Jan Slaven Reed has written a warm children’s story about a Kentucky coal miner. Inspired by the author’s childhood memories of a loving father, The Mountain Laurel Man celebrates a simpler time and world.
Reed’s story focuses on the children in a family of an Appalachian coal miner as they wait expectantly for the arrival of the “Mountain Laurel Man.” Tense with excitement, the children know that when the time is right, their visitor will appear on their doorstep early in the morning. His appearance heralds the arrival of spring — and an outing in which he will lead them through the countryside until they arrive at a springtime vista of mountain laurels in peak bloom. Together, they will gather armfuls of blossoms to share with neighbors, saving the “prettiest” to bring home to their mother.
The book’s ending reveals that The Mountain Laurel Man is the children’s father, and the story is an homage to this cherished family tradition. The text is written in a straightforward manner, and the mostly black-and-white photographs that illustrate the book appear to be from the author’s family collection and the archives of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.
While the tradition recounted here is clearly a beautiful memory, the story is rather slight. One wishes for more by book’s end. In addition, the photos don’t always seem to match the text. For example, a page devoted to talking about how the children listened for their father’s footsteps is illustrated on the opposite page by a photo of loaded coal cars. Still, this is a book with great heart and promise. If the author could find a way to enlarge the story to illustrate a larger meaning or moral, she would likely find a wide audience. As it stands, the book feels like a snippet from a wonderful family scrapbook – intriguing, but lacking in greater resonance,