Reading Appalachia: Voices from Children's Literature, June 16–Sept 14
Walk through the pages of your favorite storybook in this groundbreaking exhibit on Appalachian children's literature.

Museum of East Tennessee History
601 South Gay Street | Downtown Knoxville
Mon.–Fri. 9:00–4:00 | Sat. 10:00–4:00 | Sun. 1:00–5:00
www.eastTNhistory.org
(865) 215-8824

Sporting life-size characters from Appalachian children's books, this exhibit looks at the seminal titles from the late 1800s through the modern story of Appalachia. You'll feel like you're walking through the pages of a storybook. Children can stand eye-to-eye with characters from Journey Cake Ho, A Mountain Rose, When Otter Tricked the Rabbit, When I Was Young, and others.

More than 50 books are available to touch, read, and explore. The exhibit also includes representative clothes and toys from Appalachia, music, and hands on activities that bring the subject to life for kids of all ages. Children are encouraged to try on masks of storybook characters and find themselves in a story. They can create their own story of childhood set in Appalachia and hear the voice of old time storyteller Ray Hicks along with some of their favorite authors and illustrators. Each panel includes an interpretation of the text from a child’s perspective.

All are invited to walk into the pages of a story of childhood in Appalachia.

Why children’s books? Why Appalachian children’s books?

Few things capture our hearts and senses more vividly than children’s books. They ignite our imaginations and help bring structure and understanding to a developing mind. As children, we learn much about the world through the pages of a book. Our stories and books shape and inform us. They guide us into adulthood. And they help define us. 

Perhaps more than any other region, Appalachia has captured our nation’s imagination. It’s a land where the blue smoke of the mountains, the self-sufficiency of life in a holler, and the singsong of an enthralling storyteller come together in a near mythic culture. Appalachia is a land about which stories are told.

What does it mean to be a child of Appalachia?

Appalachia is a rich and beautiful land steeped in tradition and open to change. It is home to countless storytellers and stories without end. Both its lushness and its rockiness teach us to make our way in the world, but Appalachia never leaves us.
Henry Louis Gates, Encyclopedia of Appalachia

Growing up in a land of inspiring beauty and oftentimes devastating destruction, how do our children see themselves? How do we see our children?  In our mountains and in our stories, we hear the tales of diverse people whose voices are both personal and universal.

By examining seminal titles published over the decades since the 1800s, we hope to show the fuller picture of our region's literary heritage and how this literature tells the story of childhood in Appalachia.

Read our story

Read George Ella Lyon's "crowdsourced" poem, based on her original poem, "Where I'm From." This new work was created by collecting responses from attendees at the opening of the Reading Appalachia exhibit. It's our Appalachian story.

Tell us your story!

If you've been to the exhibit, we hope you were inspired to tell your own story. If you need help getting started, think about the questions below.

Ready to read?

Want to find out more about a book featured in the Reading Appalachia exhibition? Here are your options:

Caldecott Award winners

Appalachian children's literature exists because of the many talented authors and illustrators who tell its stories. The illustrators of these award-winning books received the well-deserved recognition of the Caldecott Award or Honor, awarded to the most distinguished American picture books for children published during the preceding year.

Newbery Award winners

The Newbery Medal is awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Beginning as early as 1940 and continuing to the present day, Appalachian children's literature has been included in this distinguished group.

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Early voices

Examining literature about Appalachia, by Appalachians, reveals that few children’s books were published in the late 1800s. Fewer still remain available today. The stories that do survive often center on frontier life, recounting experiences of native peoples and early pioneers.

At times grounded in history, at times romanticized, these early Appalachian children’s books fueled future retellings of heroic pioneers and their battles against the land, wildlife, and native populations. Many iconic images and characters rooted in the 1800s endure today.

Early mountain voices

The authors who first contributed their mountain voices to Appalachian children's literature were largely responsible for the establishment of the genre. Their stories often depict traditional mountain life. Rebecca Caudill, May Justus and others laid the groundwork for Appalachian authors who followed decades later.

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African American voices

In the 1970s, authors and titles began to appear that represent African American voices in Appalachian children’s literature. Virginia Hamilton and William Armstrong were early catalysts for this genre.

Asian American voices

New voices have added to the genre of Appalachian children's literature from around the world. These authors provide a unique perspective from which they can look in on Appalachia and comment on issues common to a global society. Laurence Yep is a prolific Asian American author from California who has family ties to Appalachia: his mother was born in West Virginia and raised in Ohio.

Native American voices

Tall tales

True to American tradition, Appalachian tall tales emerged from the frontier experience and exaggerate the abilities of the protagonists to extreme levels, granting these characters legendary status. David Crockett and Daniel Boone are some of the earliest tall tale heroes, but the genre continues to flourish in the modern age with new characters such as Swamp Angel and Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett.

Books in popular series

Some of the most popular book series in the country have taken their show on the road and explored Southern Appalachia.