Books for Kids Set in the Appalachia

Top 10: Books for Kids Set in Appalachia

I remember when I received my first letter from my soon-to-be college roommate. I looked at the envelope and tried to fathom where she was from. WV. What state was WV? I had no idea. I had to look it up.

WV: her postal code state, stood for West Virginia. It was my first encounter with Appalachia. (Yes, I led a pretty sheltered childhood and did not travel much!).

I learned snippets about her region from living with her.

  • She was the hardest working person I know. Hands down. Makes me look like a total slacker. I have a feeling that people from Appalachia are like that.
  • Her father was a optomistrist and he would sell kids eyeglasses that were big enough for them to grow into. I wore glasses too (but had switched to contacts by college) and the idea of only being able to afford a single pair of glasses in a lifetime was sobering.
  • My roommate was also the most socially talented person I ever met. She could sit  down at table of a dozen awkward teens and get everyone talking without feeling like she was hogging the conversation. And no one works a room better! This is before I had even heard of social emotional intelligence and I was able to see it in person.
  • In case you were wondering, who is this roommate? She’s the person managing the U.S. budget. I think she had a tough week during the government shutdown but there is no one better to do this job!

The stories of Appalachia are often sensationalized around moonshine, clan feuding, coal mining and poverty so. While endowed with abundant natural resources, Appalachia has long struggled with and has been associated with poverty and the region itself lacks specific defining boundaries. The region defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission currently includes 420 counties and eight independent cities in 13 states, including all of West Virginia, 14 counties in New York, 52 in Pennsylvania, 32 in Ohio, 3 in Maryland, 54 in Kentucky, 25 counties and 8 cities in Virginia,29 in North Carolina, 52 in Tennessee, 6 in South Carolina, 37 in Georgia, 37 in Alabama, and 24 inMississippi.

In creating this booklist, I dedicate this to Sylvia Mathew Burwell, the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (my freshman college roommate).  And, of course, to everyone living in District 11.

Can you please help me out by adding your favorite books for kids set in  Appalachia? Thanks so much!

p.s. I got an assist after I tapped out at around 7 books from Carol Hurst’s excellent blog.


Best Books for Kids Set in Appalachia

10. Catch Rider by Jennifer H. Lyne

You don’t have to be a horse-y person to appreciate this gritty but uplifting chapter book. It hits on all the stress points of Appalachia: factories destroying the pristine natural environment, haves vs have-nots, and the equestrian legacy where this story unfolds.

14-year-old Sid has more natural riding ability than the rich girls who have $1000 custom boots, Equitarian horses that cost more than houses and the best trainers available. After her father, a horse trader,  dies in a car accident, she’s hoping that training and selling horses with her uncle will help put her family back together. When she takes a job at fancy barn to earn money, she comes firsthand into the fancy world of the Equitation championships and if she can pull off a good showing at Madison Square Garden, she could achieve her  ultimate dream, a show rider that can ride anything. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]

9. When I Was Young In the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant

The winner of a Caldecott Honor, Rylant’s picture book lovingly depicts the simple pleasures of living in Appalachia from splashing in a swimming hole, to taking baths in the kitchen. There are subtle hints of the coal mining backstory; grandfather has to wash off the coal dust. [picture book, ages 5-8]

8.Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachia Spring by Jan Greenberg

With beautiful illustrations and simple text, Ballet for Martha shows the coming together of American music, ballet and art in the collaboration by Martha Graham, Aaron Copland and Isamu Noguchi to create this dance masterpiece. [non fiction picture book, ages 6-10]

Here’s an eight minute video of the ballet.

7. Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories by Rosemary Wells

I have a post on three short stories about lesser known Mary Breckenridge. She’s  the Clara Barton or Florence Nightingale of  Appalachia. When her two childen and husband died, she founded the Frontier Nursing Service to bring midwifery and health services to the poor of Appalachia. Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale … and Mary Breckenridge (ages 9-12) UPDATED [easy chapter book biography, ages 6 and up]

6. Missing May by Cynthia Rylant

Cyntbia Rylant is on my list again, this time with a chapter book that I would describe as an Appalachian version of Because of Winn Dixie, which is, hands down, my favorite children’s book on the planet.

When Summer’s aunt-who-raised-her-as-a-mother dies, she and her uncle Ob are reeling from grief. Her quirky classmate Cletus Underwood comes around and pulls them into a quest to find a spirit medium to communicate with May. He is the one person who can connect with her uncle Ob and this trip proves to be life changing for everyone. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]

5. That Book Woman by Heather Henson

The Pack Horse Librarians, known as “Book Women” brought library books to the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky like clockwork, every two weeks, in any kind of weather. This beautifully illustrated picture book depicts the true story and captures the dialect of the area.  [picture book, ages 4-8 ]

4. How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor

Somehow the scheme to steal a dog and return it to claim the reward money seemed like the perfect solution to get Georgina (and her mom out ) of their financial predicament. They are living out of their car after her father left them.  Things don’t go according to plan — do they ever? — but along the way, the reader will feel like he or she has made a new friend in Georgina. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]

3. Moonshiner’s Son by Carolyn Reeder

Set during Prohibition in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, young Tom Higgins and his father run a microdistillery, crafting small batch fine whiskey (a.k.a. moonshine), and they consider it a time-honored profession. But when a preacher and his pretty daughter arrives and speaks out about the evils of alcohol, Tom is torn. [historical fiction chapter books, ages 8 to 12]

2. Shiloh series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Perhaps the preacher’s daughter from Moonshiner’s Son was right (above); alcohol is evil and brings out the worst in men. Shiloh is an abused young beagle owned by a mean neighbor who drinks too much. When young Marty Preston finds Shiloh, he is moved to help the dog, but can he save it when it does not belong to him? [Newbery winning chapter book trilogy, ages 9 and up]

1. Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech

Is Chasing Redbird set in Appalachia?  My kids love this book and insisted that it is located here and that it must be included.

