Recommended Reading: WV Books for Kids Anna Cipoletti October 6, 2020 As the kids settle into the new school year, check out these books to keep their minds active and explore the mountain state through reading. All of the books featured are either written by West Virginia authors or take place in West Virginia. Stay tuned for another list tailored for middle school and young adult readers. Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds Cynthia Rylant (Author), Barry Moser (Illustrator) Accompanied by beautiful watercolor illustrations, author Cynthia Rylant provides a warm look into Appalachian life. She offers a glimpse into the not-so-distant past of Appalachia with stories and observations that will still ring true for modern readers. This book was awarded the Parents’ Choice Award in 1991 by the Parents’ Choice Foundation, a nonprofit that recognizes “the very best products for children of different ages and backgrounds”. Recommended reading level: 3-7 * * * * * * * * * In November Cynthia Rylant (Author), Jill Kastner (Illustrator) With lovely, full illustrations by Jill Kastner, Cynthia Rylant’s In November is an ode in prose to a special month. Children will love the drawings of animals getting ready for the winter and the images of Thanksgiving will give readers of all ages warm and fuzzy feelings. Put In November at the top of your to-read list as you and your family prepare for Thanksgiving. Recommended reading level: 3-7 Cynthia Rylant is one of West Virginia’s most prolific writers with more than 100 children’s books published. Other titles to check out by Rylant include Long Night Moon, When I Was Young in the Mountains, and The Relatives Came. * * * * * * * * * John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads John Denver (Author), Christopher Canyon (Illustrator) Illustrator Christopher Canyon brings to life John Denver’s famous song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” by pairing lyrics with drawings done in the style of a brightly colored patchwork quilt. The work depicts several families, all uniquely styled, traveling through West Virginia on their way to a family reunion. West Virginia comes to life as a whimsical and welcoming place as readers are taken through small towns and countryside through Canyon’s artwork and Denver’s lyrics. The book comes with a CD recording of the song and sheet music. Recommended reading level: 4-8 years old * * * * * * * * * John Henry Julius Lester (Author), Jerry Pinkney (Illustrator) What West Virginian doesn’t know the legend of John Henry, the man who out-hammered a steam drill? If you don’t, or want to share a piece of West Virginia folklore with your children, check out Julius Lester’s John Henry, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Lester exemplifies the tall tale genre with a colorful and often humorous account of one of West Virginia’s greatest folklore figures. Illustrator Jerry Pickney’s detailed watercolors add to this lively tale and portray John Henry as a larger-than-life man who bested a mountain. This book has received several awards including the Parents’ Choice Award and was named a Caldecott honor book. Recommended reading level: 4-8 years old * * * * * * * * * A Little Excitement Marc Harshman (Author), Ted Rand (Illustrator) Willie, tired of winter and being cooped up with his sisters, wishes for a little excitement to break up the monotony. But when the excitement comes, it’s not the kind Willie had hoped for: it’s a house fire! Willie and his family scramble out of bed to try to save their house and belongings and are soon joined by neighbors. Together they successfully put out the fire and the crisis is averted. Harshman’s story reminds readers of one of the benefits of a small, close-knit community by showing people quick to help a neighbor in need. Harshman has penned several children’s books and books of poetry and is West Virginia’s current poet laureate. Other books to check out by him include Rocks in My Pockets, The Storm, and All the Way to Morning. Recommended reading level: 4-8 years old * * * * * * * * * A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon Suzanne Slade (Author), Veronica Miller Jamison (Illustrator) Numbers have always made sense to Katherine Johnson, but the world around her sometimes didn’t. Why should she and others like her be limited because of their race and gender? Author Suzanne Slade describes the hurdles Johnson faced, from segregated schools to the meetings at NASA she is barred from attending. Johnson tackles them all and makes great strides for herself and other women in her field, proving through her exemplary work just how much she and other African-American women can accomplish. Recommended reading level: 4-8 years old * * * * * * * * * Sally Arnold Cheryl Ryan (Author), Bill Farnsworth (Illustrator) Intrigued by the history of a ridge in West Virginia called Sally’s Backbone, author Cheryl Ryan penned Sally Arnold, which explores the ridge’s namesake. Main character Jenny is at first a little afraid of Sally Arnold. She soon learns, however, that Sally is not an oddity or a witch but a kind woman, reminding readers not to judge a book by its cover. Illustrator Bill Farnsworth’s watercolor pictures capture the beauty of the Mountain State and are well-suited to the rustic nature of the story. Recommended reading level: 5-8 years old * * * * * * * * * No Star Nights Anna Smucker (Author), Steve Johnson (Illustrator) Inspired by the author’s childhood in Weirton, West Virginia, No Star Nights give readers a glimpse into what it was like growing up