James Still's Books for and about Children: Bibliography and Study Guide

by Tina L. Hanlon

Background and Quotations Books for Children Other Works About Children
Topics for Teaching and Discussion Topics in Poems References and Links

Other Appalachian Literature for Adults about Childhood

AppLit Home


James Still (1906-2001) was Kentucky's Poet Laureate from 1995 to 1997. After growing up in Alabama and going away for college and graduate school, he went to eastern Kentucky in 1931 to help Don and Connie West with some summer programs for children. He then accepted a job as librarian at Hindman Settlement School, with no salary at first, and remained associated with Hindman for the rest of his life, although he held some teaching positions elsewhere and traveled widely. He lived in the same region of Knott County, Kentucky for the rest of his life, writing in his log house in the woods and enjoying the life of the rural community. He always strove to improve the lives of children and the community by providing good books for them. He believed that children needed to read well and experience high quality literature, not just school textbooks. His autobiographical essays describe his process of telling the smaller children oral stories and reading to the older ones, encouraging them to select books they liked from the library.


Quotations by and about James Still:

"One day, when I was hoeing cotton, my sister Inez began to tell a story from the next row—a true story, I thought. It continued for hours as our hoes chopped and pushed and rang against stones. Then I learned that her story was a fabrication. She had created it while she was working. From that moment my horizon expanded into the imaginary. I could make my own tales and did. Oral ones." (James Still, autobiographical essay "A Man Singing to Himself,"  in From the Mountain 7. Still was ages 6-7 in this section.)

On working at the Hindman Settlement School library in the 1930s: “Aware that the many one-room schools in the county were without access to a library, I began spending one day a week—my own undertaking—walking from school to school with a carton of children's books on my shoulder; I would change the collections in these schools every two weeks. … Often as I approached a school I would hear the cry, ‘Here comes the book boy’” (James Still, From the Mountain 17).


“I don’t write for children—children alone. My so-called ‘children’s’ books are for all ages, and I have knowledge adults are reading them. If children find books of mine they can and will read, I could not be more pleased. I’m not writing for any particular age group.” (James Still, “Interview” 124) 


George Ella Lyon commented on the day after Still died in 2001, "He had a perfect ear. He could convey so much of character and place without using the sort of dialect that's graphically depicted. He did it in the rhythm, the word choice and the metaphors; not by using apostrophes and strange spellings.... The beauty of his language and the fact that he wrote in so many genres was really a model for me." (qtd. in Egerton).


On Still's retelling of the oral tale Jack and the Bean Tree: Still’s “printed page has captured that oral spell.” He is “a troubadour with such a fine ear for the music of the tradition and the language of the people and their tales.” (Briley, Summer 75).


Books for Children

An Appalachian Mother Goose.  Illus. Paul Bret Johnson. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1998. Selected rhymes and two illustrations reprinted in Crosscurrents of Children's Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism (ed. J. D. Stahl, Tina L. Hanlon and Elizabeth Lennox Keyser. New York: Oxford UP), 2006.

Jack and the Wonder Beans. Illus. Margot Tomes. 1977. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1996. N. pag.

Rusties and Riddles & Gee-Haw Whimmy-Diddles. Illus. Janet McCaffery. Lexington, KY: UP of Kentucky, 1989. N. pag.

Sporty Creek. 1977. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1999.

Way Down Yonder on Troublesome Creek: Appalachian Riddles and Rusties. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1974.

The Wolfpen Rusties: Appalachian Riddles and Gee-Haw Whimmy-Diddles. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1975.

Other Works About Children

River of Earth. 1940. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1996.

Chinaberry. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 2011. Edited and with an introduction by Silas House and afterword by Carol Boggess.

Many of Still's short stories overlap with the episodes of River of Earth and Sporty Creek, or focus on other child characters. Examples of the latter:

“Mrs. Razor” (1945), in which a six-year-old girl is described by her brother. He likes to pretend he is different characters, but she is fixated on the belief that she is married to a no-good husband named just Razor; when she says he has died, she insists her family must rescue her children before gypsies get them. Biggety Creek is a fantastical place that figures in their father's family sermonizing and the Elvy's fantasy about her widowhood and children.

“The Nest” (1948), about a child of six who gets lost outdoors in snowy weather when sent off by herself to stay overnight with her aunt.

Short stories that became chapters in Sporty Creek, 1977:

The Hills Remember: The Complete Short Stories of James Still. Ed. Ted Olson. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 2012. 416 pp.

Poems in From the Mountain, From the Valley: New and Collected Poems. Ed. Ted Olson. Lexington, UP of Kentucky, 2001:

Topics for Teaching and Discussion

1. Compare Still's nursery rhymes and riddles with rhymes and riddles that you know, or compare with rhymes and riddles in other collections. Where do regional details appear in Still's rhymes and riddles? Are there more or less magic and nonsense in Still's rhymes than in European nursery rhymes? See Applit's page on Appalachian Riddles for more riddles. For examples and background notes on English nursery rhymes, see the following.

2. How do Still's books of folklore blend realistic and practical issues with fantasy and nonsense?


3. Compare Jack and the Wonder Beans with other Jack tales. See AppLit bibliography Jack and the Bean Tree.

4. What types of descriptions and word play do Still's riddles depend on? Do you agree that the following observations apply to Still's riddles?

5. Comparing realistic fiction and folklore:

6. How does Still's use of specific place names function in his writings? Do some of the place names and character names have thematic or symbolic significance in his stories?


7. Issues in the realistic novel Sporty Creek and comparisons with River of Earth:

Topics in Selected Poems by James Still

Page numbers are in From the Mountain, From the Valley: New and Collected Poems. Ed. Ted Olson. Lexington, UP of Kentucky, 2001. Poems about childhood are listed above. Specific place names occur in many poems (see note on "Post Offices" under Way Down Yonder riddle book above).


Poems about Nature

"Burned Tree," p. 28

"Fallow Years," p. 29

"The Bright Road," p. 30

"Artifacts," p. 31

"Let This Hill Rest," p. 33

"Lambs," p. 34

"Wilderness," p. 36

"Mountain Fox Hunt," p. 39

"Reckoning," p. 42

"Heritage," p. 43; also in McNeil anthology

"Child in the Hills," p. 50

"Passenger Pigeons," p. 51

"Fox Hunt on Defeated Creek," p. 53

"Foal," p. 54

"On Troublesome Creek," p. 57

"Graveyard," p. 59

"Tracks on Stone," p. 60

"Journey Beyond the Hills," p. 63

"Rain on the Cumberlands," p. 64

"I Was Born Humble," p. 67

"On Redbird Creek," p. 68

"Pattern for Death," p. 69; also in Francisco anthology, p. 1135

"Spring," p. 72

"Hounds on the Mountain," p. 73

"Horseback in the Rain," p. 74

"With Hands Like Leaves," p. 75

"River of Earth," p. 76

"White Highways," p. 77

"Come Down from the Hills," p. 83

"Eyes in the Grass," p. 84

"On Buckhorn Creek," p. 85

"Year of the Pigeons," pp. 86-87

"Where the Mares Have Fed," p. 88

"Now Has Day Come," p. 90

"Leap, Minnows, Leap," p. 92

"Morning: Dead Mare Branch," p. 93

"A Child's Wisdom," p. 94

"Hill-Lonely," p. 98

"Death in the Hills," p. 99

"Drought," p. 103

"The Broken Ibis," p. 105

"Early Whippoorwill," p. 106

"Wolfpen Creek," p. 108; called "On Wolfpen Creek" in The Wolfpen Rusties

"Funnel Spider," p. 110

"The Trees in the Road," p. 111

"Lamp," p. 112

"Man O' War," p. 113

"Lizard," p. 114

"Winter Tree," p. 117

"Day of Flowers," p. 120

"The Common Crow," p. 124

"After Some Twenty Years Attempting to Describe a Flowering Branch of Redbud," p. 125

"Dove," p. 143

"Mine Is a Wide Estate"

"Recollection," p. 148

"At Year's End," p. 149

Poems about Farming/Country Life and Coal Miners

"Fallow Years," p. 29

"Horse Swapping," p. 38

"The Hill-Born," p. 48

"Aftergrass," p. 49

"Passenger Pigeons," p. 51

"Farm," p. 52; also in Francisco anthology, p. 11

"Fox Hunt on Defeated Creek," p. 53

"Earth-Bread," p. 56

"On Troublesome Creek," p. 57

"Coal Town," p. 61

"On Redbird Creek," p. 68

"Court Day," p. 78

"On Double Creek," p. 79

"Night in the Coal Camps," p. 80

"Mountain Men Are Free," p. 97

"Apples," p. 104

"Apple Trip," p. 109; also in The Wolfpen Rusties

"On Being Drafted into the U.S. Army from My Log Home in March 1942," p. 115

"High Field," p. 129

"Unemployed Coal Miner," p. 130

"Apples in the Well," p. 131

"Death of a Fox," p. 132

Poems about Other Professions and Characters

"Swift Were Their Feet," p. 35 (about a father and children)

"Infare," p. 40

"Death on the Mountain," p. 44

"Uncle Ambrose," p. 46

"Clabe Mott," p. 47

"Yesteryear's People," p. 70

"A Hillsman Speaks," p. 71

"Epitaph for Uncle Ira Combs, Mountain Preacher," p. 81

"Nixie Middleton," p. 82

"Banjo Bill Cornett," p. 95

"Mountain Men Are Free," p. 97

"This Man Dying," p. 100

"Granny Frolic," p. 101, about a midwife and an expectant father; also in The Wolfpen Rusties

"Passing of a County Sheriff," p. 102

"Abandoned House," p. 107 (character of a house with only memories of people)

"Candidate," p. 116

"Welcome, Somewhat, Despite the Disorder," p. 118

"Of the Wild Man," p. 119

"Hunter," p. 121

"Are You Up There, Bad Jack?" p. 122

"What Have You Heard Lately?" p. 127

"Of the Faithful," p. 137

"Knife Trader," p. 138

"Truck Driver," p. 139

"Okra King," p. 140

"My Aunt Carrie," p. 146

"Mrs. Lloyd, Her Rag Sale," p. 147

"Those I Want in Heaven with Me Should There Be Such a Place," p. 150

Poems about Music and Writing

"Dulcimer," p. 37

"When the Dulcimers are Gone," p. 41; also in Francisco anthology, p. 1135

"Death on the Mountain," p. 44

"Clabe Mott," p. 47

"Fiddlers' Convention on Troublesome Creek," p. 62

"Dance on Pushback," pp. 65-66; also in The Wolfpen Rusties and online at All-Time Best Poems, NC Guru web site

"A Hillsman Speaks," p. 71

"A Man Singing to Himself," p. 89

"I Shall Go Singing," p. 91

"Banjo Bill Cornett," p. 95

"Fiddle," p. 96

"Visitor," p. 123

"Madly to Learn," p. 128

"Of Concern," p. 142

"Recollection," p. 148

"My Days," p. 151

References and Links

See AppLit's Author Links for other references on James Still and illustrator Paul Brett Johnson.

Adams, Noah. “Still's Love of Life Reflected in Novels and Poetry.” All Things Considered. National Public Radio. 10 Nov. 1995. NPR.org. Transcript. rpt. James Still Homepage. Ed. Sandy Hudock. Colorado State University-Pueblo.

Appalachian Journey. Film by Alan Lomax. Association for Cultural Equity, 1991. 58 min. Available at Folkstreams.net with background materials.

Beattie, L. E., ed. Conversations with Kentucky Writers. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996. Still ended his interview with, "I believe I've told you more than anybody."

Biggers, Jeff. “His Side of the Mountains: The Enduring Legacy of Southern Poet James Still: An Interview with Editor Ted Olson.” Bloomsbury Review, vol. 22, no. 4, July/August 2002, pp. 17- 18. Sidebar lists: “Books by James Still”; “Children’s Books”; and “Books by Ted Olson.

Boggess, Carol. James Still: A Life. University Press of Kentucky, 2017. 534 pp.

Boggess, Carol. "James Still's Funeral May 1, 2001: A Tribute by Carol Boggess." Nantahala: A Review of Writing and Photography in Appalachia, vol. 1, no. 1, 2001. Online journal.

Breed, Allen G. “Celebrated Author Gives New Sauce to Mother Goose.” The Shawnee News-Star [Shawnee, OK] Web posted 2 Oct. 1998. This article quotes Lee Smith's views of the rhymes and tells how she convinced Still to publish them.

Briley, Rebecca Luttrell. "The River of Earth: Mystic Consciousness in the Works of James Still." Appalachian Heritage, vol. 9, Spring-Summer-Fall 1981, pp. 51-55; 64-80; 70-80. Includes discussion of Sporty Creek and the books of riddles.

Crum, Claude Lafie. River of Words: James Still’s Literary Legacy. Nicholasville, KY: Wind Publications, 2007. 188 pp. "Chapter one of this study examines the James Still persona. To those familiar with his work, Still is a literary figure of mythic proportions..... [A] close analysis of the creation of the James Still persona might help to shed light on the man behind the legend and the reception of his works. Chapters two through five offer an analysis of Still’s writing in the genres of novel, short story, poetry, children’s literature, and folklore. These chapters seek to not only describe Still’s work, but to examine parallels, similarities, and connections between all genres of his writing. The final chapter of this study examines James Still’s place among his contemporaries and attempts to address the question of why he has been largely ignored by scholars of southern literature" (Ted Olson).

DeCandido, GraceAnne A.  Rev. of An Appalachian Mother Goose. Booklist, vol. 95, 1 Mar., 1999, p. 1218.

Driskell, Leon V. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 9: American Novelists, 1910-1945. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Ed. James J. Martine. The Gale Group, 1981. 68-72. Available online through library databases such as Literature Resource Center.

Egerton, Judith. “Author James Still, Known for Love of Appalachia, Dies at 94.” The Courier-Journal [Louisville, KY], 29 Apr. 2001. Metro. Rpt. The Blacklisted Journal. Ed. Al Aronowitz. 1 May 2001.

Francisco, Edward, Robert Vaughan, and Linda Francisco, eds. The South in Perspective: An Anthology of Southern Literature. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2001. Reprints poems "Farm," "Pattern for Death," "When the Dulcimers Are Gone." ("Farm" also at this link.)

Hanlon, Tina L. “‘Read my tales, spin my rhymes’: James Still’s Books for Children.” Paper presented at Seventh Biennial Conference on Modern Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature, Nashville, March 31, 2007.

James Still and Randy Wilson - Heritage. Audiocassette. Produced and edited by Rich Kirby. June Appal Recordings. Appalshop, 1992. Readings from his work by James Still, with Randy Wilson on hammer dulcimer, lap dulcimer, and fretless banjo. "Poetry, music, and interview with James Still on his life and work." Reissued later as a CD.

James Still Collection, 1930-1986. Berea College Library Special Collections and Archives. Letters, newspaper clippings, photographs, and manuscripts.

