Cindy Benabderrahman's Reviews > When I Was Young in the Mountains

When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant
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Apr 19, 09

bookshelves: appalachia, books-4-children, edu-543-lit-4-children-project
Recommended for: girls who had grandpas who were coal miners, people who love west virginia
Read in April, 2009, read count: 10+

This book is for everybody, but especially for women who remember being little girls waiting on their grandpas to come home from the coal mines, dirty as all get out, “covered with the black dust.” Rylant takes us back with her to her grandparents’ house in Appalachia, where we can smell her grandmother’s corn bread, taste the fried okra, feel the muddy water of the swimming hole. We meet the old couple who looked alike and ran the general store. Diane Goode’s illustration of the store adds so much visual text to the story with the wares stocked on the shelf—homemade breads, dry goods, butter, eggs, tallow, soap by the pound. We see big tin canisters of tea, bags of corn meal, eggs by the basket, 1 gallon blue glass mason jars. We go with Rylant to church in the schoolhouse, baptisms in muddy waters, to get a photograph taken by a gypsy photographer. Best of all, she takes us with her to the back porch, where they sat in the evenings under a star-filled sky. And by the end of the story, even the most dandified city-folk could have a glimpse of why she never wanted to leave the mountains.

This book is one of those books that tells a specific little story, but signifies so much more. It tells a million stories if it tells one. It tells the story of being happy with what you have and where you are. It tells the story of what home is. It tells the story of people who know and love you—and those you know and love in return. It tells of home made meals, and longing, and remembering, and of how there’s no place in the world like West Virginia for stargazing. Through the pictures and the words, and those small shadows and spaces in between, Rylant’s first book is a treasure every time I read it.

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