Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky

Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky


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It's 4:30 in the morning, and the "book woman" and her horse are already on their way. Hers is an important job, for the folks along her treacherous route are eager for the tattered books and magazines she carries in her saddlebags.

During the Great Depression, thousands lived on the brink of starvation. Many perished. In 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Works Progess Administration under his 1933 New Deal initiative. The WPA was designed to get people back on their feet. One of its most innovative programs was the Pack Horse Library Project of Eastern Kentucky.

Thoroughly researched and illustrated with period photographs, this is the story of one of the WPA's greatest successes. People all over the country supported the project's goals. But it was the librarians themselves — young, determined, and earning just $28 a month — who brought the hope of a wider world to people in the crooks and hollows of Kentucky's Cumberland Mountains.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781948959100
Publisher: Purple House Press
Publication date: 07/15/2019
Pages: 58
Sales rank: 113,862
Product dimensions: 7.50(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Kathi Appelt is the award-winning author of many children's books, including Bat Jamboree, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, and Incredible Me!, illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Ms. Appelt teaches creative writing to both children and adults and lives in College Station, Texas.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Putting Women To Work

"Son, the times they was so hard, you couldn't hardly crack them."

Grace Caudill Lucas, former Pack Horse Librarian

They were the darkest of times, the years following the crash of the stock market in 1929. Thousands of people across the United States were cast out of their Jobs, off their farms, out of their homes and apartments, and into the crushing depths of poverty. Fathers, forced out of work, abandoned their families rather than watch them suffer; mothers died of malnutrition; children went without shoes or shelter or schooling. An entire nation, it seemed, was standing in one long breadline, desperate for even the barest essentials. It was a crisis of monumental proportions. It was known as the Great Depression.

Already one of the poorest states in the country, Kentucky was particularly hard hit, especially the rocky and mountainous eastern half of the state. Coal was Kentucky's main resource. With so many factories shut down nationwide, and the use of natural gas for heating on the increase, the need for coal was diminished and hundreds of mines were closed. Thousands of coal workers were laid off. Though tough and resilient by nature, many Kentuckians barely hung on.

To add to the despair, the Ohio River, which borders Kentucky, flooded in 1930, killing more than a hundred people and washing away the already thin layer of topsoil that covered the hardscrabble landscape, making farming virtually impossible.

In 1933, Federal Emergency Relief Director Harry Hopkins sent Lorena Hickock, a former reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune, toreport on the conditions in the area. She wrote back: "[Residents] live in abandoned mining camps. The rest live in little communities, rather like Indian villages--and without any kind of sanitation whatever--back up at the headwaters of creeks, in the mountains...[f]ive babies up one of those creeks died of starvation in the last ten days...[M]et an old woman half dead from pellegra [a skin disease caused by malnutrition], stumbling along on bare, gnarled old feet, begging for food."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt had to find a way to help the American people. In 1933, he created a relief program known as the New Deal. Two years later, he expanded the New Deal by adding the Works Progress Administration, which was renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939. The goals of the WPA were twofold: to put people to work and to promote social and cultural awareness with art, theater, and literature.

Many of the original New Deal programs required heavy manual labor. WPA workers built hundreds of schools, health clinics, roads, park facilities, and community centers. Much of what we now call our "infrastructure "--highways, buildings, power plants, etc.--is here thanks to thousands of WPA workers. Most of those projects were considered "men's work," and even though today it is not unusual for women to work in these jobs, in the 1930s it was considered unseemly.

By 1935, however, with so many women heading households and ending up on the relief rolls, it was clear that employment for them was essential. Thus a concerted effort was made to create jobs to put women to work and take them off the dole. The new jobs included work in health services, school lunch programs, sewing projects, and libraries.

It was during the time of the WPA that many areas of the country, particularly poor rural areas, received free public library service for the very first time. In Mississippi and Louisiana, book service in some areas was provided by librarians who delivered books on small flatboats that they navigated with poles through the marshy bayous and backwaters.

But it was eastern Kentucky's Pack Horse Library that proved to be the most innovative of all.

Down Cut Shin Creek. Copyright © by Kathi Appelt. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
saraluisa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Who knew librarians put themselves in such great danger to get books to people during the great depression? A truly amazing piece of history is captured in photographs and beautifully written text. Perhaps it is because I am a book lover, but I don't see how anyone could read this book and not have a renewed appreciation for how easily we can access books. If I had been introduced to books such as this one, I may have learned something in and enjoyed history class. Every teacher who teaches the great depression needs this book.I am glad to know the story behind this book: Appelt's son had to do some research on the WPA, and having waited too long, Appelt helped him, discovering the pack horse librarians. Having heard her talk, I know about her love for horses (and that she had an imaginary horse as a child).
jopearson56 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Kids' book, so very quick read, but fascinating and information look at a part of history it's unlikely you've ever heard about, an important precursor to many of today's library outreach services. The tenacious qualities and boldness of these traveling lady librarians is truly inspiring, as is the desire of their "patrons" for reading materials.