The Story Behind the Story: Appalachian Folklore in Bone's Gift by Angie Smibert - Guest Post

Smibert, Angie. Bone's Gift. Boyds Mills Press, 2018. 256 pages. $17.95. 978-1-62979-850-9.

Description from Indiebound : In this supernatural historical mystery, twelve-year-old Bone possesses a Gift that allows her to see the stories in everyday objects. When she receives a note that says her mother's Gift killed her, Bone seeks to unravel the mysteries of her mother's death, the schisms in her family, and the Gifts themselves.

I'd suspected that the Virginia Writers Project was true but didn't know the scope of it. These stories would be wonderful to study in school and have students collect stories from their family members.

Read on to find out more about the government sponsored Writing Project and the research Angie Smibert did for Bones Ghost!

Bone's Gift Cover Image

Spirit dogs that bring justice. A good natured trickster who captures Death. An Appalachian
Cinderella who doesn’t need a prince. The main character of my middle grade novel, Bone’s
Gift, and I (very conveniently) love Appalachian and other folklore. Twelve-year Bone Phillips
knows just about every folktale, ghost story, and legend from Southwest Virginia. So, in
September 1942, she’s delighted when the Virginia Writers Project woman comes to stay at the
boardinghouse in the Big Vein coal camp. Miss Spencer is there to collect stories, and Bone is
the perfect guide, at least until her aunt puts a stop to it. Together Miss Spencer and Bone collect
a number of Jack Tales, spirit dog stories, folktales such as Ashpet, and even a Cherokee legend
called “Forever Boy.” Each of the stories used in the book are based on real folktales.


Miss Spencer is fictitious, but the VWP certainly wasn’t. During the Depression, President
Franklin Roosevelt started the Works Progress Administration to put people back to work. The
Federal Writers project was part of that effort. Beginning in 1935, writers were sent out to gather
local information and stories in each state. In Florida, for instance, one notable writer who
participated was Zora Neale Hurston. In Virginia, the VWP put out two books in 1940. One was
a travel guide to the Old Dominion, and the other was a collection of stories from African
Americans, primarily in Eastern Virginia. Writers continued to collect stories in Southwestern
Virginia until 1942-3; however, the stories were boxed up and sent back to the Library of
Virginia. (World War II put an end to the program!) And they sat there for decades. In the 1970s,
a graduate student at the University Virginia discovered the stories and eventually turned them
into a book called Virginia Folk Legends in 1991.


Virginia Folk Legends was one of the sources I used for the stories in Bone’s Gift. VWP workers
collected an amazing range of stories, from stories of ghosts, devil dogs, and witches to those of
legendary frontiersmen, treasure, and the Civil War. Of course, my favorite stories are the devil
or spirit dog ones. The VWP collected 21 different stories of spirit dogs. Usually a black dog,
they can appear as a portent of death, come to save someone from death, or bring it to a wicked
person. (BTW, I have a weakness for black dogs, but mine are more bringers of mud and sticks.)


Some of the other sources I used included Richard Chase’s books, The Jack Tales and The
Grandfather Tales. He was a noted folklorist who collected stories in Western North Carolina
and Southwestern Virginia in the 1930s. Most people are familiar with the English folktale, Jack
and the Beanstalk. In Appalachia, though, Jack had many, many more adventures. He’s good-
natured trickster (of sorts) who triumphs through cleverness and kindness. Jack’s not the only
hero, though. The Grandfather Tales is filled with tales of Ashpet, Mutsmag, and many others.

Another great source of info is Ferrum College’s Appalachian Literature (AppLit) site. In fact,
Dr. Tina Hanlon has put together a handy study guide for Bone’s Gift that includes links to
information on all of the folklore and mythology used in the book.
(http://www2.ferrum.edu/applit/studyg/BonesGift.htm)
And if your students would like to try their hands at storytelling, I’ve put together a free printable
cooperative card game (http://www.angiesmibert.com/blog/?mbdb_book=bones-gift). I’d love to
get feedback from any teachers, librarians, or gamers who try it out!

BONE’S GIFT (9781629798509) blog tour

Monday, April 9 YA Books Central 

Tuesday, April 10 Ms. Yingling Reads

Wednesday, April 11 Unleashing Readers

Thursday, April 12 The Brain Lair AND Genrefluent

Friday, April 13 Always in the Middle

Kathy Burnette