Southern Settings by Kathie Johnson

First Books

Southern Settings

by Kathie Johnson

Last summer, I had yet another reading game in my library. Children were invited to read books set in five southern states: North Carolina (NC), South Carolina (SC), Georgia (GA), Alabama (AL), and Mississippi (MI). I had two concerns going into the summer: Would I have enough books from those states to provide an abundant selection? And would it be too hard to deal with subjects like slavery and civil rights?

I need not have worried. I discovered I had many books that were either specifically set in those states or which typified that part of the country. The children found the books engaging and the characters winning. Even the books that dealt with difficult issues were generally infused with a sense of hope and redemption.

Biographies & Nature

There are quite a few biographies of people from this part of the country. Children can read about Martin Luther King, Jr. (GA), Rosa Parks (AL), Helen Keller (AL), the Wright Brothers (who get claimed by North Carolina because their historic "first flight" was there), Billy Graham (NC), and George Washington Carver (AL), among others. There are also sports figures like Jesse Owens (AL), Satchel Paige (AL), Ty Cobb (GA), and Henry (Hank) Aaron (AL).

Two art books come to mind as well: Mattie Lou O'Kelley's From the Hills of Georgia, which consists of the author's own paintings of her life in rural Georgia; and Going Back Home, in which Michele Wood paints her experience of returning to the South.

Children's biographies are especially plentiful for Keller, King, and the Wrights. David A. Adler, has done a nice series on these notables for younger children, each volume titled A Picture Book of . . . . I have his books on King, Owens, Parks, and Keller. They are colorful, with more pictures than print, and include author's notes at the end, along with a time line. Barbara Mitchell has done a nice book on Carver called A Pocketful of Goobers, especially good for third-to-fifth-graders. One especially good book about the Wright brothers is the classic Landmark biography by Quentin Reynolds for older children. A more recent book for younger readers, by Jane Yolen, is My Brothers' Flying Machine, told from their sister's point of view.

Children can also read about the Cherokees, who lived in several of the states mentioned. A good place to start would be with Peter and Connie Roop's book If You Lived with the Cherokee (about second-to-fourth-grade level). Among other things, this book tells about Sequoyah, the Cherokee who developed an alphabet and written language for his people, and about the Trail of Tears (when the Cherokees' land was taken away and many of them were sent to Oklahoma).

There are also some nice nature books about the South. An Island Scrapbook, by Virginia Wright-Frierson, has wonderful information and pictures of the plant and animal life on a barrier island off North Carolina.

Stories & Picture Books

The Brer Rabbit stories come from this part of the country and became a favorite of readers in the summer game. There are many versions. A nice one is the oversized book, The Classic Tales of Brer Rabbit, retold by David Borgenicht with lovely, large illustrations by Don Daily. There are other rich tales from this part of the country, a number of them by Robert D. San Souci, including The Talking Eggs.

Going on to picture books, a favorite series in the summer was the Little Cliff books by Clifton L. Taulbert. At our end-of-summer parties, I read parts of Little Cliff and the Porch People, because I felt it typified Southern culture. The book tells of a little African-American boy in Mississippi who is staying with his grandparents. He has been looking forward to going to town with his grandpa, but his grandpa is called away to sit and pray with someone who is ailing. His grandma sends him to a neighbor several doors down to buy some special butter for her famous candied sweet potatoes. On the way, the boy is stopped by every neighbor in between to talk a bit, and each one gives him something for his grandma. He eventually gets the butter (fresh-churned) and goes home with everything, which his grandma puts to good use. As they all sit down to dinner, the three "in-between" neighbors show up to help eat the delicious dish. In this book, you see caring and prayer for those who need it, extended family living nearby, warmth and a sense of connection in the community, sharing, and hospitality, among other fine traits.

Kathie Johnson has always had a love for children's books. She collected many as a teacher and began sharing them with other teachers. In 1986, she opened a children's library in her home, and it has continued to expand over the years. Many home-schooled and schooled children borrow books from it, and she takes great pleasure in finding the "right" book for a child. She attends First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley.

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