James Still Homepage. Maintained by Sandy Hudock, University of Southern Colorado, Pueblo, Colorado. Contains Autobiography, Text and Audio Poetry, Links to Critical and Biographical Sources, Searchable Index to Appalachian Heritage, and Links to Special Collections.  Reprints of a number of important works about Still.

James Still Issue. Appalachian Heritage, vol. 38, no. 4, Fall 2008. "Essays, reminiscences, correspondence, photographs, plus stories and poetry by Still."

James Still’s River of Earth: Portrait of a Kentucky Poet. Documentary film (1997, 60 minutes) by Kentucky Educational Television. Downloadable study guide by George Ella Lyon at this link, for Reading/Writing curriculum for grades 7-adult.

Lang, John, Editor. "James Still Issue." Iron Mountain Review, 2.1, Spring 1984.

Mayhall, Jane. “James Still: Quality of Life, Quality of Art.” Shenandoah, vol. 48, Summer 1998, pp. 56-73.

Miller, Jim Wayne. "Appalachian Literature at Home in this World." Iron Mountain Review, vol. 2, Summer 1984, pp. 23-28. Rpt.  An American Vein: Critical Readers in Appalachian Literature. Eds. Danny L. Miller, Sharon Hatfield, Gurney Norman. Athens: Ohio UP, 2005. 13-24. Includes comments on Sporty Creek and Jack and the Wonder Beans.

McNeil, Nellie, and Joyce Squibb, ed. A Southern Appalachian Reader. Boone, NC: Appalachian Consortium Press, 1989. Reprints Still's poem "Heritage." ("Heritage" is also at this link.)

Olson, Ted. "His Side of the Mountains: The Enduring Legacy of Southern Poet James Still: An Interview with Editor Ted Olson," by Jeff Biggers. Bloomsbury Review, vol. 22, no. 4, July/August 2002, pp. 17-18. Sidebar lists: "Books by James Still"; "Children’s Books" [by James Still]; and “Books by Ted Olson."

Olson, Ted, ed. James Still in Interviews, Oral Histories and Memoirs. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. "This work collects transcribed versions of virtually all the interviews and oral histories ever conducted with James Still, along with numerous memoirs in which leading voices in the Appalachian studies movement memorably express their appreciation for Still and his literary legacy" (publisher's description).

Olson, Ted and Kathy H. Olson, eds. James Still, Appalachian Writer: Critical Essays on the Dean of Appalachian Literature. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007. Part V. The Writings about and for Children, and the Folkloric Writings, includes essays "'We'll have to do something about that child': Representations of Childhood in the Short Stories" by Kathy H. Olson; "Journeys of Childhood in the Fiction" by Carol Boggess, "'Read my tales, spin my rhymes': The Books for Children" by Tina L. Hanlon, and The Wolfpen Notebooks: A Record of Appalachian Life" by Jim Wayne Miller.

Ourselves and That Promise. Dir. Joe Gray with Gene DuBey and Scott Faulkner. Videotape. Appalshop, 1978. 27 min. "Four contemporary Kentuckians, James Still, Robert Penn Warren, Ronnie Criswell, and Billy Davis, discuss their work and its relationship to the environment in which they live.... Poet and novelist James Still, filmed at his rural eastern Kentucky home, talks about his writing which expresses great fondness for and attachment to the region's land and people."

Parales, Heidi Bright. "First James Still Fellow: Christina Parker." Odyssey, Spring 1999. University of Kentucky. 29 Jan. 2006. Includes comments from Still and Lee Smith on An Appalachian Mother Goose.

Review of An Appalachian Mother Goose by James Still. "Notes on Books." VA Quarterly Review, Spring 1999.

Runyon, Ed. "Maternal Instincts in James Still's 'Mrs. Razor' and 'The Nest.'" Student essay from English 3624: Appalachian Literature. Summer I 1999. Instructor: Dr. Stephen D. Mooney.

Runyon, Randolph Paul. “Looking the Story in the Eye: James Still's ‘Rooster.’” The Southern Literary Journal, vol. 23, Spring 1991, pp. 55-64.

Still, James. "An Interview with James Still." Appalachian Journal, vol. 6, Winter 1979, pp. 121-41.

Still, James. The Wolfpen Notebooks: A Record of Appalachian Life. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1991. See notes on this book in Appalachian Folktale Collections K - Z.

"Still, James." Encyclopedia of Appalachia. Ed. Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell. Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2006. pp. 1090-91. See index for other references to Still, including entry on Agrarianism.

Still: The Journal. "Our mission is to provide a free website that offers the finest in contemporary literary writing of Central Appalachia, or the Mountain South. Still: The Journal was established in October, 2009, and is published three times a year, in February, June and October. Our emphasis is on the literature of the Southern Appalachian region, and we are committed to publishing excellent writing that does not rely on clichés and stereotypes. We want to feature writing that exemplifies the many layers and complexities of the region or that is written by an author with a connection to the region. Co-founders: Silas House and Marianne Worthington.