It started out as an ordinary summer. But the minute thirteen-year-old Zinny discovered the old, overgrown trail that ran through the woods behind her family’s house, she realized that things were about to change.

Right from the start, Zinny knew that uncovering the trail would be more than just a summer project. It was her chance to finally make people notice her, and to have a place she could call her very own. But more than that, Zinny knew that the trail somehow held the key to all kinds of questions. And that the only way to understand her family, her Aunt Jessie’s death, and herself was to find out where it went. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]

Best Books for Kids Set in Appalachia Honorable Mentions

Come Sing, Jimmy Jo  by Katherine Paterson

Jimmy Jo Johnson’s family are country singers. As the story begins Jimmy Jo has been left behind with his grandmother in the mountains, being considered too young for the group. His grandmother was once part of the group but is now considered too old for the road. It is she who encourages Jimmy Jo to sing and, when he finally gets his chance, he outshines his father and mother and becomes the focal point of the group and the cause for their rise to “big time.”


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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Virginia Hamilton’s M. C. Higgins the Great and Betsy Byars’ The Summer of the Swans are both set in Appalachia. They also both won the Newbury Award. Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia is set in rural Virginia. Writer Gloria Houston (LittleJim and The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree) has set most of her books in the NC mountains.

    Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series is also partially set in Appalachia–she has never revealed where any of the districts are except District 12, which is most definitely Appalachia.

  2. Our best friend is from that region (North Carolina), and it’s interesting to hear his stories about growing up as a bookworm Catholic in the poverty-ridden county of hardcore Protestants.I hope to visit some of these areas one day and also see the leaves change in the Appalachian Mountains. Thanks for sharing this list!
    Natalie recently posted…Week in Review–Nov 3, 2013My Profile

  3. I had never been there either until my son decided to attend the outstanding business college at West Virginia University. Then I fell in love with the area and even spent a few days driving through the Appalachia region. Today WV is one of my favorite states.

  4. Lovely as always. My first thought was interesting topic.

    I love and hate Shiloh. Animal books always make me cry. I;m a totally boo hooer. But, it is beautifully written.

    Thank you so much for the recommendations!
    Lisa Nelson recently posted…Mommy Monday Blog Hop – Week 19My Profile

  5. I’ve read a few of these books, but you’ve given me several to add to my to-read-someday list. Thanks!
    maryanne recently posted…From Sand Table to Lego Table!My Profile

  6. Ann

    I’d love to learn more about Appalachia. Thanks for the book list!
    Ann recently posted…PiBoIdMo ReflectionsMy Profile

  7. Jeanette Rogers

    Why on earth are you referring to us as THE Appalachia? It’s either Appalachia or the Appalachians. You obviously did not learn enough from your roommate.

  8. Margie

    I love your post! I\’m from Illinois, but we had family from the mountains, and were Scottish, and some of our ancestors spent time there…so I want my children to grasp different cultures within the U.S., too. My mom had a book as a little girl, called \”Down, Down the Mountain\”. Then she read it to me, and it was one of my favorites. I think it was written in the 30s. I don\’t have it out now ( moving) and don\’t remember the author. But a brother and sister want nothing but new shoes that \”sing when you walk\” so pa give them some turnip seeds, they plant and grow them, then head down the mountain to sell them, but they meet people who need them worse…and are left with just one….I won\’t spoil the rest. :)It\’s a great book. Hope you have luck finding it if it sounds good to you! Margie

    • Hi Margie,
      Down, Down the Mountain sounds wonderful. Thank you! Adding it to the list!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Top 10: Runaways in Children’s BooksMy Profile

      • Margie

        I just found the author! Hooray! Ellis Credle. There is a picture of the book cover on google images. I couldn’t get it to post in the comment box. Sorry, I don’t comment a lot. Hope you can find it somewhere!

        • Thanks so much Margie!!

          Here’s some more information on Ellis Credle that I found:

          Ellis Credle (1902–1998) was the author of a number of books for children and young adults, some of which she also illustrated. Credle (which is pronounced “cradle”) is best known as the creator of the acclaimed children’s book Down Down the Mountain (1934) and other stories set in the South. While the most successful of her work has been called inspirational, some other stories were controversial for her depiction of African Americans.
          Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Remembering the Veterans in My Life on Veterans DayMy Profile

  9. Thanks for this list! I’ve read a few but you’ve given me more to check out. As always, we love to see you linked up!
    Anna recently posted…Counting 1-10: A Free Fall Printable for PreschoolMy Profile

  10. Wow! What a talented roommate–and what a big job she has to do! Thanks for this resource and for sharing on This Momma’s Meandering Mondays.
    Lauren recently posted…The Doughnut Shop, Tickle My Armpits, My Favorite Marshall Video Of All-Time, and Something Else I Probably ForgotMy Profile

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