Tuesday, November 04, 2008

REVIEW: Down Cut Shin Creek

Title: Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky
Author(s): Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer
ISBN: 9780060291358/Harper Collins
KidLit/History, Ages 8-12
Rating: A

First Line: They were the darkest of times, the years following the crash of the stock market in 1929.

Sometimes finding the road to a new reading passion is a little bit of a miracle. I stumbled across an excellent blog called Appalachian History, and one day I came across a post there about the pack horse librarians of Kentucky. It was if my mind was set afire. The Works Progress Administration was the largest part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, and the WPA was responsible for the pack horse library system of Kentucky. Cast-off books and magazines were donated and sent to book centers in the remote mountainous region of eastern Kentucky. The items were gone through, repaired, and given to young (mostly female) workers who saddled up their horses and mules and rode up into the mountains where there were no roads. Often their only trails were following stream beds.

Every two weeks, each pack horse librarian would set out with new books, magazines and pamphlets and stop by one-room schools and cabins along the route. At first, the proud, poor people who lived there were sceptical, but these librarians were people known to them, and the residents rapidly came to look forward to their visits with great enthusiasm and joy.

Down Cut Shin Creek is a marvelous book about this little known library program that came to an end in 1943 with World War II. (It wouldn't be until the late 1950s that this area once again had access to library materials.) Full of information, it is also packed with period photographs that bring the whole thing to life. I have nothing but admiration for these pack horse librarians who, for the monthly salary of $28, traveled through every imaginable sort of terrain and weather to bring the outside world to people who were starving for it.

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