Reading Appalachia: Voices from Children’s Literature opened April 6th at Sewanee’s Jessie Ball duPont Library. The community is invited to a public discussion of the exhibit by visiting lecturer Ellen Handler Spitz at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 15, in the Torian Room of the library, followed by a reception. Spitz has written children’s book reviews for The New Republic and The New York Times and has published three books on children’s aesthetic lives.
This groundbreaking exhibition of Appalachian children’s literature explores books published since the late 1800s. Organized by the Knox County Public Library and the East Tennessee Historical Society in Knoxville, and based on research by Jamie Osborn, manager of the Halls Branch, Knox County Public Library, Reading Appalachia aims to show a more complete picture of the region’s literary heritage and how this literature tells the story of childhood in Appalachia.
Sporting life-size characters from some of the books, the exhibit is designed to create the sensation of walking through the pages of a storybook. Children can stand eye-to-eye with characters from Journey Cake Ho, A Mountain Rose, When Otter Tricked the Rabbit, When I was Young, and others.
Attendees can view original films 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.
Spitz’s informal talk will discuss her own ways of reading and interpreting children’s books and then address more specifically several of the Appalachian children’s books featured in the exhibit at Sewanee. She believes it is important for children to sometimes see their experience reflected back in the pages of a book, reinforcing their sense of identity and fostering a sense of pride in local place.
The author of numerous books, Spitz will be visiting Sewanee in conjunction with the Sewanee/Yale partnership psychology course, Child, Family and Community Development in Rural Appalachia. While here, she will also visit area elementary schools. She teaches a regular seminar called Cultures of Childhood at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she is Honors College Professor of Visual Arts.
Reading Appalachia: Voices from Children’s Literature will be in the library’s Wright-Morrow reading room until September 15 and is jointly sponsored by the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian & Place Based Studies, the Office of Community Engagement, and the University of the South library.