Music in Appalachian Literature

Compiled by Tina L. Hanlon

Picture Books Based on a Song Fiction for Children and YA with Music in a Major Role AppLit Home

Note: See Complete List of AppLit Pages on Music in the Index of AppLit Pages by Genre, for a list of songs in this web site, folktales containing songs, bibliographies on folk narratives that are known as songs, study guides and articles that involve music, and other related materials. Dramatic and film adaptations of folktales, some with music, are listed at Appalachian Folktales in Film, Drama, and Storytelling Recordings. In addition, many collections of folktales contain some songs as well as prose tales and many folktales contain bits of song.

This page is new in November 2010 and will be expanded. Send your suggestions to thanlon@ferrum.edu. Most links on titles of folktales and songs below are to pages in AppLit's Annotated Index of Appalachian Folktales.

Criticism: Smith, Jennifer. "The Music of Appalachian Children's Literature." Children and Libraries 5 (Winter 2007): 31-37. Discusses and summarizes a number of Appalachian children's books that contain music and musical scenes.

Picture Books Based on a Song

Birdseye, Tom and Debbie. She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain. Illus. Andrew Glass. New York:  Holiday House, 1994. When Birdseye's family sang this folk song during a visit from his daughter's playmate, they got the idea that it is about old friends getting together. The comical illustrations for this combination of song lyrics and story depict Tootie arriving to visit the Sweet family. Birdseye's version of the song with music and his new lyrics about Tootie are given after the story. More background and two illustrations at www.tombirdseye.com

Chase, Richard. Billy Boy. Illus. Glen Rounds. San Carlos, CA: Golden Gate Junior Books, 1966. A picture book adaptation of the folk song about Billy reporting to his mother on the qualities of the wife he has just found. Music is given at the end. Chase observed in letters and lectures that this song is said to be "a parody of an old miserable murder ballad" from England, "Lord Randall" (see a version in AppLit at this link). In public appearances Chase sang verses he collected from children that are not in print, such as "She can wear a wedding gown/But she wears it upside down./She can fix a wedding cake/That will give you the belly ache" (from audio cassette of a 1975 visit to a class). In a letter dated 4/25/68, Chase wrote, "I got $400 royalties from that disgraceful 'hillbilly' Billy Boy," and as others have noted, Chase did not like the illustrations published with his song. (Letter and cassette are in Richard Chase Papers 1928-1988, W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection, Appalachian State University.) Other versions of lyrics to this song are available at The Bluegrass Messengers Fiddle and Instrumental Tunes. Only positive attributes of the young woman are described in the Appalachian version in Kidd, Ronald (comp.), On Top of Old Smoky–see Appalachian Folktale Collections.

Frazee. Marla. Hush Little Baby: A Folk Song with Pictures by Marla Frazee. New York: Browndeer/Harcourt Brace, 1999. The book jacket describes it as a "refreshingly unsentimental" story based on the old folk song, with a crying baby, frazzled parents, a visiting peddler, and a big sister in the middle of it all. Colorful illustrations are in acrylic and pencil. The California artist and mother researched the Appalachian roots of the song at Fort New Salem, WV, with living history programs on Appalachian culture 1790-1901.Tale of a Pig cover

Justus, May. Tale of a Pig. Illus. Frank Aloise. New York: Abingdon, 1963. N. pag. "Adaptation of an American folk song. Contains the song, arr. for voice and piano, as well as the unacc. melody." About a little woman who dances jigs and a prize-winning little pig. Most of Justus' books contain references to Smoky Mountain music, often with lyrics and music she collected. The same song appears in Justus' book Barney, Bring Your Banjo.

Lambert, Paulette Livers. Evening: An Appalachian Lullaby. Illus. Paulette Lambert. New York: Rinehart, 1995. Two young boys are lulled to sleep by the sounds of the Appalachian night and their father's fiddling. This story is based on a traditional Kentucky lullaby persuading children to come in from the wilderness. The father and sons are depicted in borderless paintings. The musical score is provided at the end. The author/illustrator grew up in a large Kentucky musical family. Jennifer Smith's article "The Music of Appalachian Children's Literature" observes, "Rich, colorful illustrations reflect the words of the lullaby while depicting a secondary story of a father and his young sons playing a game of hide and seek as the boys attempt to avoid bedtime." [Smith in Children and Libraries 5 (Winter 2007): p. 35.]

Langstaff, John M. Frog Went A-Courtin'. Illus. Feodor Rojankovsky. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1955. This retelling of the popular folk song about a frog courting a mouse won the 1956 Caldecott Medal. Langstaff, a New York musician and dramatist, learned folk songs from his parents, who had Cecil Sharp's collections of folk songs (some of which were collected in Appalachia). One of Langstaff's teachers when he was a boy took him to the Whitetop Folk Festival in Virginia. In the book he combined American versions of the story and used music sung in southern Appalachia. The song also appears in Chase, Richard, Grandfather Tales; in Kidd, Ronald (comp.), On Top of Old Smoky; and many versions are recorded at The Bluegrass Messengers Fiddle and Instrumental Tunes.

Langstaff, John M. The Swapping Boy. Illus. Beth and Joe Krush. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960. A picture book version of the folk song about a series of foolish trades, with musical score and brightly colored sketches featuring a young boy playing the fiddle and a girl dancing while she sweeps their cabin. This book has the traditional ending: "And now the songbook's back on the shelf, / If you want any more, you can sing it yourself!" The author's notes discuss the 500-year history and different versions of this children's song "about the foolish boy." He used a tune sung in his own family, one discovered by Cecil Sharp, the Englishman who collected ballads from children and adults in the Southern Appalachian Mountains forty years earlier. Langstaff chose the words he liked best from different parts of the country.

Lyon, George Ella. Which Side Are You On CoverWhich Side Are You On? The Story of a Song. Illus. Christopher Cardinale. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press, 2011. "Tells the story of a song which was written in 1931 by Florence Reece in a rain of bullets. It has been sung by people fighting for their rights all over the world. Florence's husband Sam was a coal miner in Kentucky.... Miners went on strike until they could get better pay, safer working conditions, and health care. The company hired thugs to attack the organizers like Sam Reece. Writer George Ella Lyon tells this hair-raising story through the eyes of one of Florence's daughters, a dry-witted pig-tailed gal, whose vantage point is from under the bed with her six brothers and sisters. The thugs' bullets hit the thin doors and windows of the company house, the kids lying low wonder whether they're going to make it out of this alive, wonder exactly if this strike will make their lives better or end them, but their mother keeps scribbling and singing. 'We need a song,' she tells her kids. That's not at all what they think they need." This summary and other details, including a video clip of Florence Reese singing, are on the publisher's web site. Illustrations are digitally colored scratchboard pictures. Some related articles and reviews are listed in AppLit's Bibliography of Books by George Ella Lyon.

Moser, Barry. Polly Vaughn: A Traditional British Ballad Designed, Illustrated, and Retold in an American Setting. Boston: Little, Brown, 1992. N. pag. A prose retelling of an old ballad that has many variants in America as well as Europe. Moser blends realistic, melodramatic, and supernatural details, using the context of a family feud in Cold Iron Mountain. Jimmy, a young miner, is hanged for accidentally killing Polly, a humble mountain tomboy, before their wedding. The tragic love story and strong anti-hunting theme are of interest to older readers. Moser's paintings in all three of his Appalachian fairy tale books contain striking portraits of the characters.

Parton, Dolly. Coat of Many Colors. Illus. Judith Sutton. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. "Dolly Parton's first book for children is based on her own childhood in the rolling Tennessee hills. When a little girl's mama makes her a coat out of rags, the other children at school laugh at her, but she soon learns that riches come in many forms." This sentimental book received mixed reviews—heartwarming to some readers and unsatisfying to others without the music for Parton's hit song with this title.

Troughton, Joanna. The Little Mohee: An Appalachian Ballad. New York: Dutton, 1970. This is a first-person verse narrative about a colonial man who returns, after his lover back in England rejects him, to Mohee, the "sweet Indian lass" who loves him. Illustrations are colorful with bold outlines. Music and background notes are given at the end. The notes explain that this ballad has American origins and is associated with different parts of America, but no specific details tell of its Appalachian history. Troughton is an English artist. Jennifer Smith's article "The Music of Appalachian Children's Literature" observes, "Troughton captures the meaning of the song’s words in her art. And, as they should, text and illustrations work one with the other for a nicely balanced presentation. Another general characteristic of the song picture book is that the music for each song, at least the melody line, is almost always included in the book, usually at the back." [Smith in Children and Libraries 5 (Winter 2007): p. 35.]

Other Literature for Children and Young Adults with Music in a Major Role

Busse, Sarah Martin and Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Banjo Granny. Illus. Barry Root. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Picture book. Granny gets magical help traveling from her home in the hills across different kinds of landscape with her banjo to visit her grandson, who is "wiggly, jiggly, and all-around giggly." Although Martin and her family and the story's settings are not specifically Appalachian, the story focuses on love of bluegrass music as well as family devotion. Busse, a poet (and Martin's daughter), wrote the song "Banjo Granny." The first stanza and music are in the book. Other stanzas are in Martin's web site. Reviews and study guides are also on the web site.

Crum, Shutta. My Mountain Song. Illus. Ted Rand. New York: Clarion, 2004. Picture book. Kentuckian Brenda Gail learns that everyone has a song inside them. However, she has to decide if she wants to include her pesky cousin Melvin in her special song. Delightful and rich illustrations add to the lyrical text. See review in ALCA-Lines (2004 issue, available as pdf file at this link). Jennifer Smith's article "The Music of Appalachian Children's Literature" observes, "The watercolor illustrations expertly blend the old with the new, providing an updated look at life in the mountains. [Smith in Children and Libraries 5 (Winter 2007): p. 35.]

