Faculty Member Co-Authors Kentucky-Based Novel for Young Readers

The familiar Shaker song, “Simple Gifts,” is about discovering one’s own unique talents and gifts. That’s exactly what 10-year-old Tad Johnson struggles with in the new Kentucky-based novel for young readers, “’Tis a Gift,” by Rebecca Mitchell Turney and Marie Mitchell.

“Tad isn’t like the other boys at Shaker Village in 1837,” said Turney, a freelance writer from northern Kentucky. “They can milk cows, plant seeds and harvest crops with no trouble. But every chore Tad tackles turns into a disaster—like hitching the cow to the wrong end of the plow.” 

“It’s not that Tad doesn’t try,” said Mitchell, a communication instructor at Eastern Kentucky University. “He just gets distracted — by hearing music in the wind and envisioning steps that Shaker feet would dance in their lively worship services. Tad records all his private thoughts in a journal that no one else is allowed to see.”

In the book, Tad is teased unmercifully and feels like a misfit. No one understands him although several well-meaning Shaker adults try. When the biggest bully, Fred, tears up Tad’s journal, the boy runs away just as a terrible storm is about to hit.

“Young readers may be surprised that Tad is dealing with the same issues they face today,” Turney said. “Bullying, not fitting in, finding the right way to describe how you feel — those problems haven’t changed a lot in 180 years.”

The character of Tad is already familiar to some readers. He appeared briefly in the authors’ initial joint novel, “Road to Pleasant Hill,” the first in their series set at Shaker Village in the 1830s.

“‘Roadis really Betsy, Tad’s older sister’s story about being uprooted from their eastern Kentucky farm after the two are orphaned,” Mitchell said. “The children are sent to live among the strange, but innovative, Shakers near Harrodsburg. Betsy develops her own gift, as a healer, like their ma. Since the girls and boys are kept separate in Shaker society, Tad must find his own way in the new setting.”

“Road to Pleasant Hill” is a tough act to follow. It’s on the prestigious 2010-2011 Kentucky Bluegrass Awards reading list for grades 3-5. Students all over Kentucky are encouraged to read at least one book on that list this school year.

But Tad gets his chance to shine in “’Tis a Gift.”

“At first he was a quiet, shy, sensitive boy who was hard to get to know,” Turney said. “The more we worked on the book, the more Tad began taking charge of his own destiny — making mistakes along the way, but no longer a victim of others’ pranks.”

“’Tis a Gift” is part of regional publisher MotesBooks’ “Think Young” series. The book is also available through MotesBooks.com as well as on-line catalogs of Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The authors have also developed an educational packet to illustrate how “’Tis a Gift” can be used in Kentucky classrooms. “We cover a lot of across-the-curriculum topics, including journaling, music, dance, bullying and daring to be different,” Mitchell said. “All are ripe for discussion and projects.”

For more information about the authors, visit kygirlsbooks.com.

The next book in the Shaker series follows an artistic girl, Grace, who weaves a future for herself — outside the stone fences of Shaker Village. “Tree of Life” is scheduled for release in fall 2011.

Published on November 08, 2010