Struggles for Life, Liberty, and Land:

Appalachian Mining Communities in Children’s and Young Adult Literature

By Tina L. Hanlon
2015-2021

Overview Fiction Nonfiction and Criticism Other Resources

The article titled "Struggles for Life, Liberty, and Land: Mining Communities in Appalachian Children’s Books" was published in The Southern Quarterly: A Journal of Arts and Letters in the South, vol. 54, Spring/Summer 2017, pp. 94-113. Mark I. West was the guest editor for an issue devoted to children of the South, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at the University of Mississippi. The article is available from library databases such as JSTOR. Below are the bibliography from this project, with some entries added since 2017, and some notes.

I presented an earlier version of the essay at the 42nd annual Children’s Literature Association Conference in Richmond, Virginia, on June 19, 2015. The conference theme was "'Give me liberty or give me death': The High Stakes and Dark Sides of Children’s Literature."

Overview: The article includes the sections "Depictions of Mining Towns Past, Present, and Future," which is a chronological sampling of books with Appalachian settings from the early twentieth century to the future, and "Stereotypes and Realities," with discussion of regional stereotypes, radical perspectives, and activism of young characters. The books discussed depict a variety of personal, environmental and socioeconomic problems in relation to the mining jobs in each community. Details about the importance of mining jobs and miners' pride in their work also add to the realism in some books. Some of the earliest injustices such as child labor, inadequate pay, and extreme neglect of safety rules and civil rights have been alleviated over time, but historical and political changes, along with increasing industrialization, have brought new challenges to mining communities rather than eliminating the physical dangers, pollution, or economic stresses afflicting the region.

Mark I. West's overview from Guest Editor's Introduction in The Southern Quarterly special issue:

Tina L. Hanlon’s article “Struggles for Life, Liberty, and Land: Appalachian Mining Communities in Children’s Literature” focuses on children’s and young adult books that are set in Appalachia from the early twentieth century to the present. They deal with conflicts between mountain communities and the coal industry, which provides jobs that often cause injury, death, economic hardship, and pollution. The young protagonists in these books have a deep identification with the land where they live. For many of these characters, when the land is despoiled by the coal companies, they feel as if they, too, have suffered a loss. For the most part, however, these young characters do not seem like the lost children that Eckard discusses in her article. Hanlon argues that for these child characters, their sense of belonging to a community, even if it is a community that is under duress, provides them with a sense of identity and purpose. (pp. 7-8)

The works of fiction for children and young adults listed here are described, usually in more detail, in these AppLit bibliographies, and other links given below. The focus on mining ranges from brief background details to extensive depictions of mining jobs, including child labor, and the industry's effects on families and communities. Some books and other resources for adults are on this page as well. Quoted descriptions are from publishers, producers, or WorldCat.org.

Appalachian Fiction for Children and Young Adults
Realistic Appalachian Picture Books


Bibliography

Fiction

Baker, Julie. Up Molasses Mountain. Random / Wendy Lamb, 2002.

Novel set in WV in 1950s, with details about real strike songs and union organizers such as Mother Jones.

Byars, Betsy. The Summer of the Swans. Illus. Ted CoConis. Puffin Books, 1970.

Beautiful West Virginia mountains marred by a strip mine in the late 1960s are the backdrop in this Newbery Medal novel.

Caudill, Rebecca. Did You Carry the Flag Today, Charley? Illus. Nancy Grossman. Yearling, 1966.

Chapter book for younger readers, with some details about family members laid off and injured working in mines.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games trilogy and prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Scholastic, 2008-2010, 2020.

Young adult dystopia set hundreds of years in the future, in which the heroine's home in an oppressed mining district is identified as having been Appalachia.
See study guide in this site, Appalachia in the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

Dooley, Sarah. Free Verse. Putnam, 2016.

The heroine is a troubled foster child in WV with conflicting feelings about her father's death working in the mines and her cousin Hubert's pride about doing the dangerous of work of mining: "it’s not some dumb hillbilly job" (p. 194).

Dulemba, Elizabeth O. A Bird on Water Street. Little Pickle Press, 2013.

Set in 1986 in Coppertown, based on the real town of Copperhill, TN, near the end of the era when its natural environment and citizens' health were ravaged by copper mining. The child protagonist becomes interested in helping nature recover.

Erwin, Casey. Our Daddy Is a Coal Miner. Authorhouse, 2007. 15 pp.

A picture book I did not study for the 2017 Southern Quarterly article: "Ethan and Ashton learn from their father what coal is used for, how it forms, and how important it is to West Virginia."

Fawcett, Katie P. To Come and Go Like Magic. Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.

Set in 1970s Kentucky, with some discussion of the coming of strip mining, and injustices caused by mining companies in the past.
See Review of To Come and Go Like Magic by Katie P. Fawcett in this web site.

Forman, James. A Ballad for Hogskin Hill. Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1979.

In a novel with a scathing condemnation of the coal industry, "a teenage boy and his family attempt to stop the strip mining that threatens their home in the Kentucky mountains."

Gipe, Robert. Trampoline: An Illustrated Novel. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2015.

Gritty realism not marketed for young readers, but the protagonist/narrator is a contemporary teenager who gets involved with protesting mountaintop removal mining with her grandmother, after her father has died in a mine and her mother has become a drug addict. She is grown up in the two sequels.

Green, Connie Jordan. Emmy. Margaret K. McElderry, 1992.

Set in eastern Kentucky in 1924, during the summer when eleven-year-old Emmy’s father is recovering from an injured leg and loss of an arm in a mine accident. Her teenage brother survives a mine accident and hopes a new union will help improve working conditions.

Hamilton, Virginia. M. C. Higgins, the Great. Aladdin, 1974.

An African American boy in southern Ohio lives on his family's property in a mountain home threatened by a massive slag heap from strip mining: a "dark and giant heap rising out of the mist like a festering boil" (p. 271). This novel won the first Newbery Medal awarded to an African American author as well the 1975 National Book Award for children’s books, and the 1974 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for excellence in children’s fiction.
See study guide Celebrating Diversity in Appalachia! Exploring Social Issues Through Appalachian Children's Literature.

Hankla, Cathryn. A Blue Moon in Poorwater: A Novel. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1998.

Although not marketed for young readers, this novel focuses on a ten-year-old’s experiences in 1968-69 in a western Virginia mining town, where her neighbor and three other men die in mine accidents. Her father struggles to get the union to support a strike and keep the coal company from manipulating safety records to increase production and to avoid paying compensation by blaming the victim falsely for violating safety rules. In the first chapter the narrator imagines her father’s experience with a Christmas Train in 1942.

Hendershot, Judith. In Coal Country. Illus. Thomas B. Allen. Alfred A. Knopf, 1987.

Picture book set in the 1930s southeastern Ohio home of the author's family, describing the miners' pride and pleasures of that environment as well as the pollution and hardships of a mining community.

House, Silas, and Neela Vaswani. Same Sun Here. Candlewick Press, 2012.

Epistolary novel in which a contemporary Kentucky boy and an immigrant girl in New York exchange letters. River Dean Justice witnesses disastrous effects of mountaintop removal mining and his Mawmaw gets him involved with protesting. House based his characters and scenes on children and adults who inspired his own activism, including “two of the strongest women in the fight against MTR: Kentucky’s Teri Blanton and West Virginia’s Judy Bonds" ("Interview").

Knight, Mary. Saving Wonder. Scholastic, 2016.

A contemporary seventh-grade boy and his female friend lead a campaign to stop mountaintop removal near their Kentucky home. Their friendship with a mine company owner's son adds nuance to the socioeconomic conflicts. Use of social media and alliance with Cherokee activists protecting sacred lands are among the resistance methods depicted.

Laskas, Gretchen Moran. The Miner’s Daughter. Simon & Schuster, 2007.