Gibbons, Faye. Emma Jo's Song. Illus. Sherry Meidell. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 2001. 32 pp. "Emma Jo thinks she is the only nonmusical member of her very musical family, but when she goes to the Puckett family reunion she discovers her gift." The family's howling dog plays a role in Emma's story. Jennifer Smith's article "The Music of Appalachian Children's Literature" observes, "Soft illustrations join in the telling of Emma’s story. Everyone is coming for the family reunion, where . . . Rip the hound dog is banned . . . because every time Emma sings, he howls. Finally, it is Emma’s time to sing at the reunion, but she can’t do it until Rip happily joins in." [Smith in Children and Libraries 5 (Winter 2007): pp. 35-6.]

Hamilton, Virginia. M. C. Higgins, the Great. New York: Macmillan, 1974. (First book by an African American author to win a Newbery Medal.) See cover and details at Virginia Hamilton web site. For more on this novel, see AppLit's Celebrating Diversity in Appalachia! Exploring Social Issues Through Appalachian Children's Literature. This realistic novel is set in the hilly area of southern Ohio, on the Ohio River. M. C.'s great-grandmother Sarah climbed Sarah's Mountain with her baby when she was a runaway slave. Now the mountain is being destroyed by strip mining and mountain top removal, threatening the Higgins' family home. M. C. hopes that a folk song collector will make his mother famous but the collector convinces him that the outside commercial world would spoil his mother and her beautiful singing.

Justus, May. Most of Justus' books contain references to Smoky Mountain music and, in many cases, lyrics and music for folk songs that Justus collected. See AppLit bibliography Books by May Justus for Children and Young Adults. Banjo Billy and Peter Pocket books are about orphans who play and sing a variety of folk songs in their stories. Some of the titles with a major emphasis on music:

Banjo Billy and Mr. BonesPeter Pocket fiddling
features the song "Tale of a Pig."
"Play, Sammy, Play" "Fiddle Away." "Millie Makes Friends," "The Singing Bird" in Children of the Great Smoky Mountains
Fiddle Away
- includes "The Swapping Song"
Fiddler's Fair
"A Big Day at Kettle Creek School" in Holidays in No-End Hollow
Let's Play and Sing - 12 children's singing games and songs, with music
Like the Wise Men—A Christmas Cantata
Mr. Songcatcher and Company
New Boy in School
(set in Nashville, not mountains)
Peter Pocket's Luck
Sammy
Surprise for Peter Pocket (illustration at right by Jean Tamburine)


Madden, Kerry. Gentle's Holler. New York: Viking, 2005. A novel focusing on one girl in a large family in Maggie Valley, NC at the beginning of the 1960s. See the author's fascinating web site, Kerry Madden.com, for details and music to accompany the songs that the protagonist makes up for herself. Livy Two tells about her older sister who died at birth (Livy One), the arrival and acceptance of the wiener dog Uncle Hazard, the children's building of his doghouse called the Pinecone Palace, dangerous encounters with lost children and hornets, the family's painful realization that the toddler Gentle can't see, her father's song writing and struggles to get jobs in the music business, learning to get along better with her grandmother, her brother Emmett's desire to go off and work at the new Ghost Town in the Sky, his discovery of their estranged uncle at the mountaintop amusement park, visiting the bookmobile and its kind librarian in Maggie Valley, singing at a folk festival, and a family disaster at the end of the novel.

Madden, Kerry. Jessie's Mountain. New York: Viking, 2008. Third novel in the Maggie Value trilogy about the Weems family. This novel contains excerpts from the diary of Jessie, Livy Two's mother. Livy learns to understand her mother and grandmother better by reading about her mother's youth in the 1940s, when her father became ill and died. As her own father gradually recovers from his brain injury, not yet able to make a living, Livy Two goes away on an adventure which she hopes will help the family finances and prevent their planned move into the town of Enka to live with their grandmother, but her attempt to seek her fortune causes quite a few troubles. Their mother's employment at Champion Paper Mill brings benefits and difficult adjustments to the family. The marriage of the bookmobile librarian to a history teacher is an impending event throughout the novel. Although Livy Two does not much like Mr. Pickle, the fiance, he is persuaded to help the Weems family begin a promising new venture in their mountain community. (For more on Champion Paper Mill in Canton, see AppLit page on George Loveland's 2006 book Under the Workers' Caps.)

Madden, Kerry. Louisiana's Song. New York: Viking, 2007. Sequel to Gentle's Holler. In 1963, the Weems family struggles to cope with the father's long recuperation from an injury. The narrator Livy Two continues to write songs about her experiences, including a song about her shy, artistically talented, tall sister Louise (Louisiana). The family's efforts to make ends meet include gardening, selling sweaters and baby blankets knit by the mother, Emmett's job at Ghost Town in the Sky on Buck Mountain (which was really built in 1960), Becksie's job at the Pancake House, Livy's job on the bookmobile, selling paintings by Louisiana, and Livy's attempts to sell songs written by her father and herself. Grandmother Horace stays with them to help out but wants them to move to her town of Enka.

Martin, Jacqueline Briggs. Good Times on Grandfather Mountain. Illus. Susan Gaber. New York: Orchard Books, 1992. Picture book. Old Washburn "always looked at the bright side of life." Even when a series of disasters takes away his animals, his crops, and his cabin, he sees advantages in having less to care for. Like the wise wizard evoked in the picture of the mountain man sleeping under the stars—long white beard, a quilt as a robe, and an open book by his side—Washburn turns the bad into good. He uses his whittling talent to make a fiddle. Then his fiddle music lures neighbors and his roving animals to return and help him. Publishers Weekly called Washburn "a combination of Pollyana and Job" (qtd. on back cover). Gaber's watercolors include interesting close-ups of man and animals on white pages, as well as borderless double-page scenes. Pictures, summary and activity at Martin's page Good Times on Grandfather Mountain. She calls the story "a literary tall-tale about one of my favorite characters. . . a fine whittler." Come Sing, Jimmie Jo cover

Paterson, Katherine. Come Sing, Jimmie Jo. New York: Puffin, 1995. A talented boy (age eleven) struggles with fame after he begins performing with his family of traveling country musicians. His grandmother has cared for him in a West Virginia mountain home where they work hard and grow their own food; then his parents take him to a city home in Tidewater, Virginia after they get a manager and regular booking on a television show. Intergenerational conflicts about their music, homesickness, problems emerging from his young mother's past, a stern teacher in a new school and lack of friends his own age make his transition into the world of professional music difficult, although all the family is immersed in their love of traditional music. "It was the music that tied him to home, to being James" (p. 63). Adult decisions about changing names and other efforts to please fans challenge James to find ways to maintain his sense of self and home with his growing love for performing. The novel includes some song lyrics and discussion of writing new songs. Jennifer Smith's article "The Music of Appalachian Children's Literature" notes that this novel includes "as a secondary theme the struggles and differences of opinion between the group’s members regarding the modernization and popularization of their repertoire, . . . the difficulty many groups may have encountered in transitioning from the old-time music to that of the country western repertoire." [Smith in Children and Libraries 5 (Winter 2007): p. 33.]

Showell, Ellen HarveyCecelia and the Blue Mountain Boy. Illus. Margot Tomes. New York:  Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1983. 76 pp. "Enroute to the Chester Music Festival, a boy hears a strange story about the lively young girl who changed Chester from a solemn and gloomy town to one where people dance and make music." Also adapted as a musical play.

Vess, Charles, et al. The Book of Ballads. New York: Tor, 2004. Introduction by Terri Windling. Not a children's book and not completely Appalachian, but a retelling of ballads by different writers in graphic novel format. Some of these ballads from English, Irish, and Scottish traditions are well-known in Appalachia and Vess's art is deeply influenced by the mountain landscape around his western Virginia home. Vess wrote the text for "Alison Gross" while Appalachian authors Lee Smith and Sharyn McCrumb wrote "The Three Lovers" and "Thomas the Rhymer," respectively. Originally published as four comic books from Vess's Green Man Press. See cover and samples of the art at Tor page on Vess's work for this book at the Library of Congress.

White, Ruth. Sweet Creek Holler. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1988. A coming-of-age novel in which Ginny Shortt tells of her family's struggles in the coal country of southwestern Virginia in the late 1940s, after her father is murdered. Jennifer Smith's article "The Music of Appalachian Children's Literature" observes that "music is one of the few things that lighten the family’s load." Smith discusses "The Cabbage Head," a song about a foolish, easily deceived man, also known as "The Drunken Fool," sung in the novel by the drunken father of Ginny's friend. "The song is a numbskull tale set to music. For, as it is in numbskull tales, one character, in this case the wife, dutifully points out to another character of the story, in this case the husband, the folly of his ways, and the husband is not able to put two and two together." The novel shows how important the Grand Ole Opry is to the girls and their community as "the radios played on through the night up and down the valley" and the girls go out to sing to the trees (p. 62 of the novel). In a number of "descriptive passages, White captures the importance of music in the everyday life of the old and young living in Appalachia." [Smith in Children and Libraries 5 (Winter 2007): pp. 33-34.]

White, Ruth. Tadpole. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003. Set in the Kentucky hills in 1955-56. With three seemingly accomplished and well-known older sisters—Kentucky, Virginia, Georgia—Caroline, the ten-year-old narrator, is encouraged by the optimism of her thirteen-year-old cousin to recognize her own talent after Tadpole arrives unexpectedly for a visit. Tad's musical talents fill their days with song and dance, inspiring Caroline to hear the songs in her own head. SPOILERS IN THIS SUMMARY: Tad organizes a neighborhood July 4th picnic at the Breaks of Cumberland, the first public park in their area, in a place explored by Daniel Boone. Tad finds ways to help pay the bills when the aunt determined to protect him from an abusive guardian is "broke as the Ten Commandments" (p. 105). He has mysterious spiritual insights and is inspired by Wordsworth's "Intimations Ode" to think, "When we're born, we bring magic with us from the other side. One old famous dead poet said we come 'trailing clouds of glory'" (p. 39). Tad and Caroline enter a radio music contest with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. Tad leaves for Nashville on the day after James Dean died, and writes to the family later as his fortunes improve. Lyrics from some traditional songs and ballads are scattered throughout the novel.

