Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Have You Met the Fairchild Family?
First off, you should know that I was born in eastern Kentucky and grew up in West Virginia, and part of my thesis in college focused on Appalachian literature. I love mountains and I love mountain people. For my birthday this year, I was excited to receive a children's book set in Appalachia, which I hadn't read. It was only after reading it that I noticed the word "haunting" in a review on the back. By haunting, they seem to have meant unbearably tragic. There seems to be a lot of melancholy in Appalachian books, and I understand where it's coming from, but it's not really what I want to read to my fairly-sensitive 7-and-under crowd in my house. Even Newbery award winning, Shiloh, which is a beautiful tale about a boy who saves an abused dog, would be a bit much for my kids.
It set me on a quest: to find a book set in the mountains, that would be totally appropriate to read to young children, and would, dare I dream, be happy? I wanted it to have the joy of "When I was Young in the Mountains" by Cynthia Rylant, but be in chapter book form.
I am happy to report that my quest was successful. I found The Fairchild Family series from Rebecca Caudill. This series of four books features a large Kentucky family. They are poor, but happy. They love each other and have various adventures together. In the first book, Happy Little Family, the youngest Bonnie is four years old and desperately wants to go to school with her siblings.
The second book, Schoolhouse in the Woods covers Bonnie's first year in the little one-room schoolhouse in the woods and surprises like a family molasses-making party.
In the third book, Up and Down the River, Bonnie and Debbie set out to get rich by selling pictures and bluing to all their neighbors. They don't end up wealthy, but they do end up with a lot of new pets. ALA Booklist described it as: "Real little girl adventures, pleasingly illustrated." You just don't see book reviews like that anymore.
The final book, Schoolroom in the Parlor, is set during a terrible winter when the family is snowed into their home. Older sister Althy decides to teach everyone at home. Library journal said that the book had "Strong values and satisfaction in an old-fashioned picture of family solidarity and simple pleasures"
We have been reading these for bedtime reading and they are great for younger kids who love old-fashioned books like Little House on the Prairie. These stories are sweet and fun and remind me of the stories my uncles would tell at our family reunion about growing up in Kentucky. The books are short and have lovely pencil illustrations throughout so they would be great for younger readers too.
All these books have been reprinted by Bethlehem books. I just discovered this publishing company, which reprints older books and I loved their mission. From their website:
"For those of you who don't know us—Bethlehem Books is a small, home grown publishing company dedicated to restoring to children and families a treasury of wholesome, character-building literature. We are more than just a business. Our work springs from the heart of the Bethlehem Community of Benedictine Oblates, a lay group of families and single people which began in 1971."
A religious order dedicated to reprinting old children's books. Sign me up!