A West Virginia teenager's family life is changed when Eleanor Roosevelt attempts to help underemployed and underpaid miners’ families by building the experimental New Deal town of Arthurdale, West Virginia, in 1933. Racism prevents Willa's friend from moving to the new town. Some of the male characters barely survive their temporary jobs during the disastrously dangerous construction of Hawk's Nest Tunnel.
See Review of The Miner's Daughter by Gretchen M. Laskas in this web site.

Lenski, Lois. Coal Camp Girl. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1959.

Lenski visited WV in 1958 to create the fictional town of Linden Mills for one of her many regional novels. Her Foreword describing "the beautiful mountains" says every incident in the book happened to real people there: "There is sadness and sorrow in their lives, but there is joy and gladness, too" (pp. ix, xi).

Lyon, George Ella. Mama is a Miner. Illus. Peter Catalanotto. Orchard Books, 1994.

Lyrical picture book giving a late-twentieth-century child's perspective on her mother's work in the mines.
See Lesson Plan for Mama is a Miner by George Ella Lyon in this web site.

Lyon, George Ella. Which Side Are You On? The Story of a Song. Illus. Christopher Cardinale. Cinco Puntos Press, 2011.

Picture book about true story of a miner's wife, Florence Reece, writing the famous protest song in Harlan County, KY, in 1931.

Mills, Lauren A. Minna’s Patchwork Coat. Illus. Lauren A. Mills. Little, Brown, 2015.

Story of a WV girl at the beginning of the twentieth century whose father is dying of black lung disease.

Mills, Lauren A. The Rag Coat. Illus. Lauren A. Mills. Little, Brown, 1991.

Mills' beautiful picture book was later expanded into the novel above. Partly inspired by Dolly Parton's song about a homemade "coat of many colors," both books depict the poverty of mining families and the positive bonds of family and community.

Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds. Wrestle the Mountain. Follett, 1971.

Novel about conflicts between a fifth-generation miner and his son who wants to focus on his talent with woodworking instead of mining.

Paterson, Katherine. Jacob Have I Loved. Avon, 1980.

At the end of this Newbery Medal young adult novel set on the east coast of Virginia, Louise becomes a nurse in western Virginia in the 1940s, as Polish and Lithuanian immigrant miners struggle to farm the land while no mines are open, and the Scotch-Irish farmers consider them outsiders.

Porter, Tracey. Billy Creekmore. Joanna Cotler Books, 2007.

In the middle section of this Dickensian novel about an orphan in WV in the early years of the twentieth century, Billy's uncle, a miner from Wales, takes him to live in a coal camp with kind people who suffer many hardships as oppressed miners are beginning to organize unions. All child characters except Billy are named after a real boy who died in the mines.

Rosenberg, Madelyn. Canary in the Coal Mine. Holiday House, 2013.

Animal fantasy narrated by a West Virginia canary whose comrades represent a variety of attitudes about their dangerous work monitoring air in the mines, from taking pride in lives saved to joking about work being "a gas" (p. 2). This Depression-era bird jumps a coal train and tries to bring together legislators and developers of safety equipment at the state capitol.

Rylant, Cynthia. Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds. Illus. Barry Moser. Harcourt/Voyager, 1991.

A picture book depicting rural life when Rylant grew up in WV in the 1950s. One page shows a serious miner and says, "If you are brave enough to travel two miles down into solid dark earth to get it, somebody will pay you money for your trouble. The men and women who mine the coal probably had fathers and grandfathers who were miners before them. Maybe some thought they didn’t have any other choice but to be a miner, living in between or on the sides of these mountains, and seeing no way to go off and become doctors or teachers and having no wish to become soldiers" (p. 5).

Rylant, Cynthia. A Blue-Eyed Daisy. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1985.

Novel about hardships experienced by an eleven-year-old in a big family after her father, hurt in a mining slate fall (as Rylant’s grandfather had been), is unemployed, drinks, and becomes violent.

Rylant, Cynthia. Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story. Illus. Chris K. Soentpiet. Orchard, 1987.

Picture book set in mid-twentieth century about the Santa Train that has delivered presents to children in coal towns every Christmas since 1942, although only a brief author's note refers to the area’s dependence on the mining economy.

Rylant, Cynthia. When I Was Young in the Mountains. Illus. Diane Goode. E. P. Dutton, 1982.

Based on reminiscences of growing up in WV in the 1950s and 1960s, although the illustrator created images set farther in the past; only the beginning mentions that Grandfather came home from mining covered with black dust, with clean lips to kiss the child narrator.

Seckar, Alvena. Misko. Illus. Decie Merwin. Oxford University Press, 1956.

One of three novels, all reprinted in 1999, about immigrants from eastern and southern Europe in West Virginia mining towns. "Ten-year-old Misko, along with his mother and little sister, must find a new home with fellow East European immigrants after his father's death in a coal mining accident."

Seckar, Alvena. Trapped in the Old Mine. Illus. Jules Gotlieb. J. Messner, 1953. 63 pp.

"A boy is lured by a dog's discovery of an abandoned mine shaft, despite having heard warnings from his coal mining family and their way of life."

Seckar, Alvena. Zuska of the Burning Hills. Illus. Kathleen Voute. Oxford University Press, 1952.

"Zuska and her family suffer the joys and hardships of life in a mining town while harboring dreams of a safe life on a farm."

Smibert, Angie. Ghosts of Ordinary Objects trilogy. Boyd's Mill Press, 2018-2020.

Three novels—Bone's Gift, Lingering Echoes, and The Truce—set in Big Vein, Virginia, based on the real town McCoy, during World War II. Includes many details about life in a mining town, effects of both world wars and an influenza epidemic, folktales and storytelling episodes, and supernatural gifts inherited by members of the protagonist's family.
See Study Guide for Ghosts of Ordinary Objects Trilogy by Angie Smibert in this web site.

Still, James. Sporty Creek. 1977. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999.

Still's only novel for children has characters related to the family he depicted in River of Earth, suffering many hardships during the Depression in rural Kentucky. Both novels contain bleakly realistic depictions of coal camps that no one cares to maintain decently as mines open and close, so that families wander to find work.
See James Still's Books for and about Children: Bibliography and Study Guide in this web site.

Vaughn, Margaret Britton, and Carole B. Knuth. The Birthday Dolly. Illus. Lucille Lundquist. Bell Buckle, TN: Bell Buckle Press, 2000.

A picture book I did not study for the 2017 Southern Quarterly article: "A doll on the shelf of the company store in the coal mining community of Beckley, West Virginia, yearns to go home with one of the families." Dolly lives in different homes, including an African American "home of a different color" in the 1950s.

White, Ruth. Belle Prater's Boy. Yearling, 1996.

In a town based on Grundy, VA in the 1950s, Woodrow is a clever, empathetic boy who moves to town to live with middle-class relatives because his well-meaning miner father is not well-equipped to raise him after his mother disappears. Socioeconomic differences are depicted with compassion and humor.

White, Ruth. Little Audrey. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008.

A novel based closely on White's family's life of poverty in a coal camp in Jewell Valley, Virginia in 1948.

White, Ruth. The Treasure of Way Down Deep. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013.

In this sequel to Way Down Deep (2007), about a mythic town in WV, the child protagonist becomes a teenager and learns more about the complex effects of a mine closing. Magical realism enables the town legend about buried treasure to come to the rescue.

Nonfiction and Criticism

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Growing Up in Coal Country. Houghton Mifflin, 1996. Excellent photographic essays focused on the coal fields of northeastern Pennsylvania.

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Kids on Strike! Houghton Mifflin, 1999. Excellent photographic essays, not focused on Appalachia, but chapter five shows how Mother Jones, who also helped organize mine workers and their wives in West Virginia, led a march of child workers from textile factories in Philadelphia to President Theodore Roosevelt’s home on Long Island.

Biggers, Jeff . The United States of Appalachia. Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006. Cultural criticism arguing that Appalachia has always produced trendsetting people and progressive movements with national and international influence.

Duke, David C. Writers and Miners: Activism and Imagery in America. Lexington: University Press of KY, 2002. Chapter 5 is "Coal Mining Fiction for the Young."