Wood, Francis Eugene. Wind Dancer's Flute. Illus. Judith N Ligon. Farmville, VA: Tip of the Moon Pub., 1998. The Tip of the Moon web site has information by and about the author and the book, with pictures and reviews. "The main character, Wind Dancer, is part Cherokee, part Irish, and a free-spirited lad who lives with his adopted mother, Sarah Ogle, and roams the great Smoky Mountains. A gifted flutist, Wind plays his music in the nearby village" until an evil man interferes. Wind's uncle and "mysterious little people, known as the Yunwi Tsunsdi," in "a sacred place," help his spirit recover. The author describes the book as being about racial intolerance, "the beauty in the free-spirited among us," and the power of forgiveness.

Other Books for Children and Young Adults that Contain Music

Baker, Julie. Up Molasses Mountain. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2002. Set in Clay, West Virginia, the novel is written in two distinct voices, those of fifteen-year-old Elizabeth and Clarence, who suffers the continual jokes and laughter of his peers because he has a harelip. During the year of 1953, the circus comes to town, a strike divides father and son, Elizabeth learns about loss, and both she and Clarence share a brief period of peace and hope. Many real-life historical people are mentioned in the novel: Mrs. Roosevelt, John L. Lewis, Mother Jones. Folk hero John Henry is mentioned. Pieces of strike songs and hymns dot the storyline, emphasizing the Appalachian setting. Julie Baker, the author, grew up in West Virginia listening to stories about the mine wars.

Blevins, Wade. Se-lu's Song. Cherokee Indian Legend Series. Ozark Publishing, 1994 - see Cherokee Picture Books.

Carroll, Ruth, and Latrobe Carroll. Beanie. Illus. Ruth Carroll. New York: Oxford UP, 1953. The Carrolls' first picture book about the adventures of Beanie and his dog dog Tough Enough contains music for a song. The New York Times praised the illustrations but not the music (11 Oct. 1953). See details on the book at AppLit page on Ruth and Carroll Latrobe's Mid-Twentieth-Century Picture Books.

Caudill, Rebecca. Tree of Freedom. Illus. Dorothy Bayley Morse. New York: Viking, 1949. "The two eldest children of a pioneer family are determined to carry their love of beauty and learning to their new home in the Kentucky Wilderness." When the Venable family moves from Carolina to Kentucky in 1780, they meet with rival claims to their new land as well as harsh demands for their sons to be Revolutionary War recruits. Jennifer Smith's article "The Music of Appalachian Children's Literature" discusses this book's portrayal of everyday pioneer life, including songs, games, and superstitions. "A wide variety of music is incorporated into the story. One example from the novel is the ballad 'Golden Willow Tree,' which Noel, the oldest son in the story, sings while he accompanies himself on the dulcimer. . . . With her inclusion of this and other ballads, hymns, and play songs, Caudill captures the core of music that is called traditional Appalachian music. It is largely based on Anglo-Celtic folk ballads and instrumental dance tunes." Later Smith discusses the play rhyme “William Matrimmatoe” in this novel and Gloria Houston's My Great Aunt Arizona. [Smith in Children and Libraries 5 (Winter 2007): pp. 31-2.]

Cheek, Pauline. Appalachian Scrapbook: An A-B-C of Growing Up in the Mountains. Johnson City, Tenn.: Overmountain Press, 1988. 161 pp. The text, in the voice of a child from Madison County, NC, is longer than a picture book or traditional alphabet book, but it includes many pencil drawings and references to folktales and legends, along with many other Appalachian traditions, historical references, and natural features. Examples: B is for ballads; J is for Jonesborough, its storytelling festival, and Jack tales, with an illustrated retelling of "Jack and the Newground"; L is for legend, with a retelling of the Cherokee legend about the Milky Way; M is for moonshine, with a yarn about curing a cow with moonshine; U is for "Unto These Hills" (Cherokee drama); X for "x marks the spot" includes a number of superstitions and a story told by fiddler Roy Sharp at the Lunsford Festival, about getting incredible fiddling skill from an encounter with the devil at a crossroads. See also writings by and about Pauline Cheek, including an alphabet she helped children write in Harlan County, KY in Now and Then, vol. 4.1 (Spring 1987). Special issue on Appalachian childhood. ERIC, no. ED310896

Clark, Billy C. Song of the River. 1957. Illus. Ezra Jack Keats. Ed. James M. Gifford, Chuck D. Charles, and Eleanor Kersey. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1994. 144 pp. Introduction by Gurney Norman. "Having grown old living in his shantyboat on the Big Sandy River in eastern Kentucky, John engages in a final battle with Scrapiron Jack, the huge catfish he has been trying to catch for years."

