Guide to Resources for the Study of West Virginia Authors and Appalachian Literary Traditions

Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library

map of the appalachians

Cynthia Rylant

photo of Cynthia Rylant taken from the web

Biographical Information

"They say to be a writer you must first have an unhappy childhood. I don't know if unhappiness is necessary, but I think maybe some children who have suffered a loss too great for words grow up into writers who are always trying to find those words, trying to find a meaning for the way they have lived."

--- Cynthia Rylant, But I'll Be Back Again

Cynthia Rylant was born in Hopewell, Va., in June 1954. Her parents' unhappy marriage ended when she was four, and Rylant went to live with her grandparents in Cool Ridge, WV, while her mother attended nursing school. The young Rylant lived with her grandparents for the next four years; it is this time and place that she remembers in her first book When I Was Young In the Mountains, a picture book describing the joys of her Appalachian childhood, which earned Rylant the American Book Award in 1982, and illustrator Diane Goode a Caldecott Honor Award. Later she and her mother moved to Beaver, a small town in southern West Virginia. Young Cynthia had little contact with her father after her parents' divorce, though he wrote occasionally for a while after they moved to West Virginia. When he contacted her after years of silence, Rylant hoped for a reunion, but her father succumbed to the combined effects of alcoholism and hepatitis before such a reunion could occur. She was only thirteen when he died. It is this loss that she describes in But I'll Be Back Again as propelling her to a writing career.

After high school and with no real career plans, Rylant attended Morris Harvey College (what has now become the University of Charleston), graduating in 1975. She followed that degree with a Master of Arts in English from Marshall University and a Master of Library Science from Kent State. It was while working in the children's section of the Akron (OH) Public Library that Rylant was first truly exposed to children's literature; there had been no libraries or bookstores in the mostly poor, rural areas of her childhood.

When I Was Young In the Mountains, her first book, was published in 1982. The autobiographical tale caught the attention of critics and parents, becoming an ALA notable book and a Reading Rainbow selection. She followed with six more picture books before publishing the first volume in her popular Henry and Mudge series, Henry and Mudge: The First Book of Their Adventures, in 1987. She has continued writing prolifically, publishing more picture books, 34 Henry and Mudge volumes, as well as books for older readers including young adult novels and story collections, and collections of poetry.

In 1993, Cynthia Rylant donated her manuscripts to the Kent State University library.

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Critical Responses

Cynthia Rylant has earned both loyal readers and critical praise for her simple yet evocative works. Children's Literature Review applauded Rylant's "straightforward approach, economical yet lyrical language, … and ability to express powerful emotions with restraint." She has received numerous awards and recognitions for her work, including two Newbery Honor Books (A Fine White Dust, 1987; Missing May, 1993); two Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Books (The Relatives Came, 1985; Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds, 1991); and a Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Missing May (1993).

Critics have also praised the gentle but honest way that Rylant discusses difficult subjects, such as aging and the loss of a loved one. Commenting on A Fine White Dust for the Wilson Library Bulletin, Frances Bradbury said "The crafting of delicate subjects is . . . beautifully illustrated. Publishers Weekly called A Blue-Eyed Daisy, a coming-of-age tale about an eleven year-old Appalachian girl "an exquisite novel, written with love." Perhaps the Children's Literature Review best summed up Rylant's sincere and compassionate touch: "She stresses the importance of family and all living things. Despite the inclusion of such themes as loneliness, fear, or betrayal, her works ultimately convey understanding and hope.

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Works Published

Picture Books:

When I Was Young in the Mountains

Miss Maggie

This Year's Garden

The Relatives Came

Night in the Country

Birthday Presents

All I See

Mr. Griggs' Work

An Angel for Solomon Singer

Henry and Mudge:

Henry and Mudge: The First Book of Their Adventures

Henry and Mudge in Puddle Trouble

Henry and Mudge in the Green Time

Henry and Mudge under the Yellow Moon

Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days

Henry and Mudge and the Forever Sea

Henry and Mudge Get the Cold Shivers

Henry and Mudge and the Happy Cat

Henry and Mudge and the Bedtime Thumps

Henry and Mudge Take the Big Test

Henry and Mudge and the Long Weekend

Henry and Mudge and the Wild Wind

Henry and Mudge and the Careful Cousin

Henry and Mudge and the Best Day of All

Henry and Mudge in the Family Trees

Henry and Mudge and the Sneaky Crackers

Henry and Mudge and the Starry Night

Henry and Mudge and Annie's Good Move

Henry and Mudge and the Snowman Plan

Henry and Mudge and the Funny Lunch

Henry and Mudge and the Tall Tree House

Henry and Mudge and Mrs. Hopper's House

Henry and Mudge and the Great Grandpas

Henry and Mudge and a Very Special Merry Christmas

Henry and Mudge and the Wild Goose Chase

Henry and Mudge and the Big Sleepover

Henry and Mudge and the Tumbling Trip

Henry and Mudge and Annie's Perfect Pet

Henry's Puppy Mudge has a Snack

Henry's Puppy Mudge Takes a Bath


Waiting to Waltz....a Childhood (poetry)

A Blue-Eyed Daisy (novel)

Every Living Thing (stories)

A Fine White Dust (novel)

Children of Christmas: Stories for the Season

A Kindness (novel)

But I'll Be Back Again: An Album (autobiography)

A Couple of Kooks and Other Stories about Love

Soda Jerk (poetry)

Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds

Missing May

Best Wishes

The Everyday Garden

The Everyday Town

The Everyday Children

The Everyday Pets

The Everyday House

I Had Seen Castles

The Dreamer

Something Permanent

The Blue Hill Meadows and the Much-Loved Dog

Mr. Putter and Tabby Walk the Dog

Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake

Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea

Mr. Putter and Tabby Pick the Pears

Dog Heaven

The Van Gogh Cafe

Gooseberry Park

The Whales

The Old Woman Who Named Things

The Bookshop Dog

Margaret, Frank, and Andy: Three Writers' Stories

The Blue Hill Meadows

Cat Heaven

An Everyday Book

Mr. Putter and Tabby Row the Boat

Mr. Putter and Tabby Fly the Plane


Poppleton and Friends

Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story


Bear Day

The Bird House

Poppleton Everyday

Poppleton Forever

Bless Us All: A Child's Yearbook of Blessings

In Aunt Lucy's Kitchen

The Islander: A Novel

A Little Shopping

Mr. Putter and Tabby Take the Train

Mr. Putter and Tabby Toot the Horn

Tulip Sees America

Some Good News

Special Gifts

Bunny Bungalow

The Cookie-Store Cat

Give Me Grace: A Child's Daybook of Prayers

The Heavenly Village

Poppleton in Fall

Poppleton in Spring

The High Rise Private Eyes: The Case of the Climbing Cat

Poppleton Has Fun

Let's Go Home: The Wonderful Things About a House

In November

Mr. Putter and Tabby Paint the Porch

The High Rise Private Eyes: The Case of the Missing Monkey

Thimbleberry Stories

The Wonderful Happens

The Ticky-Tacky Doll

Little Whistle

Summer Party

Little Whistle's Dinner Party

Poppleton in Winter

The High Rise Private Eyes: The Case of the Puzzling Possum

The High Rise Private Eyes: The Case of the Troubling Turtle

Mr. Putter and Tabby Feed the Fish

The Great Gracie Chase

Wedding Flowers

Old Town in the Green Groves

Little Whistle's Medicine

Mr. Putter and Tabby Catch the Cold

Good Morning Sweetie and Other Poems for Little Children


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Selected Bibliography

Antonucci, Ron. A Talk with 1993 Newbery Medallist Cynthia Rylant. School Library Journal. May 1993. pp.26.

Cooper, Irene. The Booklist Interview: Cynthia Rylant. Booklist. June 1, 1993. pp.1840.

Cynthia Rylant: A Quiet Craft. Publishers' Weekly. July 21, 1997. pp.178.

Meet the Author: Cynthia Rylant. Instructor. April 1994. pp.60.

Silvey, Anita. An Interview with Cynthia Rylant. Horn Book Magazine. Nov-Dec 1987. pp. 694.

Ward, Diane. Cynthia Rylant. Horn Book Magazine. July 1993. pp.420.

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Author Website

none available
West Virginia Wesleyan College

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