Always an honor & delight to have Kim Vogel Sawyer on the blog! Today she’s chatting about her new historical fiction, The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow, and the Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky (a topic that has fascinated me for years)!
THE LIBRARIAN OF BOONE’S HOLLOW by Kim Vogel Sawyer
GENRE: Inspirational Historical Fiction
RELEASE DATE: September 15, 2020
A traveling librarian ventures into the mining towns of Kentucky on horseback and rediscovers her passions in this powerful novel from the best-selling author of A Silken Thread.
During the Great Depression, Addie Cowherd dreams of being a novelist and offering readers the escape that books gave her during her tragic childhood. When her adoptive father loses his job, she is forced to leave college and take the only employment she can find–delivering books on horseback to poor coal mining families in the hills of Kentucky.
The small community of Boone’s Hollow is suspicious of outsiders and steeped in superstitions that leave Addie feeling rejected and indignant. Although she finds an unexpected friend in an elderly outcast, the other horseback librarians scorn her determination to befriend Nanny Fay.
Emmett Tharp grew up in the tiny mountain hamlet where most men either work in the coal mine or run moonshine. He’s the first in the community to earn a college degree, and he has big dreams, but witnesses the Depression robbing many young men of their future.
Then someone sets out to sabotage the library program, going so far as to destroy Addie’s novel in progress. Will the saboteur chase Addie and the other librarians away, or will knowledge emerge victorious over prejudice? Is Emmett the local ally that Addie needs–and might their friendship lead to something more?
Inspired by the real WPA program that sent librarians on horseback to deliver books to hill families in Kentucky, Kim Vogel Sawyer immersed herself in Appalachian history to tell this captivating story.
The Story Behind the Book
by Kim Vogel Sawyer, author of The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow
You’ve probably heard it said, “A picture paints a thousand words.” That certainly turned out to be true for me when I came upon a black-and-white vintage photograph of a young woman on horseback handing a book over the railing of a ramshackle cabin to a sad-faced, weary-looking woman. Myriad questions flooded my mind, and I had to discover the truth behind the image. The research grew into a story.
Between 1935 and 1943, a Works Progress Administration program called the Pack Horse Library Project brought books directly to the homes of people in rural Appalachian Kentucky. At the time, roughly 31% of the people living in these areas were illiterate. Believing education was the key to bringing people out of poverty, President Roosevelt hired “book women” to make the deliveries.
Single women and young mothers rode on horses or mules—either their own animal or a “rented” one from a local stable owner—and delivered reading materials to families who lived far from towns. There were few established roadways in the mountains, so the going was difficult and often dangerous. We generally have an eight-hour work day. But because of the distance between homes, it wasn’t unusual for the horseback riders to work from sunup to sundown when following their routes.
A packhorse librarian might travel as far as 500 miles and deliver as many as 3,500 books in a single month! The familiar mail carriers’ slogan, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” fit these book carriers aptly. Well, except the “swift” part, but it’s easy to forgive them when one considers the terrain they traversed. Regardless of the number of hours required or how rough the passage to make the deliveries was, the riders received a standard salary of approximately $28.00 a month. That might not seem like much today, but it was an excellent salary during the Great Depression. With so few opportunities to earn an honest wage, especially for women, they were happy to get it.
Libraries today receive grants and federal funds to add books to their shelves. The Pack Horse Library Project received no such financial help. A Presbyterian minister donated his entire personal library to get things started, and over time, word spread. People in cities boxed up books, magazines, post cards, and newspapers and sent them to the hills libraries. One of the most touching pieces of research I uncovered was how school children held penny drives, and then used their collected money to purchase storybooks for the unschooled children in the mountains.
The program came to an end when the U.S. went to war and, subsequently, ended the time of economic depression. But at its full operation, there were 30 pack horse libraries in operation, and the riders put books into the hands of nearly 100,000 families. Can you imagine the impact these deliveries made during the hardscrabble, hopeless times?
For me, as a shy little girl, books gave me a chance to dream, to explore, to gain knowledge and grow in empathy. Story has power. What a gift these pack horse librarians gave. What a delight and honor it is to share their legacy in my story.
Best-selling, award-winning author Kim Vogel Sawyer is highly acclaimed for her “gentle stories of hope.” Readers and reviewers alike are drawn to her books and the life lessons contained within the pages. Kim dreamed of being a writer from her earliest memories, and her little-girl dream came true in 2006 with the release of Waiting for Summer’s Return. Now with over 1.5 million books in print in six different languages, she praises God for blessing her far beyond her imaginings. When Kim isn’t writing, she enjoys traveling with her retired military hubby, quilting, performing in community theater, and spoiling her quiverful of granddarlings.
What about you? What makes you want to read The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow by Kim Vogel Sawyer? What did you like most about her article?
Hi Kim! I love the backstory of this new book, The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow! Thanks, Carrie for the great article!
I love that this is based on a real WPA program , and that it involves books! Enjoyed the history lesson!
The packhorse librarians have always fascinated me! As a former public library director in KY, I’ve met several librarians in the mountains whose customers rely on the bookmobile program, which is probably an offshoot if this wonderful WPA program! I can’t wait to read this one – thanks for bringing it to my attention!
I have read this book and it is really good! I love the characters.
I’ve heard of this true history, SO GLAD she’s written a book on it to bring it to life–can’t wait!
I’ve read about the pack horse librarians in Lynn Austin’s book, Wonderland Creek. Kim Vogel Sawyer is an author whose books I always enjoy.
As a book lover and frequenter of libraries in my childhood, I am fascinated with how much effort and drive it took to get books into the hands of the mountain folks back during the Great Depression. Just the contact with another human outside of the family must have been a welcome treat for those isolated in the mountains. I’m eager to read this book.
This is an amazing story. Books give people hope! I can only imagine what this meant in Appalachia, of all places, in the Depression, of all times. Oh the power of the Written Word. Would love to read it.
Such a fascinating nugget of history. I have never heard of this group or project before. Definitely an incredible way to offer adventure, excitement & hope during some dark years. This year especially I am so grateful for books…they helped my sanity during lockdown!!! 🥰📚
I really want to read this one. I have read a couple of books about the Packhorse Librarians and enjoy learning about these amazing women and the time they served the people of the area.