Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds

By: Cynthia Rylant
Subject Matter: Appalachian Region; Southern; Descriptions and travel; Social life and customs
Rating: 3.5/5


Appalachia by Cynthia Rylant, in my opinion, is just as much “by” Barry Moser, the illustrator.

This is a really short read with no real storyline, just a depiction of the essence of Appalachia. It’s got a paragraph or so a page and is only about 20 pages.

But on opposite pages are rich illustrations by Moser. Some are more interesting than others; all look like photographic still shots of a bygone time. They are beautiful and engaging and way more interesting to me than the text itself.

This book was written in 1991. I read that Rylant grew up in Appalachia in the ’60s, and so I think that some of this may be a little old.

Now, I’m not from Appalachia, but my family is, and I spent a significant portion of my childhood in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. I even lived for a time in southwestern Virginia.

I feel like a lot of Appalachia, and especially Appalachian literature, gets caught in the battle of wanting to celebrate Appalachian customs and wanting to disentangle the outside stereotypes of what it means to be an Appalachian.

This book is one of those. It is certainly 100% celebrating Appalachia. But to me, it’s a little pat. Appalachia is all good dogs and sunflowers and, yeah, some coal too, but even that is fun. Which is fine – it is a kid’s book after all.

But it also depicts a way of life that I’m not convinced was ever really real, and shows absolutely nothing else.

Maybe that’s not the point. Actually, that’s definitely not the point. And I’m not begrudging Rylant her memories or realities at all. I’m just really glad there are some pictures there to distract me.




If you love books like Appalachia, here are some suggestions:

(for books based in Appalachia)

Wish You Well by David Baldacchi

Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina

Cakewalk by Lee Smith

(for great Southern children’s lit)

Where the Lilies Bloom by Bill and Vera Cleaver

The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris

(for more by Rylant)

When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant

Night in the Country by Cynthia Rylant

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant

The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant

(for more by Moser)

We Were Brothers by Barry Moser

One Hundred Portraits by Barry Moser

Outside by Barry Lopez

I Am the Dog I Am the Cat by Donald Hill


Coming up:

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

The Little Locksmith by Katharine Butler Hathaway

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *