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Bone's Gift, a Novel by Angie Smibert

Study Guide by Tina L. Hanlon

Bone's Gift cover

Book 1. Ghosts of Ordinary Objects

By Angie Smibert
Mill Press, 2018

Bone's Gift Web Site

Forthcoming novels in the trilogy:

Lingering Echoes, 2019
The Truce, 2020

Right: Angie Smibert at book launch, Book No Further bookstore, Roanoke, Virginia
March 31, 2018

Smibert at book launch 2018

Publisher's Introduction

"In a southern Virginia coal-mining town in 1942, twelve-year-old Bone Phillips has just reached the age when most members of her family discover their Gift. Bone has a Gift that disturbs her; she can sense stories when she touches an object that was important to someone. She sees both sad and happy—the death of a deer in an arrowhead, the pain of a beating in a baseball cap, and the sense of joy in a fiddle. There are also stories woven into her dead mama's butter-yellow sweater—stories Bone yearns for and fears. When Bone receives a note that says her mama's Gift is what killed her, Bone tries to uncover the truth. Could Bone's Gift do the same? Here is a beautifully resonant coming-of-age tale about learning to trust the power of your own story."

Review by Becky Mushko in Peevish Pen blog, March 29, 2018

Review in School Library Journal, March 29, 2018

Roanoke Library blog interview with author, Aug. 1, 2017

Folktale and Mythological References

Chapter 1. A stone in her pocket reminds Bone of David and Goliath. See 1 Samuel 17 in the Bible.

Chapter 2. Bone tells "Jack and the Cyclops." The giant Cyclops called Polyphemus is a character in Homer's ancient epic The Odyssey. For references to related Appalachian tales, including a "The One-Eyed Giant" collected by Leonard Roberts in Kentucky, see "Jack and the Giants" in AppLit.

Chapter 6. The first story Bone tells Miss Spencer, a folklore collector, is “one of her favorites”—"Jack and the Robbers."

Chapter 8. Uncle Ash calls Bone Forever Girl. Bone tells Miss Spencer about the Cherokee legend of Forever Boy. See background on the Cherokee tales of the Little People or Yûñwï Tsunsdi' in AppLit.

Chapter 12. Mr. Childress tells Miss Spencer the tale of "Ashpet." It's not Bone's favorite story because Ashpet, like other Cinderella characters, "had to get herself rescued by a prince" (p. 99).

Chapters 14 and 28. Uncle Ash loves dog stories, especially with black dogs; he comments on dogs as "a portent of death" or "a bringer of justice" or both (p. 115). He tells several "spirit dogs" and "devil dog" stories. See the section called "Spirit Dogs" in Virginia Folk Legends, edited by Thomas E. Barden (University Press of Virginia, 1991), selections 108-116.

Chapter 14. The Legend of Frankie Silver, about a North Carolina woman hanged for killing her husband, is disturbing to Bone because it is based on a true story. Mr. Harless at Parrott Hardware tells it.

Chapter 16. Uncle Ash tells Bone that “Soldier Jack" was her mother’s favorite of the many stories she had told Bone, especially the part when Jack catches Death in a bag. It is one of Bone's favorite folktales, too.

Chapter 24. Bone tells Will "Jack and the Doctor’s Daughter” when they discuss marriage.

Discussion Questions

How do the following topics from folklore, history, and community life play a role in Bone's life and her quest to learn more about her mother's death?

  • The mining industry in Bone's community
  • Folk medicine
  • World War II and the process of drafting American soldiers
  • References to the Civil War history of Bone's region
  • Memories of the Great Depression before World War II
  • Folklore collecting, with Miss Spencer representing the end of the Virginia Writers' Project organized by the Works Progress Administration
  • Jack Tales
  • Other folktales, those listed in the section above and other tales mentioned in the novel
  • Religious beliefs in Bone's family and community
  • Class differences in Bone's community
  • Bone's family history

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