That Book Woman
Cal describes his way-up mountain home—“So high / we hardly sight / a soul”—but that changes when the Book Woman, a traveling librarian, rides up to the house. The Book Woman is a boon for Cal’s sister, Lark, “the readenest child you ever did see,” but no use to Cal, who is not “born / to sit so stoney-still / a-starin at some chicken scratch.” However, he is impressed by the librarian, who rides in all weather; finally, he asks Lark to teach him to read. This tribute to the Pack Horse Librarians of Appalachia has a lyric, simple style that lends itself to reading aloud. Henson, a Kentucky native, creates a reliable narrator in Cal, whose journey to reading is gentle and believable. There are a couple of stereotypes here (Mother is pregnant and barefoot), but overall, the mixed-media illustrations (ink, watercolor, pastel) support the text’s genial flow. Mountains and sky achieve a lofty spaciousness that makes the Book Woman’s ride even more impressive. An author’s note gives background on the WPA’s Pack Horse Librarian program.