Around here, we love libraries and librarians. In fact, we have a whole article on books about librarians and another featuring books set in libraries. But there is sub-genre about libraries and librarians with a historical bent. You see, these librarians are all on horseback.
This list of 10 books about librarians on horseback primarily covers the Depression-era WPA pack horse librarian program. But we’ve also got a bonus suggestion for a speculative fiction book about an librarian underground railroad and links to stories about a true-life pack “burro” librarian. All of the books cover themes of perseverance, faith, bucking the odds, finding love and friendship, and (always) how books and reading are transformative.
So, saddle up because we’ve got some great books for you to add to your reading pile.
Books About Pack Horse Librarians
These are a whole series of books inspired by the Packhorse Library Project. It was a 1930’s WPA program that sent librarians deep into Appalachia to deliver reading materials to the remote communities. The stories are compelling because these women were often bucking strictly prescribed gender and race roles.
And there is something very heartwarming about someone loving books so much that they will (literally) cross hill and dale to share them with others.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Kim Michele Richardson
In this book, 19 year old Cussy Carter is hired to be one such librarian. Her route is complicated enough, what with slippery creek beds and steep mountain terrain. But she also has to contend with folks are are suspicious of the government program, and who are more focused on getting food on the table than learning how to read.
Her life is complicated by the fact that she is a descendant of the Blue Fugate Family. This lineage was affected by a genetic trait that gives her skin a blue hue. At a time when color conferred social status, she experiences a range of discrimination and maltreatment because of her condition.
The book has some lovely themes of perseverance, agency and finding ones-self.
Read it for book club and use our Troublesome Creek discussion guide to get the conversation started.
And if you’ve already read this one, there is now a sequel out called The Book Woman’s Daughter.
The Giver of Stars, JoJo Moyes
Moyes has also written a book featuring the Packhorse Librarians. In it, Englishwoman Alice marries an American in a bid to escape from England. But Alice finds life in small-town Kentucky equally stifling and she chafes at her father-in-law’s strict rules. So, she signs up for the program as a way to broaden her world and find purpose.
She meets and befriends a cadre of librarians who are strong, independent and ahead of their time. Through her work, she finds friendship, freedom, a way to belong and coping mechanisms for bucking the prevailing patriarchy.
This book is also part of Reese’s book club.
Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky, Kathi Appelt & Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer
This is a deeply researched book about the pack horse librarians. It provides portraits of the lives of these extraordinary women (and a few men). It covers their lives, their pay and the difficulties of doing the work.
The book is geared toward young readers, but there are a lot of historical pictures in the book, which would be of interest to adults as well.
Wonderland Creek, Lynn Austin
Austin’s book was inspired by her reading of Down Cut Shin Creek.
In it, Alice Grace Ripley loses her boyfriend because her head was always buried in a book, and then she loses her job as a librarian too. She visits Acorn, Kentucky to drop off some donated books and soon finds herself stuck in town, caught up in a mystery, and she gets involved with the pack horse librarians.
Alice is a fish out of water and her fumbles and scrapes make the book charming and funny.
“If my life were a book, no one would read it. People would say it was too boring, too predictable. A story told a million times. But I was perfectly content with my life – that is, until the pages of my story were ripped out before I had a chance to live happily ever after.” – Alice Ripley
A Strand of Hope (Librarians of Willow Hollow #1), Amanda Tero
The Librarians of Willow Hollow is a series of Christian fiction books featuring pack horse librarians.
In the first book, Lena has grown up in a very difficult home situation with a mom who didn’t want her. She hides away in books, living for the stories. When the horseback librarian project comes into being, Lena jumps at the chance to join up. And her friends up on the mountain teach her and along the way they help her find her faith.
The Librarian of Boon’s Hollow, Kim Vogel Sawyer
During the Great Depression, Addie Cowherd dreams of being a novelist and offering readers the escape that books gave her during her tragic childhood. When her adoptive father loses his job, she is forced to leave college and take the only employment she can find–delivering books on horseback to poor coal mining families in the hills of Kentucky.
Boone’s Hollow is deeply set in tradition and prejudices, and she is not well received by most. She befriends an old curmudgeon and reconnects with her college friend Emmett Tharp, who has moved back home to Boone’s Hollow after graduation. This book also features many faith and Christian themes.
Carry the World, Susan Fannetti
After the death of her parents, Ada is really struggling to keep the family farm going. While in town, she learns of the pack horse librarian program and signs up for it. Ada took on the job to “carry the world” of books to isolated areas in the vast mountain range.
In this slow burn romance, Ada’s path leads her to a widower and his children and they get closer as she helps to teach the children to read.
Along a Storied Trail, Ann H. Gabhart
As Tansy packs her books through the Appalachian mountains, she longs to find a love like the heroines her books. She becomes reacquainted with an old friend, but also develops an interest in a writer who comes to town with the intent of writing a travel book on the area.
She has some choices to make about love, family and whether or not she wants to stay in the mountains. This book is about more than the library books. It’s rich in the storytelling traditions of Appalachia. You’ll get all the feels with this one.
The Librarian’s Journey: 4 Historical Romances, Patty Smith Hall, Cynthia Kickey, Marilyn Turk & Kathleen Y’Bargo
This series of four short romances fictionally expand beyond Appalachia to feature pack horse librarians in Mississipi, Georgia and the Ozarks. Each author sheds a slightly different light on the difficulty and stoicism of these brave librarians. The themes of the stories feature faith, second chances, how friendship can turn to love, and finding common ground.
1 Additional Book About Librarians on Horseback
Upright Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey
How about some gun-toting, lesbian librarians running an underground railroad for women who don’t fit into a straightjacketed life designed for “chaste and morally upright women”. Yes please!
This speculative fiction book imagines a near future Southern US that looks a lot like the Old West. There’s a great deal of poverty, fascist control over reading materials, toxic patriarchy and queer-phobia. The lead character Esther runs away from an impending arranged marriage and she stows away in the Librarian’s wagon.
The book has plenty of gunfights, but it’s also a moving and painful account of coming to terms with who you are in a world where your very existence is outlawed.
I also encourage you to read about the Biblioburro librarian of Colombia. Luis Soriano realized that his rural students didn’t have enough access to books. So he has solved for it by becoming a modern day pack donkey librarian, delivering his books to the kids with the help of his donkeys Alfa and Beta. Here’s an article on Atlas Obscura and another from the BBC.
More Book Lists!
- If you like meta books on the topic of books and libraries, then be sure to check out our list of 20 books that have books as the main driver of the narrative.
- If you like audio, check out these audiobook memoirs (read by the author).
- Make a cup of tea and check out these books set in the winter.
These these books about librarians on horseback with your friends: