Did you know that during the month of April a day is set aside to recognize the work librarians do for all of us? Since libraries were not open across the country in April, I decided to celebrate Tanglewood’s 30+ library workers in August by reading about two different librarians who worked through difficult circumstances to get books into the hands of others.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek (2019) by Kim Michele Richardson takes the reader back to 1936 and into the hills of Kentucky. There you will meet and get to know Cussy Mary Carter, 19, a traveling librarian. Her patrons did not find her behind the wheel of a bookmobile, but on the back of a mule. She is thrilled to be making $28 a month as part of the Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project.
Cussy is perfect for the position. She loves connecting people with books and has no plans to leave the position. Her father has other plans for Cussy. He has hung the courting candle out on the porch of their log cabin in the hope of attracting a suitor for Cussy. It turned out to be a very unfortunate move for Cussy.
But Cussy is resilient. She is able to continue her route on the back of her cantankerous, stubborn mule Junia. Together they make their way to her patrons following old trails that can be quite treacherous in some areas. Some are just foot paths. Hidden dangers can and do lurk along the way. Those dangers can be wild animals or frightening humans.
Cussy has to deal with all sorts of challenges making the delivers. One of those dangers is prejudice. Cussy has a rare genetic condition that marks her as an outcast. She is one of the last of the blue-skinned people of Kentucky. It is a condition which she cannot control. Many are afraid of her. They fear her blue is catching.
Connecting people with just the right book is the most important thing to Cussy. She puts much effort into selecting the perfect book for each person on her route no matter their age. The books, magazines, and newspapers are all donated. The selection is often limited. Recipes are hot items and welcome by many on her route. Cussy even makes scrapbooks for her patrons using pieces and parts she finds.
Living in the mountains of Kentucky in this time era was difficult for most. Cussy, with her blue skin and her father’s black lung issues, are both still fighting for better conditions for their friends and neighbors on their mountain.
Through the pages of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek you will meet many of Cussy’s patrons, along with others who reside on the mountain. Most all benefit from Cussy’s love of life and books.
If you want to learn more about the Pack Horse Librarians check out:
The Librarian of Auschwitz (2017) by Antonio Inturbe is a novel based on a very real person and a very true story. Dita Kraus was 9 years old when she recalls the day her childhood ended forever. By the tie she was 14 Dita would be the librarian of the smallest library in the world.
Any book that takes place in Auschwitz will not be the easiest topic to read. But, in this case I feel it is definitely worth every minute of your time. I had passed up purchasing this title because I had recently read other books written about WWII. I kept coming across this book! The biggest attention getter was when the book appeared on my doorstep. Not by Amazon, but by a Tanglewood resident (thank you Jackie). Ok! Message came through loud and clear. I read the book!
By the time Dita was 14, she and her family arrived at Auschwitz with several thousand other Jews. Their family was placed in Block 31 which turned out to be a good thing. In Block 31 children were not separated from their families. The adults were assigned jobs and the kids attended a version of school.
The leader of the “school” was Fredy Hirsch whose job was to only entertain the children. They were to play and sing while their parents ‘worked”. Block 31 was a set up to fool the Red Cross. The Nazis wanted it known that they were not killing prisoners.
Fredy, as the leader of the school had other ideas. He recruited others under the guise of keeping order with the block. In other words, to be teachers. Dita was one of the few 14 to 16-year old persons selected to help with the children. It helped she could speak both Czech and German,a plus for Dita was she was very well read.
Dita was put to work as a prompter the moment she walked into the school. The young students were doing a stage performance of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It is after this performance that Fredy tells Dita that he is in need of a librarian for the children. He remembered her from when her family’s time in the Terezin ghetto.
He explained to her, “But it’s dangerous. Very dangerous. Handling books here is no game. If the SS catches anyone with a book, they execute them.”
Fredy also told Dita about how Block 31 also had a library on legs, a “living library”. Those who know books and stories well tell those stories to other groups because they know them by heart.
It was then that Fredy explained to her just how books had been secretly brought into the camp. Dita’s job was to keep track of those precious volumes as they were lent out. She was to collect the books as classes ended and place them in their secret compartment. Dita was excited when she saw her library of eight books, some in quite poor condition.
“Dita caressed the books. They were broken and scratched, worn, with reddish patches of mildew; some were mutilated. She would protect them with her life.”
Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a librarian! It is people like real life Dita and the Kentucky Pack Horse librarians that made life for those living in dire conditions just a bit better.
Speaking of real people, 30+ librarians, (aka Library Committee), do the very same thing for the residents of Tanglewood. Granted, it is under much better conditions. Have you ever noticed you rarely see them working? That is because different shifts of librarians come and go during the day to keep the 8-10,000 books on the library shelves updated and organized.
Hopefully by the time you are reading this, the new and expanded library has officially opened for your reading pleasure.
For more information about Dita: