BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS
Holler of the Fireflies by David Barclay Moore. New York: Barzoi Books/Alfred A. Knopf/Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House, 2022. 360 pages. Hardback in dust jacket.
This book is a Kirkus Reviews and Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year! The author, David Barclay Moore, is an African American native of Missouri now living in New York City. His first book, The Stars Beneath Our Feet, won the Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe New Talent Award. The protagonist of this youth novel is twelve-year-old Javari Harris, an African-American youth who lives in Brooklyn and is attending a Summer STEM Camp in West Virginia and becomes friends with Cricket, a local biracial boy. "Thoughtful explorations of issues such as corporate greed, the opioid crisis, water rights, and the little-known history of Affrilachians abound in this outstanding novel. An emotionally resonant narrative skillfully connecting the past, present, and future." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review. "Explores serious and urgent subjects, including gentrification, class, environmental racism, police brutality and sexual identity. Moore’s sophisticated story raises as many questions as it answers, making the point that issues around American history, identity and injustice are neither simple nor straightforward."—The New York Times, "Moore packs his narrative with themes and carries it all off with well-rounded characters, lively dialogue and action, and often beautiful sensory prose." —The Horn Book. “Moore's thoughtful approach to big ideas is honest and his text attends to the topics in a way that allows middle-grade readers to understand and older readers to relate. Holler of the Fireflies is a feel-good book that still manages to go deep into heavy topics." —Shelf Awareness, starred review.
Story Quilts: Appalachian Women Speak by Shannon Hitchcock. New York: Raycraft Books, 2022. 32 pages with full-color illustrations by Sophie Page. 11.5” X 9” trade paperback.
This is the third picture book in Shannon Hitchcock’s storyteller series after her books about Ray Hicks and Jean Ritchie. It tells the story of a girl who learns how to quilt from her mother and creates a quilt centered on material from a worn-out apron that her grandmother wore. The book’s subtitle makes the point that some quilts tell discernable stories. Shannon Hitchcock grew up in the foothills of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains near where she currently lives. The illustrator, Sophie Page, is a Massachusetts native living in Brooklyn. She is a mixed media illustrator who used clay, fabric, paper, and wire for the illustrations in this book.
Chief Corn Tassel by Mitzi Dorton. Georgetown, Kentucky: Finishing Line Press, 2022. 128 pages with color illustrations. Trade paperback.
This is a book about the Cherokee man named Corn Tassel who lived in Tennessee and was murdered in 1788, not another Cherokee man named Corn Tassel who lived in Georgia and was hung in 1830. The subject of this biography was a “chief” in that he was a leader and participated in negotiations with the white American government. He was never a Principal Chief. Corn Tassel was murdered by a Cherokee party because he signed the Treaty of Coytoy, a minor treaty that gave whites jurisdiction over Cherokees accused of murdering whites. Some of Corn Tassel’s speeches were transcribed, and this book utilizes his own words extensively. “It's a shame the story of Corn Tassel is not already familiar to us, because, in a way, it sums up the history of that era. Trust, negotiation, greed, deception, and trying to adjust to inevitable new realities are all elements of modern life we can relate to in this broadly researched and excellently told story of our ancestors, showing us we are not so different today.” -Danny Kuhn. The author is a free-lance writer who lives in upstate New York.
The Coal Trap: How West Virginia Was Left Behind in the Clean Energy Revolution by James M. Van Nostrand. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2022. 303 pages with an Index, figures and tables. Trade paperback.
This important book begins with an Introduction entitled “The Lost Decade” that shows how from 2009 until 2019, West Virginia politicians gave the coal industry all it wanted instead of looking out for the best interests of the people of the state and the need to build an economy not dependent upon fossil fuels. The title of the last chapter is, “What the Future Could Hold If Leaders Chose to Lead.” Between those two chapters look for “How West Virginia Went from Blue to Red,” and “Manchin in the Middle.” “The Coal Trap is a sober and utterly damning indictment of what a decade of coal dependence and political corruption has cost West Virginians. Van Nostrand knows the law, he knows the politics, and he knows where all the bodies are buried. A must-read for anyone who cares about the future of West Virginia - or the future of the planet.” - Jeff Goodell. “James Van Nostrand brings stellar expertise and deep experience of West Virginia to a subject that could not be more timely or relevant. Everyone who cares about the trajectory of U.S. climate policy should own and read this book.” - Abigail Dillen. “James Van Nostrand has given us a fascinating new account of how, even as it shrinks, West Virginia’s coal industry continues to manipulate our system of utility regulation to its benefit, in ways that hold the state and its transition to a more modern economy back. The Coal Trap is a must-read book for West Virginians and for anyone who cares about the future or our state and our world.” Ken Ward Jr. The author, James M. Van Nostrand, is an endowed professor of Law at West Virginia University.
As Wolves upon a Sheep Fold: The Civil War Letters of Ohio Surgeon William S. Newton by Aaron Purcell. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2022. 338 pages with a Foreword by Michael P. Gray, figures, a map, Appendix, Notes, Bibliography, and Index. Hardback with pictorial cover.
Dr. Newton was a surgeon in the Union Army from 1862 until 1865 during the Civil War primarily in West Virginia and adjoining Virginia. The title of this book comes from how he described Confederate John Hunt Morgan’s Rangers who captured him in 1864 near Dublin, Virginia. Newton joined the Union Army in Ironton, Ohio, and died in 1882 in Gallipolis, both towns across the Ohio River from West Virginia. His letters to his wife and children and a local newspaper provide an in-depth view of what the Preface describes as “the realities of war, such as the boredom of camp life, details of battles, and observations on human behavior . . .[he also] covered his living quarters, race relations, the extent of southern sentiment in occupied spaces during and after the war, transportation and communications and the comfort of a good meal.” The author, Aaron Purcell, directs Special Collections and University Archives at Virginia Tech. In this capacity, in 2017, Purcell acquired the Newton Papers at auction. He is the author of more than ten previous non-fiction books.
Title IX, Pat Summitt, and Tennessee’s Trailblazers: 50 Years, 50 Stories by Mary Ellen Pethel. Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 2022. 376 pages. Trade paperback.
Although prominent in the title, University of Tennessee head women’s basketball coach, Pat Summitt, is only featured on fifteen pages in this book that goes on to feature 49 other Tennessee pioneers in women’s sports in the state. The introduction and conclusion shine light on the origins and impact of Title Nine upon women’s athletics. “Whether gold medalists, NCAA champions, legendary coaches, or pioneering athletes and administrators, Tennessee has been home to an incredible vanguard of women in sports. Mary Ellen Pethel brings us the stories of women whose accomplishments continue to pave the way for generations to come. This is a valuable collection, an important book, and a timely tribute on this fiftieth anniversary of Title IX.”—Andrew Maraniss. The author, Mary Ellen Pethel, is a professor at Belmont College in Nashville.
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. New York: Harper/HarperCollins, 2022. 560 pages. Hardback in dust jacket.
An instant New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller and a #1 Washington Post bestseller, Demon Copperhead is an Oprah Book Club Selection. It is author Barbara Kingsolver’s tenth bestseller! Ron Charles wrote in the Washington Post of this novel, “May be the best novel of 2022. . . .Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, this is the story of an irrepressible boy nobody wants, but readers will love.” This novel is told in the voice of Damon Fields, a red head born in a trailer in Lee County, Virginia, to a mother who is an addict. Early on, he acquires the nickname, Demon Copperhead. The setting is thus the very Appalachian county where the author, Barbara Kingsolver has lived for decades on a farm with her professor husband. In her acknowledgements, Kingsolver writes. “I am grateful to Charles Dickens for writing David Copperfield, his impassioned critique of institutional poverty and its damaging effect on children in his society.” “An epic…brimming with vitality and outrage….the rare 560-page book you wish would never end.” — People "Book of the Week" “With its bold reversals of fate and flamboyant cast, this is storytelling on a grand scale. . . . As Demon discovers, owning his story – every part of it – and finding a way to tell it is how he’ll wrest some control over his life. And what a story it is: acute, impassioned, heartbreakingly evocative, told by a narrator who’s a product of multiple failed systems, yes, but also of a deep rural landscape with its own sustaining traditions.” — The Guardian. “In Demon Copperhead…Kingsolver channels the voice of a disenfranchised boy lost in the failures of our social system. It's a testament to her storytelling mastery that this novel also illustrates how deeply intertwined our attitudes about nature are with our collective destiny. As always, her purpose is to make us think about the ways we all must look out for each other.” — Arizona Republic. “Absorbing . . . Readers see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath Demon’s self-protective exterior. . . . Emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. . . . An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.” — Kirkus Review (Starred Review). “A deeply evocative story…Kingsolver’s account of the opioid epidemic and its impact on the social fabric of Appalachia is drawn to heartbreaking effect. This is a powerful story, both brilliant in its many social messages regarding foster care, child hunger, and rural struggles, and breathless in its delivery.” — Publishers Weekly (Starred Review). “This novel is surely a highpoint of Kingsolver’s long career and a strong early candidate for next year's Booker Prize.” — Times Literary Supplement.
Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson. New York: Ecco/HarperCollins, 2022. 256 pages. Hardback in dust jacket.
A Most Anticipated Book of Fall from the Associated Press, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, BookPage, Book Riot, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Garden & Gun, LitHub, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sunset Magazine, Time, Town & Country, The Millions, USA Today, Vogue, Vulture, and The Week. This novel takes place in 2016, but it mostly harks back twenty years to when the Coalfield Panic of 1996 happened. That year, Sixteen-year-old Frances – Frankie to her friends – and Zeke, the new boy in Coalfield, Tennessee, sent to live with his grandmother, pulled a caper. Frankie was an aspiring writer and Zeke an aspiring artist. Frankie came up with some words that flowed and seemed to have deep meaning – “The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us.” Zeke illustrated the words, and they photocopied their joint creation and posted it all over town. It became the talk of the town as all kinds of reactions and consequences erupted. “Wilson has developed a story that is a precise capture of adolescence and of two vibrant teens whose everyday dilemmas, weaknesses, and triumphs are utterly endearing . . . Crisp dialogue and [a] zipping story line.” — Booklist (starred review). “[Wilson’s] most emotionally nuanced and profoundly empathetic novel yet. . . . Wilson meaningfully crafts formed characters, allowing his work to register as a universal document of teenage turmoil as blessedly compassionate as it is cunning. Highly recommended as a sincere, sometimes brutal, but always sturdy study of the burden of both art and adolescence and a wonderfully evocative treatise on how we imprint ourselves on the world and learn to survive in that tumultuous wake.” — Library Journal. Kevin Wilson teaches creative writing at the University of the South and lives in Sewanee, Tennessee. Three of his previous novels were New York Times bestsellers, and The Family Fang was adapted into a Hollywood movie.
The Price of Bread and Shoes by Lonormi Manuel. Frankfort, Kentucky: Feisty Molly Press, 2022. 397 pages. Trade paperback.
For the most part, this is a fascinating and authentic portrayal of the great challenges and fleeting rewards of coal camp living in the 1920s. But it goes beyond most books set in coal camps. This is the second novel I have reviewed that touches upon one of the most shameful practices of some coal camps – forcing into prostitution the wives of the men killed in the mines and the miners injured so badly they cannot return to work. They were given this choice as the only way they could remain in their company houses. That is the price they had to pay to buy bread and shoes. The protagonist is nineteen-year-old Alafair Siemore Slone who moves from her family farm in Southwest Virginia, to be with her new husband, Travis, in Chemane Creek, West Virginia, where we works in the mines before he is injured and becomes completely disabled. In her Acknowledgements, the author, Lonormi Manuel, writes that she was inspired to research and write this novel by Michael Kline’s article, “Esau in the Coalfields” which I published in the Summer 2011 issue of Appalachian Heritage which I served as editor at the time. The author, Lonormi Manuel, was born in Northeast Tennessee, raised in Southwest Virginia, and has lived in Kentucky for thirty years. She teaches in community colleges. This is her first novel.
