Mommy Goose: Rhymes from the Mountains, by Mike Norris, carved illustrations by Minnie Adkins; University Press of Kentucky, $19.95, 48 pages, all ages.

Recognized for its distinctive storytelling tradition, Appalachia is home to generations of artists, musicians, and writers. Mommy Goose: Rhymes from the Mountains is a visual and rhythmic celebration of this distinct segment of American culture. Author Mike Norris’ fifty original nursery rhymes capture the bluegrass spirit of this rugged and independent land. The verses are arranged in order of complexity–simple, short rhymes lead to more challenging poems. Still, most independent readers will find the text humorous and engaging–consider this ode to a paunchy, lazy calico cat:

Big and fat.
The calico cat
Slept through his dinner.
Now full of sorrow,
He’ll wait till tomorrow,
When he’s a little thinner.

Accompanying the verses are over 100 carved illustrations by folk artist Minnie Adkins, whose woodwork resides in the permanent collections at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the American Folk Art Museum, and other institutions. A native of Isonville, Kentucky, Adkins’ bright, whimsical artwork is firmly rooted in the cultural traditions of Appalachia, and are a joy to behold.

An important and entertaining addition to any serious Americana collection.

The crisp days of autumn are here. Curling up under a warm, hand-knitted shawl to enjoy a biography of Handel while also tucking into a delicious bourbon eggnog sounds like a recipe for a perfect fall afternoon.

George Frederic Handel: A Life with Friends, Ellen T. Harris; Norton Books, September 2014, $37.95, 472 pages.

MIT music professor Ellen T. Harris’s latest examination of Handel’s life offers a layered, nuanced approach to the man who gave the world the English-language oratorio Messiah, a composition most people associate with Christmas. Instead of simply detailing Handel’s life and work, Harris has taken a wholly different approach to biography by examining Handel through his friendships. Handel’s will, diaries, letters, and even court cases flesh out the life of a man whose circle included major political, legal and religious figures of the day. More than just a biography of a great composer, Harris’ eminently readable book recreates the exciting world of 18th century London.

The Spinner’s Book of Fleece: A Breed-by-Breed Guide to Choosing and Spinning the Perfect Fiber for Every Purpose, Beth Smith; Storey Publications, September 2014, $29.95, 244 pages.

Spinners of all abilities will find Beth Smith’s comprehensive guide to fleece and sheep breeds an indispensable tool for every wooly project. Cheery yet thoroughly meticulous, Smith lays out how much fleece to buy, dealing with carpet beetles, and most importantly, which breeds produce what type of wool. Complete with a glossary of terms, metric conversions, a detailed bibliography, even USDA standard wool specifications, this is an all-in-one reference guide that will surely find repeated use. Warm, fuzzy close-up photographs of various sheep species are the perfect textual accompaniment. 

Bourbon Desserts, Lynn Marie Hulsman; University Press of Kentucky, September 2014. $19.95, 240 pages.

There are more than seventy-five Bourbon-flavored recipes in a cookbook dedicated to this complex, rich and unique spirit. From decadent bourbon fudge cake to watermelon julep pops, there’s a dessert in here to suit all sorts of boozy tastes. Food writer Lynn Marie Hulsman shares charming anecdotes about growing up in Kentucky alongside the recipes for her mouthwatering confections. The mere thought of adding bourbon to baked goods may be daunting, but the concoctions here are relatively simple and will make a big splash at any fall function. Still not sure? Try one of the  recipes in the following post for Bourbon-sugared pecans or Bourbon whipped cream; they’ll change your mind in one barrel-aged minute. 

I is for Imagination in Appalachia

Appalachian Toys and Games From A to Z by Linda Hager Pack, illustrated by Pat Banks; University of Kentucky Press, $17.95, 56 pages ages 5 and up.

  © University Press of Kentucky

Most modern American children have likely never heard of whimmydiddles (toys carved out of ivy and made to spin by reciting magic words) or played with apple dolls. This alphabet book, set in the heart of Appalachia, presents homemade playthings and games that entertained children at the end of the nineteenth century. Appalachia native Linda Pack has spent her career researching and writing about the culture and traditions unique to the people of this storied mountain community.

Each letter of the alphabet depicts an activity or plaything. While some are unique (such as the aforementioned whimmydiddle) others are bound to be familiar, such as jumping rope, playing marbles, and setting noisemakers.  An explanation of each activity accompanies the entries. Pack also provides instructions for how to play imaginative games such as Drop the Handkerchief and Anty Over.  Still other entries include folktales such as the story “Never Mind Them Watermelons” often told to Appalachian children. 

© University Press of Kentucky

This eloquent ode to games of yesteryear would be incomplete without the enchanting watercolors by Pat Banks, a native of Kentucky who collaborated with Pack on a previous book about Appalachia.  Over twenty beautiful illustrations capture an active and rich childhood enjoyed mostly outdoors and among friends.  Perhaps modern readers will be enticed to put down their electric diversions and try some of these imaginative pastimes.  

A glossary, author’s and illustrator’s notes, plus a thorough bibliography ensure that this book will grow with its readers, from an alphabet teaching tool to a reference source. 

© University Press of Kentucky