Dulemba, Elizabeth O. Interview by James Taylor. Writers in Focus. Fulton Government TV, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library. YouTube, 13 May 2014. 27 min.

"End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining." Appalachian Voices, 2013. Web site of an organization that " brings people together to protect the land, air, and water of Central and Southern Appalachia and advance a just transition to a generative and equitable clean energy economy."

Hanlon, Tina L. "Coal Dust and Ballads: Appalachia and District 12." Of Bread, Blood, and The Hunger Games: Critical Essays on the Suzanne Collins Trilogy. Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy 35. Ed. Mary Pharr and Leisa A. Clark. McFarland, 2012, pp. 59-68.

House, Silas. "Silas House’s Same Sun Here is a Book about and for KFTC Members." Interview with KFTC Staff, 9 May 2014. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC).

Lynch-Thomason, Saro. Lone Mountain: A Story About Mountaintop Removal. Electric City Printing, 2014. "Lone Mountain is an illustrated children’s story book created to educate youth about mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining. Set in central Appalachia, this 32-page book presents beautifully illustrated full color pages that will compel and educate youth and adult readers alike. Focusing on Appalachia’s rich cultural and natural heritage—from its biodiversity to its clean water, food sources and medicinal plants—Lone Mountain presents a framework for learning about the valuable gifts of the Appalachian Mountains while raising awareness about the threats of mountaintop removal."

Mickenberg, Julia L., and Philip Nel. "Radical Children’s Literature Now!" Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, vol. 36, Winter 2011, pp. 445-73.

Olson, Ted, and Kathy H. Olson, editors. James Still, Appalachian Writer: Critical Essays on the Dean of Appalachian Literature. McFarland, 2007.

Pryse, Marjorie. "Exploring Contact: Regionalism and the 'Outsider' Standpoint in Mary Noailles Murfree's Appalachia." Legacy, vol. 17, 2000, pp. 199-212. Criticism about regional literature that discusses inequalities in power relationships since mining companies entered Appalachia in the late nineteenth century.

Sherman, Sarah Way. "The Country of the Pointed Firs." American History Through Literature, 1870-1920, edited by Tom Quirk and Gary Scharnhorst. Vol. 1. Charles
Scribner’s Sons, 2006, pp. 287-92. Criticism about regional literature and how it represents views of marginalized peoples.

Smucker, AnnaA History of West Virginia. Ed. Therese M. Hess.West Virginia Humanities Council, 1997. 81 pp. Photographs and little maps are included, as well as background references. Fifteen chapters range from ancient Native American history to the 1960s and 1970s, and then brief comments on WV at the time of writing. The longest chapter is devoted to "King Coal."

Stimmen, Jane. "Little Audrey by Ruth White: A Family in Postwar Virginia." World Socialist Web Site. International Committee of the Fourth International, 24 Oct. 2008.

Sullivan, Ken, editor. The Goldenseal Book of the West Virginia Mine Wars. Illus. Lisa George. Charleston, WV: Pictorial Histories Publishing, 1991. Grades 4-11. Goldenseal magazine puts together some of the best articles ever written on this historic period. Authors include Lon Savage, Lois McLean, and Topper Sherwood; topics include Sid Hatfield, Mother Jones, Bill Blizzard, C. E. Lively, and Don Chafin. 

Other Resources on History of Mining in Appalachia

Note: Of the many resources available on the history of mining in Appalachia and other regions, these are some of the materials in different media we have used at Ferrum College, and places we have visited with students. Most organizations and museums listed provide more resources on their web sites. Any general reference book or history of central Appalachia or northeastern Pennsylvania is likely to include discussion of the mining industry.

Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. Beckley, West Virginia. Underground tours of a mine led by experienced miners, exhibits on mining history, and furnished buildings representing a typical coal camp: houses for different categories of workers and manager, a church, and schoolhouse. Next door are a youth museum and mountain homestead.

Coal River Mountain Watch. Naoma, WV. "The mission of Coal River Mountain Watch is to stop the destruction of our communities and environment by mountaintop removal mining, to improve the quality of life in our area and to help rebuild sustainable communities."