in a mill town before EPA regulations. Pastel and graphite illustrations by Johnson are well-suited to depict the hazy, chalky scenes recounted by Smucker. Smucker recalls how the mill shaped the lives of those who lived there and how the smoke and dust created their “no star nights.” The book received the International Reading Association Award. Recommended reading level: 5-8 years old * * * * * * * * * Passing the Music Down Sarah Sullivan (Author), Barry Root (Illustrator) Based on the true friendship between Jake Krack and Melvin Wine, Passing the Music Down is a story told in verse about a young fiddle player and his mentor. Together they travel through West Virginia and play traditional folk music until the old man can play no more. But the young boy, now a grown man, continues to travel and play, keeping the music and his friend’s memory alive. Recommended reading level: 5-8 years old * * * * * * * * * More Than Anything Else Marie Bradby (author), Chris K. Soentpiet (illustrator) Booker T. Washington is nine years old and living as a freed slave in West Virginia and, more than anything else, he wants to learn how to read. One evening as he returns home with his father and brother, he sees a man reading a newspaper aloud; Booker observes “I have found hope, and it is as brown as me.” With the help of an alphabet book and the newspaper man, Booker attains his greatest wish. An inspiring story with full and detailed illustrations, More Than Anything Else gives young readers an idea of what life was like for emancipated slaves after the Civil War. Recommended reading level: 7-10 years old * * * * * * * * * A Piece of Home Jeri Watts (Author), Hyewon Yum (Illustrator) When young Hee Jun and his family move from Korea to West Virginia for his father’s new job, Hee Jun feels out of place. Little by little Hee Jun adjusts to his new home, learning English and making new friends. He is heartened to see in his friend’s yard a mugunghwha flower, or rose of Sharon, which his grandmother had tended in Korea. Hee Jun takes a bundle home to his grandmother and she is equally happy to see “a piece of home.” The family adjusts to and begins enjoying their life in West Virginia, all the while honoring their Korean traditions with the help of the mugunghwha flower. Beautifully illustrated by Hyewon Yum, A Piece of Home gives young readers an idea of the immigrant experience in America and the importance of family traditions. Recommended reading level: 7-10 years old * * * * * * * * * M is for Mountain State: A West Virginia Alphabet Mary Ann McCabe Riehle (Author), Laura J. Bryant (Illustrator) Teeming with facts about West Virginia, M is for Mountain State is a beautifully illustrated guide to introduce young readers to the state. Author Riehle has put together an informative and entertaining book that both children and parents can appreciate that highlights our state’s history, wildlife, and natural beauty. Recommended reading level: 8-10 years old * * * * * * * * * John Brown: His Fight for Freedom John Hendrix Famous for his raid on Harpers Ferry, WV, John Brown was a dedicated abolitionist who gave his heart and soul—and ultimately his life—to the cause of freedom. Brown’s fervor for equality surpassed even that of many of his fellow abolitionists as he wanted to see enslaved people not only freed, but made equal. Though Brown’s raid ultimately failed, the publicity it received bolstered his cause and “his voice roused a complacent nation to action.” With eye-catching illustrations and bold typography, Hendrix’s biography gives younger readers a simple but authentic idea of the life and legacy of John Brown. Hendrix also provides an author’s note and list of select sources for older readers who may want more information. Recommended reading level: 8-12 years old * * * * * * * * * Counting the Stars: The Story of Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician Lesa Cline-Ransome (author), Raúl Colón (illustrator) From a young age Katherine Johnson had loved numbers and counted everything from the Sunday school steps to the stars outside her window in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. A gifted student, Katherine skipped several grades and by the age of ten was enrolled in a high school in Institute, West Virginia and by fifteen was attending college. Katherine took every math class offered and, once those had been exhausted, one her professor created just for her. After graduating college Katherine became a teacher and taught for several years before finding a job at NASA as a “human computer”. Counting the Stars is a beautifully illustrated introduction to Katherine Johnson that lauds the sacrifices Katherine’s parents made for their children and the importance of tenacity, hard work, and always looking up. Recommended reading level: 8-12 years old Raised in Wellsburg, West Virginia, Anna Cipoletti is a proud alumna of Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy, West Liberty University and Kent State University. She received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from West Liberty in 2014 and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from Kent State in 2017. Anna has made a career out of a lifelong love of books and works full-time at Bethany College as a librarian and parttime as a bookseller and book reviewer. She resides in Beech Bottom with her sister and two Siamese cats. A nature enthusiast, Anna often spends her free time visiting one of West Virginia’s many beautiful parks or kayaking along Buffalo Creek. 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