Dowell, Frances O'Roark. Dovey Coe. New York: Aladdin, 2000. 181 pp. The narrator is a 12-year-old girl in rural Watauga County, NC in 1926, who is charged with killing the son of the richest family in town. On the first page she describes Parnell Caraway as "the meanest, vainest, greediest man who ever lived. Seventeen years old and rotten to the core." Dovey tells of her family's long history of living on their own land, her deaf brother and his dogs Huck and Tom, her parents' efforts to raise independent and loving children, her pretty older sister Caroline's desire for travel and education, Parnell's courtship of Caroline before Caroline is to leave for teachers college in Boone, and the murder trial. The economic and social inequalities of the community play a role in the plot, as well as discrimination against deaf children and traditions of folk medicine and music. A ghost makes a brief appearance toward the end. Dovey calls her school in Indian Creek "a poor excuse for an institution of learning," since with a series of teachers "straight out of teachers college who thought she was doing her Christian duty by coming up here and learning us hillbillies" (p. 19). Dovey's lawyer calls her at the end "a might big force to be reckoned with" (p. 180). During her trial, when she is threatened with becoming a flatlander in a detention home in Charlotte, Dovey observes "the mountains that framed our town like a circle of wise old men and women" and reminisces about running up the trail of Katie's Knob "searching for all the interesting things a mountain had to offer" (p. 156).

Forman, James D. A Ballad for Hogskin Hill. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1979. 229 pp. Set in the mountains of Kentucky. A boy and his family try to stop the strip mining that threatens to take their home. Roberta Herrin has noted the "complex characterization" in this novel ("Appalachian Books for All Children." Now and Then,  vol. 4.1, 1987: p. 35).

Forman, James D. Song of Jubilee. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1971. Jim Chase tells of his life as a slave and former slave in the Shenandoah Valley from 1860 until the period of Reconstruction.

Hamilton, Virginia. The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl. New York: HarperCollins, 1983. The character Dwahro, who does not know for a time that he is mortal, is the best dancer and singer. See more on folklore in this novel at this link.

Houston, Gloria. Bright Freedom’s Song: A Story of the Underground Railroad. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1998. Houston's book teaches children the means by which enslaved people who escaped were hidden on farms and smuggled to the next safe house along their journey. This Houston novel makes clear the danger that early African Americans were willing to endure to obtain their freedom. Because she develops a strong character of the former slave Marcus, who comes from freedom in Canada to lead others on their journey, Houston refrains from elevating the white family’s role to that of primary hero. This novel is an extremely useful vehicle for teaching young people about a myriad of historical social ills; as a result, readers can gain greater understanding of the stereotypes that young people struggle with even today (notes by Susan V. Mead). See more on this book in Celebrating Diversity in Appalachia!  Exploring Social Issues Through Appalachian Children's Literature.

Houston, Gloria. Mountain Valor. Illus. Thomas B. Allen. New York: Putnam & Grosset, 1994. "With her father and brothers gone to serve in the Civil War and her mother sick, teenage Valor ignores what is proper behavior for a girl and fights to defend her North Carolina mountain farm" (publisher review). Jennifer Smith's article "The Music of Appalachian Children's Literature" discusses the Scottish origins of Valor's father's favorite song, "Gypsy Rover," which Valor and other characters sing throughout the novel. "The American versions are much tamer and quite romantic." The song represents Valor's ties to her father, who has been gone several years, and her family heritage, and it "is used to foreshadow the romance that blooms between Valor and Laird Randall McKenzie, a soldier from Scotland." [Smith in Children and Libraries 5 (Winter 2007): pp. 34-35.]

Houston, Gloria. My Great-Aunt Arizona. Illus Susan Condie Lamb. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. Although this beloved picture book has little emphasis on music, two details about young Arizona are illustrated by engaging full-page portraits of her singing primly and then square dancing energetically "to the music of the fiddler on Saturday night." In the double-page spread on dancing, we see only the shoes and fiddle of others in the room surrounding Arizona with her flying braids, arms and skirts. Houston’s book offers a compelling picture of real teachers and one-room schools in a moving story of a lively, loving woman (Houston's real great-aunt) who dedicated her life to teaching, showing the scope of her life in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC from childhood through 57 years of teaching and old age. She did her duty to her family as well as pursuing her own dream of going off to school and becoming a teacher. Jennifer Smith's article "The Music of Appalachian Children's Literature" discusses the play rhyme “William Matrimmatoe” in this book and Rebecca Caudill's Tree of Freedom. [Smith in Children and Libraries 5 (Winter 2007): p. 33.] See more details in HarperCollins web pages on the book, author, and illustrator; Review at Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site; and Lesson plan by Nancy Polette, 1999, in Nancy Polette's Children's Literature Site.

Houston, Gloria. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree. Illus. Barbara Cooney. New York:  Dial Books, 1988. See Appalachian Christmas Picture Books for summary. Jennifer Smith's article "The Music of Appalachian Children's Literature" discusses a type of traditional carol that includes “Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head” and notes that Houston includes it in this World War I story." [Smith in Children and Libraries 5 (Winter 2007): p. 32.]Illustration from May Justus story

Justus, May. Most of her books contain reference to Smoky Mountain music and, in many cases, lyrics and music from folk songs that Justus collected. For example, Jumping Johnny and Skedaddle gives a song about Johnny and refers to Smoky Mountain tall tales about him. See AppLit bibliography Books by May Justus for Children and Young Adults. Illustration at right by Jean Tamburine from "Mr. Songcatcher Comes By," a chapter reprinted in Smoky Mountain Sampler, 1962.

