The Power of Stories

Librarians, Entrepreneurs, & Store Keepers: Protagonists in Appalachian Children’s Picture Books

My brain is a constant swirling whirlpool of ideas and hair-brained schemes. Hundreds and thousands of ideas are floating around in there and most never make it to fruition, but every now and then, one lucky idea gets plucked out of the mix to be examined, polished and made into a reality. This is exactly what happened with this idea to create an exhibit of picture book protagonists in the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center. With the help of the Appalachian Center Curator, Chris Miller, and Student Curator, Magenta Palo, this idea grew into a project that would exceed my wildest expectations.

Picture books have always had a special place in my heart. Ask any librarian at the Berea Public Library and they will tell you that I check out an abnormal amount of picture books. I am of the opinion that they are incredibly important. Far more important than what most people give them credit for. They play a crucial role in helping children develop a sense of their own identity. As the great children’s book author Jane Yolen once said, “Stories are powerful. They are a journey and a joining. In a tale we meet new places, new people, new ideas. And they become our places, our people, our ideas.”

It is important to consider how Appalachian characters are being portrayed. Last year I conducted a study of 48 Appalachian Picture books in Faber Library, examining four different things: Who are the protagonists? Are there trends for stereotypes? Where are the authors from? Where are the illustrators from? My research uncovered some interesting results which you can read about here.

Watching this exhibit come together and working with Magenta and Chris on this project has truly been one of the highlights of my summer. From picking out which characters we wanted to feature, to writing descriptions for each protagonist, to watching the exhibit come to life in the hallway. Chris Miller said this is probably the most ambitious project he has ever undertaken. When you walk into the hallway you feel as though you have stepped into a picture book yourself. The walls are entirely covered with beautiful fabric, creating a collage of the Appalachian Mountains, and the picture book characters are blown up to nearly 3 feet tall. It is the kind of exhibit that causes people to stop and reminisce their own childhood. This truly has been a remarkable journey and I am so lucky to be a part of it.

Article Written by Heather Dent