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That Book Woman

That Book Woman

4.5 4
by Heather Henson

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Cal is not the readin' type. Living way high up in the Appalachian Mountains, he'd rather help Pap plow or go out after wandering sheep than try some book learning. Nope. Cal does not want to sit stoney-still reading some chicken scratch. But that Book Woman keeps coming just the same. She comes in the rain. She comes in the snow. She comes right up the side of the


Cal is not the readin' type. Living way high up in the Appalachian Mountains, he'd rather help Pap plow or go out after wandering sheep than try some book learning. Nope. Cal does not want to sit stoney-still reading some chicken scratch. But that Book Woman keeps coming just the same. She comes in the rain. She comes in the snow. She comes right up the side of the mountain, and Cal knows that's not easy riding. And all just to lend his sister some books. Why, that woman must be plain foolish -- or is she braver than he ever thought?

That Book Woman is a rare and moving tale that honors a special part of American history -- the Pack Horse Librarians, who helped untold numbers of children see the stories amid the chicken scratch, and thus made them into lifetime readers.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Mary Hynes-Berry
This book enables children to understand how being able to read truly opens up the world to them. The story goes back to a time, not all that long ago, when schooling was not universal. Through the mid-20th century, much of Appalachia remained remote and isolated, and schooling was a haphazard affair. This story is told in the folksy voice of Cal, a young boy who has trouble understanding how his younger sister Lark can be excited about making sense of all that chicken-scratch in books. It is the persistence of the "Book Woman" who rides her pack horse through heavy rain and snow to distribute the volumes that changes Cal's mind. As a result, he is willing to try to make sense of those chicken-scratches, with help from his little sister. This story celebrates the "Pack Horse Librarians," at the same time, it can inspire older students who are still struggling with reading to put in the hard work it can take to turn "chicken scratch" into a tale or a fact. Teachers of struggling readers are very likely to agree with the Book Woman that seeing a non-reader become a book lover is reward enough for all their hard work. Reviewer: Mary Hynes-Berry
School Library Journal

Gr 2-5

A simple and heartfelt paean to the Pack Horse Librarians of the 1930s who were part of a WPA program founded to take books to remote areas. Cal and his family live high in the Appalachian hills. He's proud to be a hard worker and scorns his sister, who'd read all day if allowed. When a stranger appears on horseback to deliver books, Cal wants nothing to do with her until one winter evening when she braves the snowy mountain to deliver her goods. Her courage and strong will make him realize that her job must be very important, so he asks his sister to teach him to read. Henson's free-verse narrative is peppered with colloquialisms and authentic-sounding language that might be tricky for some readers, but lend immediacy and atmosphere to the story. Done in pale browns and greens, Small's signature ink-and-watercolor illustrations depict an austere mountain home and the hardscrabble lives of family members who have little to spare. Cal's expressions of resentment and anger, and then his acceptance and enjoyment of reading, are shown with simple yet effective lines. Pair this poignant book with Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer's Down Cut Shin Creek (HarperCollins, 2001) for an excellent unit on these dedicated women and for a great discussion starter on the importance of books.-Angela J. Reynolds, Annapolis Valley Regional Library, Bridgetown, NS, Canada

Kirkus Reviews
Young Cal lives high in Kentucky's Appalachian Mountains. Sister Lark keeps her nose in a book nearly from daybreak to dusty dark. Cal's a mite suspicious-and more than a mite resentful-of this, as he spends most of his time helping Pap with chores. One day, he spies a sorrel mare clippity-clopping slowly up the mountain; the rider's not a man neither, but a lady wearing britches! She carries a passel of books in her saddle packs; all the family (exceptin' Cal) welcomes her warmly. Back she comes several times a year, no matter how bad the weather. This causes Cal to wonder why she's so dedicated, and he asks Lark to help him learn to read. By the time the Pack Horse Librarian appears again, she's made another convert. Small's illustrations, combining ink, watercolor and chalk, add an appropriately earthy warmth, complementing the precise prose beautifully. Every line oozes character: The hound dog's ears flop like nobody's business, and Cal's face in the foreground displays every emotion as he moves from scowling suspicion to wonder. (author's note) (Picture book. 4-8)
Children's Literature - Joan Kindig
Cal is growing up with his family high in the remote Appalachia Mountains of Kentucky. Because of living in such an isolated area, Cal and his siblings do not have easy access to school and a library. Back in the 1930s, however, the Works Progress Administration funded an effort called the Pack Horse Librarians to take reading materials to families like Cal's. Made up mostly of women, these librarians rode as much as eighty miles a week over rough terrain and in all kinds of weather to take books and magazines to rural families. At the outset of the story, Cal is disinterested in reading while his sister, Lark, is a voracious reader. In actuality, Cal does not know how to read. The sheer determinedness of the librarian on horseback begins to change Cal's mind about reading and he finally asks his sister to teach him to read. This homage to those amazing librarians and the importance of reading translates nicely from book to DVD. The strong story coupled with Small's beautiful watercolors brings the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains alive and underscores the conditions these librarians faced on their routes. The one drawback is that the narrator is telling a story set in Appalachia yet there is no tinge of a mountain dialect heard. The author and illustrator interviews are well worth watching. A subtitling feature allows children to follow along with the text as it is read aloud. Running time: 12 minutes. Iconographic. Reviewer: Joan Kindig, Ph.D.

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
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File size:
16 MB
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Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Heather Henson lives on a farm in Kentucky with her husband and three children, and is the author of several critically acclaimed picture books and novels, including the Christopher Award–winning That Book Woman and Dream of Night.
David Small is the Caldecott Award–winning illustrator of So You Want to Be President? by Judith St. George. He also received Caldecott Honors for The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo. He’s illustrated dozens of other award-winning books, including That Book Woman by Heather Henson and The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, and lives in Michigan with his wife, Sarah Stewart.

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That Book Woman 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
SleepDreamWrite More than 1 year ago
This was kind of sweet. The story was also good.
LucaBabe More than 1 year ago
Children will enjoy this lively story of a boy and how reading becomes important to him. A must for any elementary teacher!
easyreader50SV More than 1 year ago
I consider myself a bookwoman; my license plate is BKWOMAN. When I saw the title of this book, I had to have it. The story is from the viewpoint of a rural North Carolina reluctant reader during the depression. It's written in the dialect of the area and the times. The pack horse librarians brought books to isolated farmers and mountain people who otherwise would not have had books. The women (and a few men) were determined and steadfast. The beautiful watercolors of David Small (Imogene's Antlers)add a richness to the story. I'm proud to be a librarian.
MGKing More than 1 year ago
Heather Hensen has a beautiful way with language! She captures the spirit of another time and place. That Book Woman tells about the pack horse riders who bravely traveled through the Appalachian Mountains to bring books to impoverished children. This little told piece of American history underscores the importance of books, and how they widen our world. This provided some great discussion among my own children, and I think it would be a wonderful classroom story as well.