Crow, Peter. Do, Die, or Get Along: A Tale of Two Appalachian Towns. University of Georgia Press, 2007. Crow compiled oral histories collected over several years of visiting communities in western Virginia to interview residents and supervise undergraduate oral history projects in the Appalachian Cluster program at Ferrum College. "Weaves together voices of twenty-six people who have intimate connections to two neighboring towns in the southwestern Virginia coal countrySt Paul and Dante. This book offers an account of persistence, resourcefulness, and eclectic redefinition of success and community revival, with ramifications well beyond Appalachia."

Dante Coal and Railroad Museum. Dante, Virginia. In western Russell County, the small museum occupies the former Dante Branch of the Dickenson County Bank.

Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection, 1880-1989. Special Collections, University Libraries, Virginia Tech. Includes photos of miners and children, mostly between 1940s and 1970s.

Giardina, Denise. Storming Heaven: A Novel. Fawcett, 1987. "Annadel, West Virginia, was a small town rich in coal, farms, and close-knit families, all destroyed when the coal company came in. It stole everything it hadn't bothered to buyland deeds, private homes, and ultimately, the souls of its men and women. Four people tell this powerful, deeply moving tale: Activist Mayor C. J. Marcum. Fierce, loveless union man Rondal Lloyd. Gutsy nurse Carrie Bishop, who loved Rondal. And lonely Sicilian immigrant Rosa Angelelli, who lost four sons to the deadly mines. They all bear witness to nearly forgotten events of history, culminating in the final, tragic Battle of Blair Mountain [1921]when the United States Army greeted 10,000 unemployed pro-union miners with airplanes, bombs, and poison gas. It was the first crucial battle of a war that has yet to be won."

Giardina, Denise. The Unquiet Earth. Norton, 1992. "From the mining shanty towns of West Virginia comes this saga of a family, a community, and a way of life all but gone. In this coal-smudged place, three people hopelessly intertwined in love and politics live in the shadow of the dying mines and the doomed union movement. Dillon, a tireless union man like his father, accepts nothing less than total commitment to the cause; Rachel, his cousin and lifelong love, has the courage he wants, but refuses to let him know it; their child, Jackie, a fighting daughter of the mines, understands them bothand her own limitationsonly too well. Set against the devastation of the Depression, the fearful pulse of a world at war, the dawning hope of the War on Poverty, and the untamable force of nature herself, this is a bold and bittersweet story of unforgettable men and women, and the times that made them great."

Hanlon Tina L., Peter Crow, Carolyn Thomas, Susan V. Mead, and Delia Heck. "Experiential Learning in the Rural, Small College Setting – Creating an 'Appalachian Cluster.'" In The Synergistic Classroom: Interdisciplinary Teaching in the Small College Classroom, edited by Aaron Angello and Corey Campion. Rutgers University Press, 2020.

Harlan County, U.S.A. Directed by Barbara Kopple. Cabin Creek Films, 1976. Academy-Award-winning documentary that "chronicles the 1973 Harlan County, Kentucky coal miners' strike against the operators of the Brookside mine and the Duke Power Company, which resulted from the company's refusal to honor the national contract of the United Mine Workers of America when the miners joined the union.... The soundtrack includes legendary country and bluegrass artists Hazel Dickens, Merle Travis, Sarah Gunning, and Florence Reece." Viewpoints of the Brookside wives are featured in the film.

Hickam, Homer H., Jr. Rocket Boys: A Memoir. Delacorte Press, 1998. "Looking back after a distinguished NASA career that fulfilled his boyhood ambition, Hickam shares the story of his youth, taking readers into the life of the little mining town and the boys who came to embody both its tensions and its dreams. With the helpand sometimes hindranceof the people of Coalwood [WV], the Rocket Boys learn not only how to turn mine scraps into rockets that soar miles into the heavens, but how to find hope in a town that progress is passing by" (book cover). The boys entered the 1960 National Science Fair competition. See film October Sky below.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. "A grassroots organization of thousands of members across Kentucky...with local chapters and at-large members in many counties. We use a set of core strategies, from leadership development to communications and voter empowerment, to impact a broad range of issues, including coal and water, new energy and transition, economic justice and voting rights."