Keehn, Sally M. Gnat Stokes and the Foggy Bottom Swamp Queen. New York: Philomel Books, 2005. In an adaptation of the Scottish ballad "Tam Lin" or "Tamlane" set in Eastern Tennessee, twelve-year-old Gnat narrates her attempts to rescue Goodlow Pryce, kidnapped seven years earlier by Zelda the Swamp Queen. Hope for personal and regional reconciliation after the Civil War are themes in this novel. When the Swamp Cat asks Gnat for a special love song, she sings a favorite in Mary's Cove, "Sourwood Mountain," which her father had played on his fiddle. She also has to make up bad poems to escape from evil creatures and she and her friends recite Scottish poems by Robert Burns. See more on folklore in this novel on the page Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction.

Lyon, George Ella. Basket. Illus. Mary Szilagyi. New York: Orchard, 1990. A heart-warming story about the many uses of a grandmother's oak egg basket. She loses it when she moves and thinks she left important things in it, but after her death her granddaughter finds the basket with only one spool in it. She cherishes the basket that reminds her of her grandmother's familiar rhymes and ways. Includes a song about a spool of thread with music by Steve Lyon included in the book. Jennifer Smith's article "The Music of Appalachian Children's Literature" discusses the original song that is "reminiscent of traditional folk music." [Smith in Children and Libraries 5 (Winter 2007): p. 34.]

Oughton, Jerrie. Music from a Place Called Half Moon. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1995.  Jerrie Oughton’s book is a moving depiction of tragedies which result from prejudice and reactions to prejudice in a small North Carolina town near Asheville. The reader walks with young Edie Jo as she overcomes the ignorance that results from lack of contact with people who are racially and ethnically different, towards a warm and deep understanding that comes with opening her life to those same people. The book envelops a mystery that keeps the reader engaged, and the interpersonal dynamics seem familiar as the family struggles with differing opinions about contact with their Cherokee neighbors. The theme is hard-hitting and direct, yet the context of personal and community growth brings the story home so that children empathize and learn from the ethnocentric mistakes of the characters in this novel (notes by Susan V. Mead). Jennifer Smith's article "The Music of Appalachian Children's Literature" discusses the songs of "lost love and loneliness" in this novel: "On Top of Old Smoky" and "Down in the Valley." [Children and Libraries 5 (Winter 2007): p. 33.] See more on this book in Celebrating Diversity in Appalachia! Exploring Social Issues Through Appalachian Children's Literature.

Paterson, KatherineBridge to Terabithia. New York: HarperTrophy, 1977. Winner of Newbery Medal and other awards. Paterson's realistic masterpiece is an insightful and moving portrayal of a friendship between a fifth-grade boy and girl in the mountains of rural Virginia. Paterson was the middle child in a family of five, like Jesse, and her teaching experience in a 6th grade at a rural Virginia school, as well as her experiences as a mother and a cancer patient, also informed this novel. The unconventional young music teacher makes fifth graders who pretend not to like school and teachers secretly enjoy music class, while Jesse quietly adores this teacher and she encourages his artistic talent. Paterson and Stephanie Tolan adapted the novel as a play. See more on this book and the 2007 film adaptation at Appalachian Fiction for Children and Young Adults.

Poulsen, Kathleen Phillips. Apple Doll. Johnson City, TN: Overmountain Press, 2002. A picture book with a family story about mountain traditions, including songs and games, with a pattern for an apple doll. See short description at Overmountain web site and review by Charisse Floyd in Foreword Magazine web site, with picture.

Ransom, Candice. Finding Day's Bottom. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2006. The protagonist, Jane-Ery, is grieving for her father, who sang her "Froggie Went a-Courtin'" and called her Miss Mousie after the mouse in the song. Jane-Ery's grandfather tells three folktales (based on tales in Richard Chase's Grandfather Tales): "Gallymanders! Gallymanders!" "Like Meat Loves Salt," and "Whitebear Whittington." See more on folklore in this novel on the page Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction.

Rockwood, Joyce. Long Man's Song. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975. "A young pre-Columbian Cherokee living in the southern Appalachian mountains proves himself as a medicine man while trying to cure his sister's illness."

Rylant, Cynthia. The Relatives Came. Illus. Stephen Gammell. New York: Bradbury, 1985. Rylant tells the story of Virginia relatives who leave their home early in the morning to arrive in West Virginia with loads of hugs, laughter, and fun. Although the text does not discuss music, Gammell provides a great full-page illustration of a family band playing while others eat and work. Gammell included himself as the man in the green and white striped shirt, blue jeans, and red tennis shoes playing the guitar in this picture. Gammell’s humorous illustrations combine with Rylant’s light-hearted and warm text to recall the joys of family visits. Jennifer Smith's article "The Music of Appalachian Children's Literature" notes that Gammell has depicted an old-time family string band. [Children and Libraries 5 (Winter 2007): p. 32.]