The Woods of Fannin County by Janisse Ray. Reidsville, Georgia: self-published, 2022. 209 pages. Trade paperback.
Woods is a family name that the author, Janisse Ray, has given to a most unusual family to protect their real identity because this novel aims to tell their story as truthfully as possible, with a minimum of the license that fiction provides. Fannin County, Georgia, which adjoins both Tennessee and North Carolina, is a real county where the story took place. In 1945 the eight children of the family that Janisse Ray calls the Woods family had lost its mother and father. The children, ranging in age from three months to ten years old, were taken by their grandfather via mule wagon from Morganton, Georgia, up to a crude cabin in Fannin County. Then he left. They stayed there for four years, mostly tending for themselves as best they could. The author, Janisse Ray, is known for her memoir, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (1999) that the New York Times called “heartfelt and refreshing.” She lives on an organic farm near Savannah, Georgia.
Dark Hills at Home by Marc Harshman. Morgantown, West Virginia: Monongahela Books, 2022. 35 pages. 4.5” X 7” trade paperback.
The dark hills in this poetry are at home. Yes, they are shrouded in darkness in many respects, but that does not prevent them from providing a kind of nest that nurtures us. Each of these twenty-one poems was born between the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers in or near West Virginia’s northern panhandle. Since 2012, the poet, Marc Harshman, has been West Virginia’s Poet Laureate. He has read poetry in England and Wales and all over the U. S. He lives in West Virginia’s northern panhandle and has published multiple poetry books and numerous children’s books.
Where You Come From Is Gone by Annie Woodford. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2022. 89 pages. Trade paperback.
The title of this book of poems is a quote from the novel, Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor. These poems emerge from an awareness of economic and racial oppression in the rural Appalachian South. They attempt to capture the spirt of the African American and Appalachian music that has come forth from that experience. “The sacred act of remembering in this haunted and heart-breaking book is finely harnessed to artistic precision, articulating the history of the rural South. The result cloaks anguish with beauty, suffering with grace, ignominy with a dignity whose desire to redeem is wholly human. . . . Amid the broken darkness here is the unmistakable effort of the poet to strike the match and light the way, a testament to what poetry is and can be, the angel of clarity and compassion.” – Maurice Manning. “Woodford captains a journey toward a place of great comfort, pastoral beauty, and familiarity while confronting the historical violence of both race and class. In this work, the poems lift above the page and gently question the ways in which love coupled with disgrace create the tapestry that is, at once, our families, our memories, our lives.” – Airea D. Matthews. The author, Annie Woodford, is from Bassett, Virginia. She now lives in Deep Gap, North Carolina and teaches at Wilkes Community College. This is her second poetry collection.
According to Sand by Thorpe Moeckel. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2022. 63 pages. Trade paperback.
The tiny particles of sand in the title of this poetry collection provide a patina of humility over it. Sand is subject to waves of power that wash over it. It shifts, and settles, and survives. These are nature poems. “According to Sand is a book to subsist on. Line by supremely original line, it illuminates – and is illuminated by – ‘the fleeting infinities’ of the natural world, of which we are a miniscule (see: sand grain) but luminous part. Moeckel is an utterly necessary poet at the top of his form, as fully manifested as a trillium in full bloom.” Chris Dombrowski. The poet, Thorpe Moeckel, teaches creative writing at Hollins College and lives near Roanoke, Virginia. This is his eighth book. He was raised in Atlanta and worked as a guide on Appalachian rivers and trails in his late teens and early twenties and still roams there incessantly.