough Enough take refuge in an old cabin. Tough Enough trembles in fear. He senses danger and makes such a ruckus that the children finally leave the cabin, just in time. Flood waters destroy the cabin, but the children and puppy are safe. After the initial scare, the threesome continue toward town, met by the entire Tatum family. Tough Enough is no longer unloved by members of the Tatum family.
Carroll, Ruth, and Latrobe Carroll. Tough Enough’s Trip. Illus. Ruth Carroll. New York: Oxford UP, 1956. The Tatums are on their way to visit their great-grandma and great-grandpa on Harkers Island. Only Tough Enough can’t go. At least he’s not supposed to go. When Tough Enough returns from a jaunt around the countryside, he coincidentally decides to make himself comfortable under a parcel of quilts in the back of the truck. While Beanie’s brothers and sisters complain that Tough Enough gets to come along while their pets must remain at home, Beanie can’t be happier. The Tatums travel in what looks like a tent on wheels named Mrs. Wigglesworth, a truly appropriate name for a vehicle that wiggles and wobbles down the road. On the trip the family pass many different things, including a zoo of snakes, a hot dog stand, a great freight train, and a cotton field. They pass a woodpulp mill and a large city that makes the children feel closed in. "They pass villages and towns, factories and farms, rivers spreading wider, even wider, on their way to the ocean." During their travels, Tough Enough finds and carries back a small kitten. Beanie sets out to look for its owner. The lady at the roadside stand doesn’t know who the kitten belongs to, so the kitten, promptly named Bobcat Bob, is the first of many adopted animals. Next comes a raccoon named Fat Stuff, a box turtle named Biscuit, a crow named Midnight, and a skunk named Sweetie Pie. Tough Enough diverts disaster by alerting the Tatums to a fire in the truck. Then the truck breaks down, but Pa fixes it and the journey continues. While taking a break from their journey, the children cover the truck with Spanish moss. First one then another vehicle stops. Although the children who stop want to adopt the pets, the Tatums have fallen in love with each and every one of them and decide that they will keep them. Finally, the Tatums arrive at Bogue Sound. On the other side is the Carolina Outer Banks, and out beyond that, the ocean. Great-grandma and -grandpa are thrilled when their family arrives. They are even thrilled with the zoo of animals.
Carroll, Ruth, and Latrobe Carroll. Tough Enough’s Pony. Illus. Ruth Carroll. New York: Oxford UP, 1957. "Now [the Tatums] were visiting their great-grandparents on Shackleford Banks, a long, skinny, lonesome island off the coast of North Carolina." As the children play among the dunes, Beanie finds a young Banker pony, almost dead from starvation and exhaustion, the result of several injuries. Beanie deduces that the yearling belongs to his great-grandpa, Captain John Piggott, because of the branded P on the colt. Grandpa comes and recognizes the colt as Sassy Boy. Grandpa takes care of the major injuries to the pony, and the children return daily to care for it. However, Tough Enough refuses to leave the pony’s side, urging the pony to eat. One day the Tatums enjoy a trip on Lizzie Lou, their great-grandpa’s shrimp boat. Still the pony is not well enough to stand on its own. Beanie is very sad when his Pa tells him he can not take the pony back to the farm. Captain Piggott intervenes, trying to convince Pa it’s only right. But Pa is resolute in his decision. The pony will stay where he is. When the Tatums board the boat to leave Shackleford Banks, Sassy swims out after them, following them the entire distance across the Sound. Any horse this determined and strong deserves to go home with the Tatums. And he does.
Carroll, Ruth, and Latrobe Carroll. Tough Enough and Sassy. Illus. Ruth Carroll. New York: Henry A. Walck, 1958. Hard times hit the Tatum family. Sassy may have to be sold in order for the family to survive. This is a sad possibility for all the Tatums. The children pitch in, doing everything they can think of to make life simpler for their family, managing to raise a small amount of money for necessities. Sassy and Tough Enough do their part as well. Even though most of their time is taken up with wok, the children still have some time to swim in the clear pond just below the mill and swing on the grape vines that cover the locust trees. Again Tough Enough saves members of his family, this time with the help of Sassy, and this time from the anger of a wild boar. Later Sassy stumbles into a mica mine and is rescued by the family. Then Ma Tatum comes up with a wonderful idea. She will make "wood pretties" to sell to tourists. Her venture is more than successful. With the help of the children, Tough Enough, and Sassy, the Tatums make it through the harsh times in their beautiful Great Smoky Mountains.
Carroll, Ruth, and Latrobe Carroll. Tough Enough’s Indians. Illus. Ruth Carroll. New York: Henry A. Walck, 1960. An ironic pastime turns into a real-life adventure. The Tatum children, led by Beanie, play at Indians. They learn what they know about Native Americans from school and books, some of it not terribly accurate. The forest ranger stops at the Tatums' house. The woods are dry as bones, and a ground fire has started. The ranger will need every available hand to help stop the fire from spreading. Pa prepares himself to help. The children proudly wave to their Pa, unaware of the dangers of firefighting. Playtime is over. The corn and potatoes must be harvested. Later the Tatums notice a large black cloud covering the mountains—the fire is spreading quickly. The next morning the children go to get their Ma stove wood. Still fascinated with the images of Indians they have read about, the children again pretend they are Indians. The wind picks up. Suddenly, they are caught up in the approaching fire. Sassy gets nervous, kicking over the wagon and running off. The smoke is choking everyone. Sassy leads the children to the safety of a brook. Following the stream as it continues to widen, the children are saved from the fire when they follow Sassy behind the screen of a waterfall. The children are found and taken in by a family of Cherokees. At first scared, the Tatums realize that the family is really no different than they are. They learn about traditional Cherokee carving and cooking. They even visit Oconaluftee Village, a traditional Cherokee village maintained by the local Cherokees, much like it might have been one-hundred years ago, for tourists. Beanie’s Pa, contacted by phone, thanks Climbing Bear for taking such good care of his family and gathers up his family to return home once again.
Carroll, Ruth, and Latrobe Carroll. Runaway Pony, Runaway Dog. Illus. Ruth Carroll. New York: Henry A. Walck, 1963. The last in the series, this is the only book with color illustrations. Sassy has strained a tendon, and the local doctor takes the horse to his pasture for observation. Tough Enough, of course, goes along. The animals search constantly for a way out and home. Finally escaping, the pair’s adventures begin. Will Bumgarner, owner of The Great Bumgarner Zoo, sees the animals and lures them into his truck. As soon as Sassy recovers from her injury, Will begins to let children ride the horse, later dressing both Sassy and Tough Enough in ridiculous clothing. The two become the main attractions of the zoo. A violent storm allows Sassy and Tough Enough an opportunity to escape. In the meantime, Beanie and his Pa find their way to Will’s wrecked Zoo. Will, sensing Pa Tatum’s anger, reluctantly tells him the entire story. Sassy and Tough Enough endure many hardships and dangers on their long journey back home. They finally arrive at the door of the community Church where the Tatum Family worships. Sore and hungry, the two barely make it up the front stairs, into the Church, and down the isle, both falling at the feet of their master, Beanie. Safe in Beanie’s arms, the two know they are finally going home.