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The Best Tennessee Kids Books

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The Places We Sleep
Written & illustrated by Caroline DuBois
picture book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

A family divided, a country going to war, and a girl desperate to feel at home converge in this stunning novel in verse.

It’s early September 2001, and twelve-year-old Abbey is the new kid at school. Again.

I worry about people speaking to me / and worry just the same / when they don’t.

Tennessee is her family’s latest stop in a series of moves due to her dad’s work in the Army, but this one might be different. Her school is far from Base, and for the first time, Abbey has found a real friend: loyal, courageous, athletic Camille.

And then it’s September 11. The country is under attack, and Abbey’s “home” looks like it might fall apart. America has changed overnight.

How are we supposed / to keep this up / with the world / crumbling / around us?

Abbey’s body changes, too, while her classmates argue and her family falters. Like everyone around her, she tries to make sense of her own experience as a part of the country’s collective pain. With her mother grieving and her father prepping for active duty, Abbey must learn to cope on her own.

Written in gorgeous narrative verse, Abbey’s coming-of-age story accessibly portrays the military family experience during a tumultuous period in our history. At once personal and universal, it’s a perfect read for fans of sensitive, tender-hearted books like The Thing About Jellyfish.

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This Promise of Change: One Girl's Story in the Fight for School Equality
Written by Jo Ann Boyce & illustrated by Debbie Levy
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 10-12

In 1956, one year before federal troops escorted the Little Rock 9 into Central High School, fourteen year old Jo Ann Allen was one of twelve African-American students who broke the color barrier and integrated Clinton High School in Tennessee. At first things went smoothly for the Clinton 12, but then outside agitators interfered, pitting the townspeople against one another. Uneasiness turned into anger, and even the Clinton Twelve themselves wondered if the easier thing to do would be to go back to their old school. Jo Ann–clear-eyed, practical, tolerant, and popular among both black and white students—found herself called on as the spokesperson of the group. But what about just being a regular teen? This is the heartbreaking and relatable story of her four months thrust into the national spotlight and as a trailblazer in history. Based on original research and interviews and featuring backmatter with archival materials and notes from the authors on the co-writing process.

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The Twelve Days of Christmas in Tennessee
Written by Alice Faye Duncan & illustrated by Mary Uhles
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

The Volunteer state is GREAT! When Carly visits her cousin Teddy in Tennessee for Christmas, she discovers how amazing it is. She hikes the Great Smoky Mountains, dances to bluegrass music, tastes Nashville’s famous hot chicken, and meets more than one Elvis Presley. Every day, Teddy gives her a special Tennessee gift, from 12 rockers rocking and 11 eagles nesting to a mockingbird in a tulip poplar tree.

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Willa of the Wood
Written & illustrated by Robert Beatty
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

From #1 New York Times best-selling author Robert Beatty comes a thrilling new series set in the magical world of Serafina. Move without a sound. Steal without a trace. Willa, a young night-spirit of the Great Smoky Mountains, is her clan’s best thief. She creeps into the homes of day-folk under cover of darkness and takes what they won’t miss. It’s dangerous work-the day-folk kill whatever they do not understand–but Willa will do anything to win the approval of the padaran, the charismatic leader of the Faeran people. When Willa’s curiosity leaves her hurt and stranded in the day world, she calls upon an ancient, unbreakable bond to escape. Only then does she discover the truth: not all day-folk are the same, and the foundations that have guarded the Faeran for eons are under attack. As forces of unfathomable destruction encroach on her home, Willa must decide who she truly is. To save the day-folk family that has become her own–and lift the curse that has robbed her people of their truth–Willa will meet deadly force with trusted alliance, violence with shelter, and an ever-changing world with a steady heartbeat of courage.

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Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968
Written by Alice Faye Duncan & illustrated by R Gregory Christie
picture book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

This historical fiction picture book presents the story of nine-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final stand for justice before his assassination–when her father, a sanitation worker, participated in the protest. In February 1968, two African American sanitation workers were killed by unsafe equipment in Memphis, Tennessee. Outraged at the city’s refusal to recognize a labor union that would fight for higher pay and safer working conditions, sanitation workers went on strike. The strike lasted two months, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to help with the protests. While his presence was greatly inspiring to the community, this unfortunately would be his last stand for justice. He was assassinated in his Memphis hotel the day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Mason Temple Church. Inspired by the memories of a teacher who participated in the strike as a child, author Alice Faye Duncan reveals the story of the Memphis sanitation strike from the perspective of a young girl with a riveting combination of poetry and prose.

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  • Paperboy - When an eleven-year-old boy takes over a friend’s newspaper route in July, 1959, in Memphis, his debilitating stutter makes for a memorable month.

