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Children’s Authors Discuss The Lessons Their Books Can Teach Adults

Cynthia Rylant.jpg
Courtesy Penguin Random House
Author Cynthia Rylant was inspired by the time she spent with her grandparents to write her first book "When I Was Young in the Mountains."

This week we're revisiting an episode of Inside Appalachia that features children's authors in and from our region. We'll hear Cynthia Rylant, who wrote "When I Was Young In The Mountains," David Perri, author of "Messy Larry," and Bil Lepp reading from his recent children's book "The Princess And The Pickup Truck," and Lyn Ford, a professional storyteller and children's educator, telling a story she wrote called "The Old Woman and Death." And while these stories were written for children, like many children's stories, these stories have messages for all of us, including grown-ups.

Messy Larry
Courtesy David Perri
"Messy Larry" is about a larger-than-life bear who wants to express himself through painting despite his messy tendencies.

It’s Okay To Make Messes

If you’ve spent time with toddlers, you know that messes are a part of creativity and a part of life — which may be why the story of “Messy Larry” resonates with our producer Roxy Todd’s family. She talks with author David Perri about his book’s subject Larry, a larger-than-life bear who learns it’s okay to make messes and mistakes.

“I set out to write something that was fun to read, both for parents and for kids,” Perri said.

Perri is currently working on his second book titled “Cameron Gives A Kiss.”

Cynthia Rylant Discusses Her Childhood

Author Cynthia Rylant has written more than 100 books since she began a professional career as an author — from picture books, easy readers, chapter books and even novels. She is the recipient of the Caldecott Honors for her book “When I Was Young in the Mountains.” Rylant was raised in West Virginia and spent time with her grandparents in Raleigh County, which inspired her beloved book. This week, we talked with Rylant and learned more about her childhood and heard her read an excerpt from “When I Was Young in the Mountains.”


The Princess And The Pea With A Twist

Those familiar with Bil Lepp’s storytelling style know he writes in a way best heard aloud. Lepp is a storyteller who has won the West Virginia Liars’ Contest five times. This week on Inside Appalachia, we hear Lepp read his newest book “The Princess and the Pickup Truck.” The book is based on “The Princess and the Pea,” with Lepp’s own personal twist on the classic tale.

Connecting With The Past Through Storytelling

Lyn Ford is a professional storyteller who grew up in Appalachian Pennsylvania, and she spent many childhood summers in East Liverpool, Ohio. Many of Ford’s stories are adapted from folktales she heard as a child. She identifies as Affrilachian, a term that combines African American and Appalachian identity. This week on the show, we hear Ford tell one of her stories “The Old Woman and Death,” at the Timpanogos Storytelling Institute in Utah in 2016.

Courtesy Lyn Ford
Lyn Ford at the Timpanogos Storytelling Institute in Utah in 2016.

Remembering Those Who Have Passed

We also take a minute to remember two Appalachians who recently passed away.

Eula Hall, a longtime Eastern Kentucky labor activist and health care provider founded the Mud Creek Clinic in 1973. This health care clinic served people on a sliding scale. Demand was so great that patients came from as far away as Ohio and Tenenssee. The clinic is now known as the Eula Hall Health Center. And it still has a mission that no one is ever turned away. Hall passed away on May 8 at the age of 93.

Another Appalachian we’d like to remember is West Virginia-born social justice activist and theologian Michael Iafrate. Iafrate was a Catholic who fought against injustices, even within the church establishment, and in wider society. He was also a musician and a songwriter. Iafrate died May 12 from complications of leukemia. He left behind his wife and three children. Iafrate was 44 years old.

In this episode, we hear a recording of Michael and his daughter singing the Hazel Dickens song “West Virginia My Home” back in 2017 at the Tranzac Club in Toronto.


Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Dinosaur Burps, Nathan El, and Marisa Anderson.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Jade Artherhults is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Andrea Billups. Kelley Libby is our editor. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode. You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.

Mason Adams grew up near the Virginia/West Virginia border in Clifton Forge, Virginia. He’s covered mountain communities and the issues affecting them since 2001. His work has appeared in Southerly, Daily Yonder, 100 Days in Appalachia, Mother Jones, Huffington Post and elsewhere. He lives with his family and a small herd of goats in Floyd County, Virginia. Follow him on Twitter @MasonAtoms.
Caitlin Tan is working as Inside Appalachia’s folklife reporter, as part of a Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies grant. The goal of her reporting is to help engage a new generation in Appalachian folklife and culture.
Roxy Todd joined West Virginia Public Broadcasting in 2014 and works as the producer for Inside Appalachia. She's the recipient of a National Edward R. Murrow Award for "Excellence in Video," for a story about the demands small farmers face in West Virginia. She also won a National PMJA Award For "Best Feature" for her story about the history of John Denver's song "Country Roads." You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.
Jade Artherhults is the associate producer for Inside Appalachia and is based in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at jartherhults@wvpublic.org or @JArtherhults on Twitter.