Matewan. Directed by John Sayles. Cinecom, 1987. Feature film set in "Mingo County, West Virginia, 1920. Coal miners, struggling to form a union, are up against company operators and the gun thugs of the notorious Baldwin-Felts detective agency. Black and Italian miners, brought in by the company to break the strike, are caught between the two forces. UMWA organizer and dual-card Wobbly Joe Kenehan [played by Chris Cooper] determines to bring the local, Black, and Italian groups together. While Kenehan and his story are fictional, the setting and the dramatic climax are historical; Sid Hatfield, Cabell C. Testerman, C. E. Lively and the Felts brothers were real-life participants, and 'Few Clothes' [James Earl Jones] is based on a character active several years previously." The voice-over narrator reminisces about his past as a teenage preacher, miner, and son of a miner's widow who runs a Matewan boarding house at the time of the 1920 battle of Matewan [Will Oldham and Mary McDonnell]. The film shows how cultural differences and suspicions could be transformed into common interests (food, music, baseball, family) among mining families from different backgrounds trying to survive during a strike.

Mattea, Kathy. Coal. Music CD. Captain Potato Records, 2008. Eleven songs. Mattea's grandfathers were coal miners.

Moving Mountains: Voices of Appalachia Rise Up Against Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining. CD. Falling Mountain Music, 2004. Twenty-five songs and interview clips.

October Sky. Directed by Joe Johnston. Universal, 2005. Film adaptation of Rocket Boys by Hickam, above. "The true story of Homer Hickam, Jr., a high school student in rural West Virginia who seemed destined to repeat his father's harsh life in the coal mines until he turned his attention to the skies."

Portal 31. Lynch, Kentucky in Harlan County. A tram ride through this mine features tableaux, audio, and signs explaining the history of the mine. Related buildings nearby are available for shopping and eating spaces.

Richardson, Kim Michele. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel. Sourcebooks, 2019. A novel for adults about a young woman who is one of the rare blue people of Kentucky (people of European descent with a genetic condition causing blue skin). She is devoted to her job as a pack horse librarian paid by the WPA to deliver donated reading materials to mountain families during the Depression (1935-43). Her father is in declining health working in a dangerous mining job, pressuring her to marry before he can no longer take care of her. The novel is full of grim realism about poverty, prejudice, and cruelty, as well as friendship, camaraderie of miners, and love of reading.

Smith, Lee. Fair and Tender Ladies. Ballantine, 1988. Smith's compelling epistolary novel chronicles the life of Ivy Rowe, daughter of a mountain farmer near Smith's home of Grundy, Virginia, from 1900 to the late 20th century. In one section of the novel, Ivy lives in a coal camp called Diamond Fork with her married sister, thinking it will be a glorious place. She has a fling with a manager's son in a nice house on a hill but she learns about the economic inequities and injustices of this society along with the dangers of coal mining.

Songs for the Mountaintop. Music CD. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, 2006. "Kentucky musicians sing out against mountaintop removal" in twelve songs.

West Virginia Mine Wars Museum. In Matewan, WV very close to the Kentucky border, in a new facility since 2020, "proudly offering the largest exhibition of Mine Wars history anywhere in the United States." The museum "sits at the site of a historic battle which erupted in May of 1920, setting into motion a chain of events that led to the largest armed uprising in the United States since our civil war. For decades after the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, the stories of the Mine Wars were whispered around kitchen tables and bullied out of textbooks, surviving as a quiet legacy just under the surface of modern Appalachia. The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum preserves and uplifts the voices of the people who lived these stories of sacrifice, violence, and triumph." Nearby are other sites related to the battle of Matewan and the Hatfield-McCoy family histories and feud. 


The page created 12/18/21    |    Top of Page   |   Site Index   |   Last update 12/20/21

Back to AppLit Folktale Bibliography Index

Complete List of AppLit Pages on Fiction for Children and Young Adults

Complete List of AppLit Pages on Picture Books

Home