Every single day people walk from one point to the other within their homes, from their homes to school and places of work. They walk on pathways designated for walkers or make their own trails through fields, forests or along waterways. Some walk because they lack another mode of transportation. Others walk for the exercise. And many walk for the sheer joy of being able to walk.
For me, walking with my dog is a peaceful time to reflect on current events in my life, my country and the world as a whole. It's a time to let our imaginations run free. It's a time to absorb the out-of-doors using as many of our senses as possible. Whatever prompts you to walk, most of us don't endeavor what one woman did in 1955. Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail (Abrams Books for Young Readers, May 8, 2018) written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes will leave you astounded at the tenacity of this sixty-seven year old woman.
Between eleven children, the clothes to wash, the cow to milk, the garden to tend, the occasional tramp passing through to feed, and one husband, Emma Gatewood rarely got a break. But, sometimes, she found a way to escape.
This way to escape, rambling walks, was the fuel which fed the fire burning in Emma when she decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. This trail began in Georgia and ended in Maine. Emma was the first woman to walk the entire trail alone.
Starting on May 3, 1955, wearing canvas sneakers, she survived with little in her bag eating and drinking what she found along the trail. She usually slept under the stars. As you can imagine the trail passed through all kinds of terrain. Sometimes Emma got lost but she found her way again and again. Most of those folks she encountered along her walk were gracious and generous.
She often found the kindliest welcome from the poorest of families.
By July 6, 1955 Grandma Gatewood had reached Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. It was considered the "mental" halfway point. No matter where the trail took her or the weather, nothing stopped this woman. Soon reporters were greeting her at one point or another point. Everyone it seemed wanted to know about this courageous and determined woman.
As the summer wore on, the weather took a turn for the worse. A hurricane was set to batter the East Coast. For Emma, with no contact to the outside world, it was the worst kind of weather she had faced. That night Grandma Gatewood did something she rarely did and the next day kindness was given to her. Regardless of who she met, she loved being alone the best.
By August 22, 1955 this remarkable woman was in New Hampshire. She was nearing the end of her travels. Her body was battered, one of the lenses in her glasses was cracked but she climbed to the top of the last mountain on September 25, 1955. You won't believe what she did.
What we learn of Emma's life on the first page before she is sixty-seven is just enough to peak our interest. Even before we are turning the page, we are wondering how someone survives all her daily tasks. Jennifer Thermes moves us forward years later with the beginning of the memorable hike.
On the first of five mapped two-page spreads we gain further insight into the trail and Grandma Gatewood's progress. These special pages are interludes leading us into a more detailed narrative with specific details. As a combination they propel us forward, fascinating us again and again. Here is a passage.
Emma wore canvas sneakers and carried a homemade sack, packed lightly. She ate berries from the side of the trail and drank from cold mountain springs. She rested under trees and on top of rocks warmed by a fire.
Some nights, the sky was so big and dark that Emma was afraid to sleep. Other nights, she curled up on a soft bed of leaves, with plenty of mice to keep her company.
Emma hoped to avoid meeting a bear . . .
There is no mistaking the signature style of Jennifer Thermes. Her choice of color, fluid lines, attention to detail, love of maps and portraits of people draw us into whatever story she is visually telling. On the front of the dust jacket the blend of map with topographical elements is a direct invitation. To the left, on the back, three interior images are displayed above a quote by Ben Montgomery, Pulitzer Prize Finalist and author of Grandma Gatewood's Walk.
The book case will take your breath away. It's a beautiful rendering of Grandma Gatewood hiking at night over rolling hills. Beneath her path is another rolling hill with a line of evergreen trees along the bottom. A star-studded sky lights her way.
On the opening endpapers Jennifer gives us a partial map of the United States with the focus on the Appalachian Mountains and the trail. The closing endpapers depict a timeline of events in Emma's life and significant historical events. All the text on these pages is easy to read and understand.
The verso and title pages feature Grandma Gatewood on a mountain top sitting on the edge of a cliff. She is gazing at the vista spread before her. The illustrations by Jennifer were created using watercolor and colored pencil on Fabriano hot press paper.
The size of the illustrations shifts between two page pictures, single page images and groups of smaller visuals representing the passage of time. Jennifer moves us close to a particular scene or moves us father back, altering the perspective in accordance with the text and pacing. As we look at each illustration we get a true sense of the emotional moments felt by Grandma Gatewood. We feel as though we are beside her, walking and walking and walking but also gaining a deeper respect for our world.
One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages. It's a full moon night. On the right the full moon is so close you feel as though you could pluck it from the sky. Jennifer has swirls of blue filled with stars radiating from it. Several gentle hills are beneath it. On the left, Grandma Gatewood is resting on a high mounded hill. Her head is on her bag. A striped blanket covers her body. She is still wearing her canvas shoes. Her walking stick is next to her. She is smiling at the moon, soaking up the deep calm of the night.
When I first read this book, I had to share it immediately with someone, so I did. I conveyed the true marvel of this woman's accomplishments by reading aloud Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes. No one can help but be astounded, especially when viewing the wonderful images. I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections. Jennifer has two pages of notes at the close of the book with thumbnail sketches along the top and bottom. She talks about Emma and the Appalachian Trail. She also includes selected sources.
To learn more about Jennifer Thermes and her other work, you can follow the links attached to her name to access her website and blog. Jennifer maintains accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I think you will find her Pinterest boards very interesting. Jennifer and this book are featured on Celebrate Picture Books.
If you haven't visited Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher this week, take a few minutes to view the titles chosen by others participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.