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“Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains”

  • By Cassie Chambers
  • c. 2020, Ballantine
  • $27, $36 Canada; 304 pages

The view from the top was fabulous. You could see for miles: roads that wound around neatly-planted fields, lush grassland dotted with livestock, and the occasional house here and there. Gorgeous. Just stunning, that view from the top of the ridge. But in the new book “Hill Women” by Cassie Chambers, it’s not the things you see from the top that matter, it’s the people at the bottom.

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Owsley County, Kentucky, is not exactly a hot destination.

With no shopping to speak of, no arenas, no five-star restaurants, and no hotels, it’s in the middle of nowhere. There aren’t even many people there anymore, but it’s where Cassie Chambers left her heart.

Growing up in a “holler” called Cow Creek, at the bottom of a hill near Booneville, Chambers spent barefoot summers showered with love and wisdom at her Granny’s house, while her Aunt Ruth, who ran the family farm, modeled independence, hard work, and a suck-it-up mentality that brooked little sympathy but that held a lot of pride.

Chambers said in retrospect that they were poor, but she didn’t know it then.

The women in her family never let poverty stop them from having the lives they wanted. Granny married early to a considerably older man, and while she never had much of an education, she took great joy in life. Aunt Ruth seemed to find happiness in work, though maybe there were regrets. Chambers’ mother, Wilma, had been the first in the family to go to college, and she did it nearby because she missed home too much to go too far.

That sentimentalism never stopped Chambers, though. She loved her family and Kentucky, but she reached for a life outside the holler and applied for school in New Mexico, college in New England, overseas internships and jobs and finally, Harvard.

It was there that she found her life’s calling.

It was there that she found meaning in her past.

Never judge a book by its cover.

If you did, you might think that “Hill Women” is somewhat Hillbilly-Elegy-like – and it is, to a point. But really, it’s more of a love letter to a strong band of women, social commentary tucked within. It’s also a biography about escaping from home but with an elastic cord still attached, all adding up to an immensely readable book.

Curiously, though, it might make you uneasy, at first. Author Cassie Chambers offers statistics and tales of poverty and want in the area she was reared in, but her personal story starts idyllically and with the naivete that children possess. Wait for it: as with all good biographies, there’re warts and readers will see them as the tale passes, but not too much; admiration and gratitude are the bigger sentiments here, and a whole lot of stereotype-busters.

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Readers may believe that this tale isn’t done, that it’ll leave you hanging, but it’s perfect as is. If you’re in need of a biography to read, or a history book, or just something different, “Hill Women” will make you holler.

“Snow Globe Wishes”

  • By Erin Dealey, illustrated by Claire Shorrock
  • c. 2019, Sleeping Bear Press
  • $16.99, $21.99 Canada; 32 pages

The adults in your family are both running around. One is checking to see if there’s enough milk. The other is gathering warm blankets and looking at the thermostat. This makes you very excited because soon, it’s going to snow a lot and that’ll be so much fun. Read the new book “Snow Globe Wishes” by Erin Dealey, illustrated by Claire Shorrock and see what else it’ll be.

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The storm they’ve been talking about is coming! The winds are blowing, and noses are frozen. Uh-oh, then the electricity goes out and there are no lights!

There are no phones, either, and no computers, no TV, and no ovens for cooking. People at work are sent home and they go, “bundled” against great big flakes of snow. It’s “the worst storm of the year.”

Once everybody’s home, though, and safe, well, then what?

Then your parents will build a warm fire in the fireplace and you’ll eat the dinner they brought home, but you’ll do it by candlelight. It’ll be like a grand adventure when you pull everyone inside huge “blanket forts” and listen to stories all night long. Even your pets will join you as you snuggle down under fluffy covers and listen to the quiet outside as you fall asleep.

The next morning, look! The sun’s up and the storm is over. You say hello to the snow and it whispers back, inviting you to come outside and play. It’s a snow day for everyone as families button and zip their coats and carefully open doors to see if this “snow globe day” might be filled with fun for everyone. Some grab shovels, some grab sleds, kids make snowballs and snowmen, and dogs dig holes in snow drifts. It’s a “winter’s wonderland” outside and a great time to stand with your friends, neighbors, people you know, and those you don’t know, and enjoy the weather.

If everyone came outside, what do you suppose they’d hear?

If you live in Snow Country (or want to), that’s a question your child will want to answer again and again, which means: get ready. “Snow Globe Wishes” will be on high rotation in your house this winter.

Using a simple, sweet rhyme, author Erin Dealey tells the tale of a major snowstorm and all that it entails, making what could be scary for some kids (the loss of electricity) into a big adventure. The fun of a dark night is extended, then, by a snow day for everyone, adults included, and a full day of play. Add in gentle and gently-colored illustrations by Claire Shorrock, a soft tone that’s perfect for bedtime or quiet-time, and a sweet ending that’s not just for winter, and you’ve got a book your child will absolutely love.

Grab a snuggly blanket and a wide chair and see if your 3-to-6-year-old doesn’t want to hear a tale of peace and stillness with just a sprinkling of fun. See if “Snow Globe Wishes” doesn’t take your story time and shake it up a little.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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Read or Share this story: https://www.marconews.com/story/entertainment/2020/01/22/bookworm-love-letter-strong-women-and-snow-globe-wishes/4529124002/