  • Lord of the Mountain - Nate’s family has a secret, and it’s wrapped up in a song. The problem is, his preacher father hates music, and when he catches Nate hanging around downtown Bristol with musicians like Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, he comes down hard on him. So Nate sets out in search of himself and the song he thinks will heal his family. Set during the “big bang” of country music in the late 1920s, Nate’s journey of self-discovery parallels that of a region finding its voice for the first time.

  • Swamp Angel - Working in an American primitive style animated by the humor and storytelling genius for which he is renowned, Caldecott Winner artist Paul O. Zelinsky puts oils to cherry and maple for this tall-tale competition between a Tennessee woods-woman extraordinaire and a hungry, fearsome bear.Thundering Tarnation has a bottomless appetite for settler’s grub. When word goes out about a competition to hunt this four-legged forest of stubble, a young woman, second to none in buckskin bravery, signs up. “How about baking a pie, Angel?” the other hunters taunt. “I aim to,” says Swamp Angel. “A bear pie.”What follows is as witty a round of roughhousing as ever jostled the ranks of Americana. Anne Isaacs’ original text unfolds in a crackling combination of irony, exaggeration, and bold image-making. Zelinsky’s paintings respond with deft yet hilarious expressions, rhythmic shapes, and a sense of monumental motion, as benefits a heroine who can wield a tornado like a lasso, drink a lake dry, and snore down a forest. In the course of these grand shenanigans, the Great Smoky Mountains are stirred up, Montana’s short-grass prairie laid down, and Thundering Tarnation’s fate proves to have no less a reach than the starry heavens.Swamp Angel marks the debut of a promising new storyteller and adds to the tall-tale traditions a pictorial counterpart that will entertain and endure for a long time to come.

  • Lorraine - The songs they sang always lifted their spirits–on good days or bad it was joyful to hear it.And even when storms hit those Tennessee hills,the music they played made their worries stand still.Grammy Award-winning, founding member of Old Crow Medicine Show, Ketch Secor, and award-winning illustrator Higgins Bond bring an Americana fable to life in this bold, sweeping story. Pa Paw and Lorraine spend their days celebrating life with the music of the Tennessee hills. But when a fearsome storm rolls through, the two must rely on the power of music to get them through.

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Borrowed Children (Revised)
Written by George Ella Lyon
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

" Golden Kite Award winner, 1989 Booklist, Editor's Choice School Library Journal, Best Books of 1988 Publisher's Weekly, Best Books of 1988 Twelve-year-old Amanda Perritt is pitched head-first into adult responsibilities when she has to quit school to care for her newborn brother and invalid mother. She gets an excape, she thinks, when she's offered a trip to stay with her grandmother and her sophisticated Aunt Laura in Memphis. But during the visit, she discovers unexpected parallels between her mother's childhood and her own and comes to understand her own individuality as well as what it means to be part of a family.

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Great Smoky Mountains Salamander Ball
board book
Recommend Ages: 1-10

Children will delight in this fantastic tale of a young girl’s vacation in the Smoky Mountains. Wandering from her tent late one summer’s night, Sara finds an invitation she just can’t resist! She watches the grand ball from safely behind a tree until suddenly she is discovered. <p/>Author Lisa Horstman is the winner of the Dr.Seuss Picture Book Award for her first children’s book <i>Fast Friends</i>. <i>The Great Smoky Mountains Salamander Ball</i> won the National Park Service First Place Award for Excellence.<br>

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John Philip Duck
Written & illustrated by Patricia Polacco
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

Edward loves his pet duck more than anything. He raised it from a baby, and now it follows him everywhere&150even to the big fancy hotel in Memphis where he works with his father. Everyone at the Peabody loves to watch that little duck do tricks; why, it can even waddle up and down in time to a John Philip Sousa march, which is why Edward decides to name it John Philip.<p> But one day the hotel owner finds John Philip in his lobby fountain and he is NOT amused. Until Edward has an idea. What if he can train a bevy of ducks to march along behind him, swim in the fountain all day, and then march out every evening? If Edward can do that, the owner tells him, he and John Philip will have a permanent place at the Peabody. But can it really be done?<p> Based on the real-life tradition of the Hotel Peabody Ducks, Patricia Polacco’s latest picture book is one of her most charming to date. <p/></p></p>

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Quickest Kid in Clarksville
Written by Pat Zietlow Miller & illustrated by Frank Morrison
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

It’s the day before the big parade. Alta can only think about one thing: Wilma Rudolph, three-time Olympic gold medalist. She’ll be riding on a float tomorrow. See, Alta is the quickest kid in Clarksville, Tennessee, just like Wilma once was. It doesn’t matter that Alta’s shoes have holes because Wilma came from hard times, too. But what happens when a new girl with shiny new shoes comes along and challenges Alta to a race? Will she still be the quickest kid? <em>The Quickest Kid in Clarksville</em> is a timeless story of dreams, determination, and the power of friendship.

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