Other Appalachian Literature for Adults about Children and Adolescence

Note: This section is obviously a brief sample of the many books available about growing up in Appalachia that aren't all listed in AppLit's main bibliographies on fiction and nonfiction for children and young adults. The publishing of young adult fiction has grown tremendously in recent years but the books listed here have not been marketed primarily for young adults. Some writings about schools and teaching in Appalachia are listed in Background Resources on Appalachian Children's Literature. See also section on Remembering Childhood, Growing Up in Thematic Table of Contents for Listen Here! (Sandra L. Ballard and Patricia L. Hudson, eds. Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003). See also Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction.


Arnow, Harriet. "The Washerwoman's Day." Short story reprinted, with introduction by Sandra Ballard, in Higgs, Robert J., et al. Appalachia Inside Out: A Sequel to Voices from the Hills. Vol. 2. Knoxville: Tennessee UP, 1995, pp. 383-89. The story focuses on two young girls who sneak into the funeral of a washerwoman and observe contrasts between their mothers' middle-class peers and the dead woman's poor young daughter, who has a baby with her at the funeral but no husband. Although told through the naive perspective of a curious child, the story is a piercing examination of class differences in a small town and the attitues of the preacher and Ladies' Aid women who feel they are being generous by providing a funeral and some white roses. Arnow's highly acclaimed novel The Dollmaker (New York, Macmillan, 1954) contains extensive treatment of the heroine's children, in a mountain family that moves to a Northern city.

Baldacci, David. Wish You Well. 2000. New York: Grand Central, 2007. The trade paperback contains guides for reading groups and advice from the author about researching family history. In this story based on Baldacci's family history, two children leave their New York life after a family catastrophe to live with their great-grandmother on a mountain in southwestern VA. Their father wrote critically acclaimed books about the place where he grew up with his beloved grandmother but had never returned. Lou, age 12, is a writer like her father and shares many strong qualities of the great-grandmother for whom she was named, Louisa Mae Cardinal. She takes care of her 7-year-old brother Oz (Oscar) while their mother is incapacitated. Lou and Oz learn how to cope with the back-breaking, relentless farm work needed to feed the family, studying in a one-room schoolhouse, and prejudice against outsiders and African Americans. Eugene is a young black man who has worked with Louisa since she gave him a home. They learn about domestic violence and Louisa's midwifery skills through contact with neighbors who have many children and brutal father. Cotton Longfellow (a descendant of the 19th-century poet) is a lawyer who helps the family in many ways. The date is 1940 and on an outing in town, Lou treats their friend Diamond to his first movie, The Wizard of Oz. The children witness detrimental effects of industries that move in and out of the region, lumbering and coal mining, while exploration for natural gas on the Cardinal land leads to more painful personal losses and a court case over guardianship of the land and children at the novel's climax. On Baldacci's web site is an excerpt from chap. 1. Photography for a film adaptation started in Giles County in 2012. The feature film, directed by Darnell Martin and written by Baldacci, was released in 2013 with Ellen Burstyn playing the grandmother. This novel was featured in the Roanoke Valley Reads program in Fall 2013, along with children's books Belle Prater's Boy by Ruth White and Jack Outwits the Giants by Paul Brett Johnson.

Benedict, Pinkney. See Lesson Plan on Pinckney Benedict's "The Sutton Pie Safe" from Town Smokes.

Brown, Don L. Jessie is Her Name: A Virginia Family's Oral History 1912-1949, a Novel. New York: iUniverse, 2007. "The oral history of three generations of an Irish Shenandoah Valley of Virginia family...the life of Jessie Brown from her early childhood on an Estaline Valley farm to her becoming the beloved foster child of a wealthy Staunton Virginia couple."

Coberly, Lenore McComas. The Handywoman Stories. Athens, OH: Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 2002. In this collection of compelling West Virginia short stories spanning most of the twentieth century, several selections are narrated by child characters. In "Garnet," a neighbor child observes a family in which the unattractive second wife, acquired in desperation after the first wife gives birth to her fifth child, turns out to be a gem. The first part of "Early Transparent" is narrated by the child of a widow whose neighbors are caught in a web of love, grief and conflicting loyalties during World War II.

DeBord, Angelyn. "Molly Muse." Still: The Journal. No. 16, Fall 2014. Very short story in an online journal, about a girl lying in the road on a hot day "like a dead girl," escaping from her own self-loathing. Her grandmother said she'd been witched by two rattlesnakes she saw having sex and she burns a frog to prevent warts. She hovers outside the worlds of success and romance, watching nature and older people. She seems like the opposite of a folk heroine since she is an underdog who does not show up her Mean Cousins from Asheville or her mean Big Sister, who gets to perform a heroic act cleaning out a clogged pond drain. Other selections of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry in this online journal (Fall 2009- ) also deal with childhood memories and meditations on place.

Giardina. Denise. Storming Heaven: A Novel. New York: Norton, 1987. This powerful novel about people whose lives are shaped by conflicts surrounding WV coal mines in the early 20th century includes scenes of childhood.Trampoline cover

Gipe, Robert. Trampoline: An Illustrated Novel. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2015. "Dawn Jewell is fifteen. She is restless, curious, and wry. She listens to Black Flag, speaks her mind, and joins her grandmother’s fight against mountaintop removal mining almost in spite of herself. 'I write by ear,' says Robert Gipe, and Dawn’s voice is the essence of his debut novel, Trampoline. She lives in eastern Kentucky with her addict mother and her Mamaw, whose stance against the coal companies has earned her the community’s ire. Jagged and honest, Trampoline is a powerful portrait of a place struggling with the economic and social forces that threaten and define it. Inspired by oral tradition and punctuated by Gipe’s raw and whimsical drawings, it is above all about its heroine, Dawn, as she decides whether to save a mountain or save herself; be ruled by love or ruled by anger; remain in the land of her birth or run for her life." The novel includes flashbacks from Dawn's early childhood before her father died in a mine accident, presumably caused by a machine operator who was taking drugs. The opening chapters of this critically acclaimed novel were previously published with the title of the first section, "Escape Velocity," in Still: The Journal. The setting, Canard County, KY, uses fictional place names, with some real names of nearby places such as Gate City, VA and Kingsport, TN. This is Gipe's first novel; he is from Kingsport and Harlan, KY. Among other accolades, this novel won the 2015 Weatherford Award from the Appalachian Studies Association, which honors books that "best illuminate the challenges, personalities, and unique qualities of the Appalachian South."

Goodman, Linda. Daughters of the Appalachians: Six Unique Women. Johnson City, TN: Overmountain Press, 1999. Six stories from Goodman's performances of characters she based on various Appalachian women. "Harlene" is about the life of Dawg, a young girl's dog who helps her in many ways as she grows up.

Hankla, Cathryn. A Blue Moon in Poorwater: A Novel. 1988. Charlottesville: U of VA Press, 1998. "Cathryn Hankla's first novel is an engaging coming-of-age story set in the small Appalachian mining town of Poorwater, Virginia. It is the summer of 1968, and the narrator, inquisitive ten-year-old Dorie Parks, is getting ready to enter fifth grade when her errant older brother Willie returns to town....Dorie's father, a miner, begins a dangerous labor rights crusade after a mining accident leaves a close friend dead" (part of description from publisher web site). Julia Johnson, in Encyclopedia of Virginia, wrote, "Hankla's Appalachian novel, A Blue Moon in Poorwater, is set during 1968, a pivotal year of national disillusionment coupled with the excitement of the moon race. David Parks loses a coworker in an underground explosion and embarks on a search for justice, caught between the union and the coal company. His daughter Dorie pieces together her family story, and what she reveals encompasses not only her father's conflict but also her older brother's downward spiral. Like Dorie, Hankla grew up in far Southwest Virginia." Review by Denise Giardina in L. A. Times, June 5, 1988.

Laskas, Gretchen. The Midwife's Tale. New York: Dial, 2003. A highly acclaimed novel about a young woman who grows up learning midwifery from her mother (followed by the young adult novel The Miner's Daughter. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007).

Lyon, George Ella. With a Hammer for My Heart. DK Ink, 1997. See Lyon bibliography at this link.

Mushko, Becky. Miracle of the Concrete Jesus. Charleston, SC: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016. Several of Mushko's previously published stories ("fifteen down-home stories featuring resolute women") have child characters. See her web site at this link for details.

Mushko, Becky. Them That Go. Charleston, SC: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016. "In 1972, seventeen-year-old Annie Caldwell—who has the 'gift' of animal communication—wants to be normal, but she’ll settle for being unnoticed. Annie’s brother died in Vietnam, her mother is depressed, and her father drinks. Her only friend is elderly Aint Lulie—who lives in the same holler and who understands the gift because she has one, too: 'The first daughter in ever' other generation has always been blest with a gift, though some think it a curse. Been that way for generations in the Caldwells, Byrnes, and once in a while in the Duffs.' As they sit by the fireplace in the evenings and tell each other stories, Aint Lulie shares family history with Annie, including a relative's mysterious death and how their ancestors came to settle in the area: “There’s always been them that go and them that stay in ever’ generation. When a local girl goes missing, Aint Lulie's and Annie's gifts can help solve the mystery—but if Annie speaks up, she can no longer go unnoticed. A secret revealed. A mystery solved. A life forever changed." Mushko calls the book a "coming-of-age novel with paranormal (or magical realism) overtones."

Norman, Gurney. Kinfolks: The Wilgus Stories. Frankfort: Gnomon Press, 1989. Stories about childhood. "Fat Monroe," "Night Ride," and "Maxine" were made into a three-part PBS film in 1998. The film adaptation by Andrew Garrison was made available free on YouTube and Vimeo in 2013.

Norman, Gurney. "Snow Day." 2002. KET.org. A tiny short story narrated by a child, published online by KY Educational Television in Living by Words web site.

Philips, Jayne. Shelter. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Seymour Lawrence, 1994. "In a West Virginia girls camp in July 1963, a group of children experience an unexpected rite of passage. Shelter is an astonishing portrayal of an American loss of innocence as witnessed by a drifter named Parson, two young sisters, Lenny and Alma, and a feral boy. Like Buddy, the wide-eyed boy so at home in the natural bower of the forest, Lenny and Alma are forever transformed by violence, by family secrets, by surprising turns of love. What they choose to remember, what they meet within and around the boundaries of the camp, will determine the rest of their lives. In a leafy wilderness undiminished by societal rules and dilemmas, Lenny and Alma confront a terrible darkness and find in themselves a knowledge never lent them by the adult world. Visceral, filled with suspense and surprise, Shelter is an extraordinary achievement. Jayne Anne Phillips continues to explore family ties and generational complexities. She questions the idea of the existence of evil and brings to startling immediacy the primal divinity of the isolated, mountainous landscape of rural Appalachia. Shelter is a novel of transcendent beauty by one of the finest writers of our time" (from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt web site). The WorldCat description calls this book "a tale heavy with sex and menace, ending in violent drama. On the surface, a confrontation between evil and innocence, except that as the story progresses the girls turn out to be not so innocent."

Rubio, Gwynn Hyman. Icy Sparks. New York: Penguin, 2001. Set in Eastern Kentucky, 1956. The novel focuses on a girl of 10, an orphan with Tourette's syndrome in a small Kentucky town. An Oprah's Book Club selection.

Smith, Lee. Fair and Tender Ladies. New York: Ballantine, 1988. This compelling novel records the life of Ivy Rowe, beginning in her childhood, through letters she writes to various people. Her literacy and romantic sensibility mature through the letters. She feels especially close to her sister Sylvaney, who is mentally handicapped and is taken away to an institution when she grows too wild to keep at home as she gets older. After her father's death, Ivy lives in a town boarding house and goes to school there as a teenager but she spends most of her life on her family's mountain land with her numerous siblings and later her own children. As a child she is influenced by three folktales that two "maiden" sisters tell to Ivy's father before he dies: Old Dry Fry, Mutsmag, and Whitebear Whittington. See AppLit's Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction.

Smith, Lee. On Agate Hill. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007. In the first half of a gripping novel that has been compared to Jane Eyre, Molly Petree's diary entries tell of her strange adolescence on her uncle's plantation in NC during Reconstruction. Her father died in the Civil War and her mother fled from their destroyed Virginia home. After the deaths of her mother and aunt and most of their children, Agate Hill becomes increasingly decayed and chaotic. As the novel opens in May 1872, the preacher moves away and his wife gives 13-year-old Molly the diary, which she writes in her secret cubbyhole under a stairway. Rebellious and reclusive Molly calls herself a ghost girl writing about the many dead people in her life. African American servants manage the deteriorating estate but the couple who had taken care of Molly's family since her birth run away. Just before her friend Washington leaves later with his mother, Molly learns that Washington was his slave name, while Elijah is his real name. For a while her uncle's strict sister runs the household, bringing her illegitimate grandchild who becomes Molly's best friend. They love making up romances for their dolls and wandering the countryside, except when they see a hanged man after a lynching. After her uncle dies, Molly is abused by a man who moves in with the slovenly tenant farmer that married her uncle on his deathbed and took over the household. Then Molly is abruptly removed to a boarding school in Lynchburg, Virginia. Her father's lifelong friend and war companion watches over her from afar, using wealth he earned in South America after the war to coerce the school to keep this wild orphan, although the headmaster's stern wife inexplicably hates Molly. Letters and journal entries by the neurotic wife and her gentle sister reveal that Molly thrives at the school. Having no family, she is able to stay on as a teacher after graduation, but the headmaster's sister-in-law Agnes takes Molly away to protect her from the corrupt man, before his school and wife go to pieces. Surprised to learn after a long journey that they are not to teach in the town of Jefferson, Agnes and Molly agree to reopen a two-room schoolhouse near Grandfather Mountain in NC. Their management of Bobcat School and their loving relationships with the children and mountain families are described in detail until Molly elopes with a musician from another mountain.

Stanley, Gregory Kent. My House Wasn't on Stilts: Rites of Passage for a Displaced Appalachian. San Jose, CA: Authors Choice Press , 2000. 212 pp. "Tells the poignant and humorous story of a boy from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky...a childhood spent on the move and his many sojourns in the North including Detroit, the Appalachian Mecca of the 1950s and 1960s. It then follows the narrator through the rites of passage of young adulthood: leaving home, going to college, marriage, job hunting, and downsizing. The book explores a peculiarly Appalachian side of Southern culture. How do people who move out of the region regard themselves and their background? How do they measure themselves against the values of their home region and the sometimes larger than life legacy of their family?"

Whited, Lana. "Easter Egg Hunt." Nantahala: A Review of Writing and Photography in Appalachia, vol. 1, no. 2, Fall 2002. Online journal. A coming-of-age story about a 13-year-old girl and family history.

Yolen, Jane. "Snow in Summer." In Black Heart, Ivory Bones. Ed. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. New York: Avon, 2000. pp. 90-96. Books in this series of fairy tale anthologies contain contemporary fairy tales for adults. Snow in Summer is a girl named after flowers on the front lawn but after her mother dies, her stepmother coldly calls her Snow. Some dialect in the dialogue, place names, and other details place this tale in Appalachia. The wicked stepmother goes to a Holy Roller church with snake-handlers, while Snow prefers Webster Baptist. Snow takes refuge with little men blackened by coal dust. She is less gullible than the traditional Snow White and makes unconventional choices in the end. This tale is reprinted (as of May 2008) in the Story Sampler on Yolen's web site, where changing samples of her short stories appear. This tale was also published in Yolen's book Sister Emily's Lightship and Other Stories. Tor, 2000. Yolen expanded the story into a 2007 young adult novel Snow in Summer. See AppLit folktale page on Snow White's Appalachian Descendants for details. 


