Sometimes it is hard to remember that things we often take for granted now were in times past hard to obtain and deeply treasured. So it is with me and books. I always have a stack of books that I am either reading or looking forward to starting. Whether they are my own or on loan from the library or a friend, books are a constant in my life. I rarely even have to wait for a book I really want to read.
However, this was not so for those living in Appalachia during the 1930s. To combat this isolation and lack of resources, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” created programs like eastern Kentucky’s Pack Horse Library Project designed to provide reading materials to rural portions of Eastern Kentucky that had no access to public libraries. These “Book Women” (the Pack Horse Librarians) rode horses or mules and traveled 50 to 80 miles a week along rough and dangerous terrain to bring books and other reading materials to their patrons.
For a look into this time period and the brave, hardworking women who made this possible, check out the following resources:
Pack Horse Librarians website
Appalachian History: Stories, quotes and anecdotes website
Kentucky Kinfolk website
10 Engines website
Looking for ideas to engage your students in this learning process? Check out these activities:
Reading Guide for That Book Woman (from TeacherVision)
Kids Book Club website
While I enjoy a good picture book any day of the year, I find Christmas stories especially fun to read. The following are three of my favorite Christmas legend stories.
The Legend of the Poinsettia retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola is a story centered on the Mexican tradition of bringing gifts to the Christ child during the Christmas Eve procession. Young Lucida is heartbroken when her family is without a gift on Christmas Eve, and she ends up bringing an armful of weeds to the manger. This simple gift combined with a Christmas miracle created the Christmas flower we know today as the poinsettia.
Baboushka and the Three Kings by Ruth Robbins and illustrated by Nicolas Sidjakov shares the Russian folktale of the old peasant woman’s (Baboushka) endless search for the Christ child. This book is the 1961 winner of the Caldecott medal.
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston and beautifully illustrated by Barbara Cooney tells the story of a Christmas memory of a young girl from the Appalachian Mountains. In the midst of hard times, Ruthie’s hope and faith and her parents’ determination helped create a very perfect Christmas one year for the people of Pine Grove.
More Christmas legend stories about stockings, mistletoe, Rudolph, ivy, and other Christmas symbols can be found on the Christmas World and My Merry Christmas sites.
After sharing some of these stories with your class, you may want to extend the activity into a writing lesson and have your students create their own Christmas legend stories.
IRA’s ReadWriteThink site has a lesson with some helpful worksheets and handouts that guide students as they create their own Porquoi Stories: Creating Tales to Tell Why. This could be easily adapted to fit with the holiday theme and would provide students with some creative experiences as they imagine the stories about how Christmas symbols came to be.