Two novels about coal-mining and feisty self-determination:
Knight, Mary. Saving Wonder. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016.
Twelve-year-old Curley Hines lives in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. Most of his relatives have died, his father in a coal mining accident and his mother and younger brother in a mud slide caused by the mine. So now he lives with his grandfather who – every week – gives him a new word to learn: 26 letters x 2 = 52 weeks and 52 new words every year.
Right from the first sentence, this debut novel is full of the joy of life: love, hope, and determination. And the power of words! Which is exactly what Curley needs to use when the mine announces their plans to blow the top of Red Hawk Mountain. Coal is needed and a new mine manager is resolute in his decision to expand operations. Curley and his best friend Jules – with the help with her new boyfriend, the mine manager’s son – get together to oppose the destruction of their beloved home.
Each chapter in the story emphasizes one of Curley’s words and ends with a definition. The humour in the format is delightful and never feels overbearing or didactic, probably because of Curley’s spunk and his grandfather’s loving wisdom. This novel is highly recommended for readers 10 to 14 years old. [Appalachian Region; Coal mines and mining; Environmentalism; Friendship; Grandfathers; Kentucky; Orphans]
Porter, Tracey. Billy Creekmore. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2007.
Ten-year-old Billy suffers the cruelties of life in an orphanage. Not enough food. Not enough warmth. And no love, at all. Everything changes, though, when an uncle and aunt claim him and take him off to live with them in a coal mining town in West Virginia. Billy’s spunk and love of storytelling, though, cause trouble when he gets involved with the union. This is 1905 and the mine managers are angry. So Billy runs away to join the circus and find the father who long ago abandoned him.
This modern-day Charles Dickens novel could also be compared toThe Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick. It is highly recommended for readers 9 to 14 years old. It would also make a wonderful read-aloud for a fifth grade class. [Aunts and uncles; Circus; Coals and coal mining; Fathers and sons; Historical fiction; Honesty; Orphanages; Runaways; Self-reliance; West Virginia]