Salsi, Lynn. Young Ray Hicks Learns the Jack Tales. Illus. James Young. Montville Press, 2005. A biographical novel about the youth of Ray Hicks, the famous storyteller from Beech Mountain, NC. Music was an important part of his life as well as tales and other folklore.

Skurzynski, Gloria, and Alane Ferguson. Night of the Black Bear: A Mystery in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Mysteries in Our National Parks Series, no. 13. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2007. 157 pp. "While their mother investigates a series of bear attacks in and near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Jack and Ashley learn about country music and Cherokee people from two new friends, one of whom is keeping a secret" (Worldcat). Arguments over ancestral Cherokee lands in the parks play a role in the plot. Includes an Afterword by a park naturalist about black bear behavior and problems with tourists.

Spaulding, Minnie K. Jack and His Dogs. Illus. Jane Kelm. Johnson City, Tenn: Don & Mignon, 1972. Abstract from WorldCat: An Appalachian tale of Jack and his three dogs, who rid the woods of a bear. Music by Ottie Merle Stuckenbruck, Rachael Barrett. The introduction says that "no one knows where this story originated. However, it was told in Louisa County, Virginia." (Note: ETSU library has a copy, Oct. 2007.)

Still, James. Sporty Creek. 1977. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1999.  See James Still's Books for and about Children: Bibliography and Study Guide for additional details and references to Still's folklore books. River of Earth, Still's 1940 novel for adults, has a similar child narrator and a similar father who moves the family from their country homes to mining towns  (Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1996). In "Simon Brawl," the first chapter in Sporty Creek (also appearing as a chapter in River of Earth and the short story "The Ploughing"), Uncle Jolly sings a folk song about a stubborn mule. A funny rhyme about a wayward mule named Simon Brawl also appears in Still's book of folklore, The Wolfpen Rusties. See more on folklore in this novel on the page Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction.

White, Ruth. Belle Prater's Boy. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell/Yearling, 1996. This is a realistic novel with more details from American popular culture (television, advertising, comic books, movies) than Appalachian folklore. See more on folklore in this novel on the page Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction

Yep, Laurence. The Star Fisher. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1991. A Chinese family brings their traditions with them when they move from Ohio to Clarksburg, WV in the 1920s. In chapter 4, after the two sisters have been frightened by bigoted townspeople, the narrator helps her younger sister and herself fall sleep by telling a familiar story their mother had told them. The magical Star Fisher and her daughter are outsiders in the world of a farmer who forced the beautiful woman to marry him. Eventually the daughter helps her mother trick her father into revealing where he had hidden the cloak he took from the woman on the night that her singing and dancing with her sisters seduced him. Recovering her golden cloak of feathers, the woman returns to her place in the sky as a golden kingfisher and later her daughter joins her. Yep identifies his main source of the tale as de Groot's Religious Systems of China (Leyden: E. J. Brill, 1892-1910). See more on this book in Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction and Celebrating Diversity in Appalachia!  Exploring Social Issues Through Appalachian Children's Literature.

A Few Examples of Fiction for Adults

Conley, Robert J. Mountain Windsong: A Novel of the Trail of Tears. Norman: U of OK Press, 1995. The author, "a member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees. . . makes use of song, legend, and historical documents to weave the rich texture of this love story that brings to life the suffering and endurance of the Cherokee people" (back cover). A grandfather in the Smoky Mountains of NC, while listening to the wind, says he hears an old love song and tells his grandson the story of the legendary lovers Oconeechee and Waguli, or Whippoorwill, on the Trail of Tears.

McCrumb, Sharyn. The Ballad series of novels. Links on titles below are to McCrumb's web site The Ballad Novels, with pictures and background on each book from the 1990s and 2001. The novels are based on research on McCrumb's own family history and the folklore, music, natural history, and social history of Appalachia. For AppLit's notes on each novel, see Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction. McCrumb has collaborated with musicians who performed and recorded the ballads. For example, The Rowan Stave is a CD with music and reading by McCrumb from The Songcatcher (music by Shelley Stevens and Sweetwater. Springfield, OH: Tweetwater Productions, 2001).

The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter | If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O| The Legend of Frankie Silver | The Rosewood Casket | She Walks These Hills | The Songcatcher

Smith, Lee. Fair and Tender Ladies. New York: Ballantine, 1988. At the end of the novel Smith lists written and oral sources of the "Appalachian legends, history, songs, and tales" she used, including Richard Chase's Grandfather Tales (p. 319). The novel records the life of Ivy Rowe, through letters she writes to various people. She lives in a town for a while as a girl but spends most of her life in her native mountains. When she is forty and lives on a mountain for a while with Honey Breeding, a roaming man, he sings songs that make Ivy laugh and cry. She repeats several sad lines from "Poor Wayfaring Stranger" (p. 235). See more on folklore in this novel on the page Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction.


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