Reading Appalachia

Voices from Children’s Literature

June 16, 2014 to September 14, 2014
Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery

Walk through the pages of your favorite storybook in this groundbreaking exhibit on Appalachian children’s literature.

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 HoA Mountain RoseWhen Otter Tricked the RabbitWhen 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.

“Our Stories Are Important Stories”: George Ella Lyon


Reading Appalachia: Voices from Children’s Literature is based on the research of Jamie Osborn.

Exhibition committee: Adam H. Alfrey, Mary Pom Claiborne, Miranda Clark, Casey Fox, Holly Kizer, Michele MacDonald, Lisa Oakley, Jamie Osborn, Kayti Tilson

Special thanks: Appalachian Center—Berea CollegeArchives of Appalachia—East Tennessee State University, Lee Carpenter, Jeff Conyers, Steve Cotham, Julie Danielson, David Dotson, Stephanie Faulkner, Roberta T. Herrin, PhD, Silas House, George Ella Lyon, Anne Moore, Barry Moser, Nashville Public Library, Clinton Tatum, Sarah Webb, Ken Wise

Related Resources:

Meet the authors, read a poem by George Ella Lyon, browse book lists, and find out more about Reading Appalachia by visiting Knox County Public Library’s website

Tell us your story! Share your Appalachian childhood story

Learn about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library


December 19, 2014—April 4, 2015
Morrison Public Library
Morrison, Tennessee

Early 2016
Reece Museum
East Tennessee State University
Johnson City, Tennessee

Tool Kit for host museums and public libraries