House, Silas. "At the Opening of Coal Miner’s Daughter, Corbin, Kentucky, March 27, 1980." Poem about a child with his aunt, published in Appalachian Heritage, Spring 2008 (available online).

Johnson, Patricia A. See Lesson Plans for Poems in Patricia A. Johnson's Stain My Days Blue.

Miller, Jim Wayne. See Lesson Plans on Selections From Jim Wayne Miller's The Brier Poems.

Walker, Frank X. Affrilachia. Lexington, KY: Old Cove Press, 2000. For discussion of one poem about childhood in this collection, see "Childhood Dreams: Frank X Walker's 'Death by Basketball.'"

Wheeler, Billy Edd. "Silent Mountains." Poem about memories of a growing up in a KY mountain town. Reprinted from Song of a Woods Colt (1969) in Appalachian Heritage, Winter 2008 (available online).

Biography and Memoir

Boyd, Oma. Round this Mountain. Memoir of a woman from Cana, VA. Createspace, 2011. Read about this book in Becky Mushko's blog Peevish Pen.

Bradby, Marie. "Why I Believe in Santa Claus." A Kentucky Christmas. Ed. George Ella Lyon. Univ. Press of Kentucky, 2003. A memoir from childhood.

Caudill, Rebecca. My Appalachia; A Reminiscence. Photog. Edward Wallowitch. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966. 90 pp.

Clark, Billy C. A Long Row to Hoe. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 2002. 285 pp. Introduction by Gurney Norman. Clark's account of his "sprawling, ragged, family" in Calettsburg, KY, where they lived in "a derelict house, 'the Leaning Tower,' on the banks of the Ohio River" and Clark had adventures on the rivers. He was the only one in his family to become educated. With photographs.

Collingsworth, Steward. My Heart's in the Highlands: The Story of a Public School Teacher in Appalachia. New York: Vantage Press, 2003. About East Tennessee.

Farr, Sidney Saylor. My Appalachia: A Memoir. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007. "Sidney Saylor Farr's story of growing up in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky."

Gillum, Burl H. The Life of a Farm Boy During the Great Depression. Parsons, WV: McClain Printing, 2005. "Growing up as a young boy, Burl Gillum was happy going to school, roaming the hills, helping on the farm and spending time on cold, rainy days in his uncle John’s blacksmith shop. The Great Depression hit the nation and Pleasant Ridge [WV], but life on the rural farm for Gillum stayed much the same. Gillum captures the heart of his reader relating stories from his youth, early manhood and later years. His first fishing trip, the loss of his dog, 'Old Bob,' his first romantic encounter, his landing in Normandy and escape from the enemy are told with Gillum’s unique sense of humor and lightheartedness" (publisher's description).

Griffith, T. G. Shades of Sugar Tree. Parsons, WV: McClain Printing, 2004. 548 pp. "Shades of Sugar Tree is a light-hearted and often humorous account of some of the experiences of a boy growing up in rural, central West Virginia in the 1950s and early 1960s" (publisher's description).

Osborne, David. An Appalachian Childhood. Savannah, Ga: Williams & Co, 2006. About David Osborne's Kentucky childhood (1943-).

Saunders, Janice. Cricket's Child, 1945-1955: How I Never Learned to Love the Bomb. Lanham, MD: Hamilton Books, 2008. The author (Virginia Tech Ph.D., sociology '81, native of Cricket, NC) "explores the impact of such social events as the development of the A-bomb and the emergence of the Cold War on a young girl growing up in Appalachia."

Smith, Lee. Dimestore: A Writer's Life. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2016. "Set deep in the mountains of Virginia, the Grundy of Lee Smith’s youth was a place of coal miners, tent revivals, mountain music, drive-in theaters, and her daddy’s dimestore. It was in that dimestore–listening to customers and inventing adventures for the store’s dolls–that she became a storyteller. Even when she was sent off to college to earn some 'culture,' she understood that perhaps the richest culture she might ever know was the one she was driving away from–and it’s a place that she never left behind. Dimestore’s fifteen essays are crushingly honest, wise and perceptive, and superbly entertaining. Smith has created both a moving personal portrait and a testament to embracing one’s heritage." The book includes discussion of living with a mentally ill mother and a schizophrenic son who died young.

Warren, Rhoda Bailey. Appalachian Mountain Girl: Coming of Age in Coal Mine Country. Academy Chicago Publishers, 1998. "This is the story of the Bailey family’s escape from the grueling Corbin Glow mines in 1930 to find a better life in Letcher, Kentucky."


This page created 4/22/06. Last update: 4/30/19

Back to Bibliography Index

Complete List of AppLit pages on Fiction for Children and Young Adults
Complete List of AppLit pages on Folklore
Complete list of AppLit pages on Poetry