Thursday, April 22, 2010

Vampires vs. Pancakes: Literary Tourism For Kids

Excert From: Louisiana’s Song by Kerry Madden, published by Viking
Tourism Attraction: Joey’s Pancake House (yummy food and so much fun after!)
Location: Maggie Valley, North Carolina
Photos: See Special Note On Photos at end

If your kids are reading all those vampire novels out there, I’d like to suggest a clean, fun alternative based in reality: the Maggie Valley young adult series by Kerry Madden. This three-book series is told from the perspective of young Olivia Weems, known affectionately to her family as Livy Two (named for Livy One, her stillborn sister). Kerry also teaches creative writing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Livy Two is growing up in a large family in the beautiful mountain area of Maggie Valley, North Carolina, in the 1960’s. Even though she still tells fairytales to her younger siblings, Livy Two’s own spirited dreams are often besieged by the harsher realities of real life. She used to be the apple of her Daddy’s eye, but after a bad car accident, her Daddy can hardly remember his former life of a loving family and banjo playing. Indeed, he’s been out of work for some time, and the family is struggling to make ends meet while he slowly recovers. The sudden loss of a job is a timely theme that many families can relate to today, unfortunately.

On a brighter note, the Pancake House (which started in the sixties) is still in business today as Joey’s Pancake House in Maggie Valley. Some of the friendly staff are seen right. Joey’s is only a starting point for a wonderful family vacation that promises lots of kid-friendly things to do. Please check out some of the links in the Tourism Guide after the excerpt to learn more. All of the photos in this feature are of the real Maggie Valley of today. Consider buying these books for your kids, and then make a magical wish come true: tell them that Maggie Valley is real and they can still visit this beautiful town. In the following scene, Livy Two’s disoriented father has gone missing, sending the family into a tailspin of fear. In the photo below, Kerry is giving a public reading from her novel in Joey's Pancake House.


When the big black telephone blasts its jarring r-r-r-r-r-r-r-ring, we’re already gathered around it, waiting, but Grandma Horace says, “Nobody touch it. I am the one answering the telephone today.”

She picks it up and says in her most dignified voice, “Hello. This is Zilpah Horace. I am the mother of Jessie Weems.”

Zilpah. What a funny name, and I realize I've never before known Grandma Horace's first name. Zilpah. Howdy, Zilpah. Zilpah. . . . I don’t dare call her that to her face. She’s always been Grandma Horace, not Granny or Meemaw or Nana.

The person on the phone turns out to be the lady from the Pancake House, who asks to speak to Mama. Grandma Horace holds the receiver close and says, “She is not here at present, may I take a message? Where? He ordered what? In his pajamas and bathrobe? All right, we’ll fetch him as soon as my daughter returns with my station wagon. Thank you very much.”

She hangs up the phone, turns to us, and says, “Your daddy is down at the Pancake House eating blackberry pancakes and he’s wearing that brown bathrobe, probably looking like one of Jesus’ Apostles himself.”

“How’s he gonna pay for it?” Becksie asks.

“Yeah, how?” Jitters demands. “Cause I think we’re flat broke.”

“That is the sixty-four-million-dollar question.” Granma Horace’s lips purse together in a knot.

Not a minute later, Mama peels the station wagon into the holler, spitting gravel, and yells, a sob in her voice, “Any word? Or sighting? I’ve looked everywhere.”

Grandma Horace calls, “He’s fine, Jessie. Catch your breath, daughter. Apparently, he walked out to the road and hitched a ride. Mercy me.”

Becksie yells, “Mama, I won the Queen of Maggie School. I won queen!”

But Mama’s already got the car in reverse, backing down the road. I race up to the car and say, “Let me go too, please?” Before she can answer, I jump into the front seat and she hits the gas to the Pancake House, burning rubber all the way. Daddy isn’t the only one who likes to drive fast in the family.

When we walk inside the cool air-conditioned Pancake House, Daddy is about halfway through a second order of mountain blackberry pancakes. He smiles when he sees us and says, “Well, hello there!”

The waitress wears a nametag, VAL, and smiles at Mama. “Your husband sure likes his pancakes.”

Mama puts on her polite, company face and says in a tight voice, “Thank you.” She turns to me and says, “Livy Two, sit with Daddy. I need to speak to the manager.”

I suspect she’s going to apologize and see about a rain check for Daddy’s breakfast. But as she finds the manager over by the counter, I watch her take out one of her knitted baby blankets from her handbag to show to her, and I overhear the manager say, “This isn’t necessary, Mrs. Weems. We’re just glad your husband is feeling well enough to come down here to the Pancake House and have his breakfast. He did a real nice job at Settlers Days last year, volunteering to select the talent, playing that claw hammer banjo.”

The face of that manager glows with kindness, and I’m so glad she wasn’t mean to Mama, what with Daddy ordering up the moon without a penny in his brown bathrobe. The relief on Mama’s face is evident, and I look over to Daddy, who says to me, “Hungry?”

He pushes his plate toward me, and I take a bite of his mountain blackberry pancakes swimming in maple syrup. Pure heaven on earth. When I take a second bite, he says, “Give it back now.”

“Okay, daddy.” I push the plate back toward him, and he keeps eating like a house on fire. Mama leaves Val a fifty-cent tip for her trouble. I know she’d leave more if she could.

When me and Mama arrive home with Daddy, all the kids race out to the car to greet us. Daddy says, “They were some all-right pancakes swimming in blackberries.”

Caroline is getting more comfortable around Daddy, mostly because it seems like Daddy enjoys being around the little ones best. Us big kids seem to bewilder him, but the little ones play and don’t want anything from him other than that he’s nearby.

Before Grandma Horace can put in her two cents about “the entire fiasco,” Mama turns to Becksie and says, “I’m proud of you winning queen. And right before we left the Pancake House, the manager asked me if you still wanted to have that summer job you were asking her about the day you dropped off the penny jar. You’ll work the Saturday and Sunday morning shift as a waitress. The lady who runs the place is as sweet as she can be. You’ll wash dishes on the other days if you want. I said you did.”

Becksie says, “Do I get to wear a uniform with an apron?”

“You sure do. It’s in the car. And your first shift will pay for Daddy’s breakfast. We don’t take handouts.”

Becksie says, “I’m going to be a real, true working girl. I won queen and got a job all on the same day! I’ll keep my wages in the Everything Box, just like Daddy did.”

“Heck, I wish I could get me a job at the Pancake House too!” says Jitters, kicking at the dirt.

A kind and benevolent expression spreads across Becksie’s face. “When you’re all grown up like me, Jitters, I’ll put in a good word.” It’s almost too much to stomach. But what can we say? The queen has spoken, and maybe we’ll get some free pancakes out of the deal.

--From LOUISIANA’S SONG, by Kerry Madden. Copyright © 2007 by Kerry Madden. All rights reserved.

Special Note On Photos
Sometimes I have to pull photos from a variety of sources for these articles. The two beautiful Maggie Valley shots above and below were used with permission from Michael Meissner ( Check out his site for more info. I also used photos from the website of Joey's, some from Kerry's local book signings and public readings, some from the Inn at Irish Meadows, and one from the Maggie Valley Opry House (all found in the Tourism Links). These photos and graphics make the story come alive, and I am very appreciative of all the help I get from local sources.


The first thing that caught my attention in the Maggie Valley series was the artful way that Kerry weaved in so many high-quality literary plugs into the story. Livy Two is a character that your kids can relate to, and when she talks in the book about famous writers and poets like Emily Dickinson, then your kids are likely to delve further into those authors’ works, too. There could easily be an index of all the literary references in the novel for parents to use.

An endorsement from this fictional twelve-year-old character will probably have more of an impact on our kids than any reading recommendations we might push on them. After all, we don’t “understand,” do we? And we certainly don’t know what’s hip! A good strategy: don’t mention any of this to your kids or “how much they’ll learn.” Just buy them the first book, Gentle’s Holler, and then see where it goes. If they like the first book, buy the second. By the time they are done with the last book, Jesse’s Mountain, they will be in love with Maggie Valley.

The second element I admired in this series was the theme of fairytale dreams facing off against the realities of life. This is a family that faces some big crises, and they all have to grow up faster in order to meet those challenges. Even so, they still don’t lose their natural optimism and drive to reach for their dreams. Livy Two at the end of the series is much more seasoned than Livy Two at the beginning of the series. I like stories where the characters are not static but change, as we all must do when facing the realities of life. This makes a universal theme that will endear the Maggie Valley series as a classic read.

Individual creativity is also a major theme in the series. Many chapters end with a song written by Livy Two. Her sister Louisiana paints incredible pictures, and their blind sister Gentle performs inspiring songs. Livy Two also plays the guitar; music is a major element both in the books and in the real Maggie Valley of today.

As for tourism, the modern Maggie Valley is loaded with family fun and the spectacular beauty of the mountains, all within a small town atmosphere. Vacationing in Maggie Valley will give you time to breath in the fresh air and enjoy your family rather than rushing from one crowded attraction to another. Your children will always remember not only the time they spent in Maggie Valley but the time they spent with you in Maggie Valley. It’s not often that kids get to actually visit the settings of novels they read, and that’s part of what makes literary tourism so fun for everyone. Imagine how visiting the actual settings of novels they read will help your kids engage with reading like never before.

There are many strong connections between Kerry’s novels and the real Maggie Valley. Brenda O’Keefe, the manager of Joey’s Pancakes, has helped many teen girls and women not only with employment at Joey’s but also with encouragement for high aspirations and following through with their education. Brenda’s dear friends Ernestine Upchurch and Shirley Pinto are local anchors of the small Maggie Valley community who help with education and health. Shirley Fairchild runs the Maggie Valley Opry House with her husband, Raymond Fairchild, a world class banjo picker. The Opry House is the inspiration for the fictional Jessie's Smoky Mountain Music Notes in the novel. Mr. Fairchild is pictured above with his banjo.

Kerry says, “I have been so fortunate to have been welcomed into Maggie Valley by these strong and passionate believers in education and hard work and dreams.”

If you’re still not convinced, check out all the links below to learn more, especially the main Maggie Valley website. Of course, there are always plenty of books about blood-sucking vampires and demons to fill up your children’s impressionable imaginations as an alternative. I prefer pancakes every time.

Kerry also wrote a wonderful biography of Harper Lee, the famous author of To Kill A Mockingbird. That profile is found just below this feature, so please give it a look as well. Harper Lee created her fictional town of Maycomb from her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, which still offers an amazing literary tourism destination.

There are lots of other interesting places to visit through literature in the SELTI archives. Two recent features in the archives happen to be very nearby to Maggie Valley: “Hiking the Nantahala Mountain Trail” and “Blazing A Trail of Literary Tourism In The 21st Century” (based on Sylva, NC). The incredible mountain hiking getaway in the Nantahala National Forest features Sallie Bissell’s suspense novels. Visit the birthplace of Elvis in Tupelo, Mississippi, through the poems of Patricia Neely-Dorsey and Heather VanHoose Truett. Meet a moonshiner who speaks the gospel truth in an excerpt from Conecuh People by Wade Hall.

Take a chance on a stranger in historic Pendleton, South Carolina, in the short story “Ohme.” Go kayaking on the Coosa River in “Moccasin Gap” or dare to tread into a town abandoned over a hundred years ago in “The Last Confession.” The SELTI trail will continue next in Richmond, Virginia, with an excerpt and feature based on the mystery novel the clouds roll away by Sibella Giorello. The South is filled with literary tourism getaways for readers who don’t want the story to end with the last page.

Please feel free to post your comments underneath the Tourism Links. What sort of literary tourism would you like to see profiled? Is there a place or attraction that you would like to see written about? Or perhaps a novel about a real place that really made you want to “step into the story” for yourself with a visit? Share your thoughts and help to guide others to the best literary tourism hotspots in the South. If there’s a link to a book or place, feel free to post that as well. SELTI is also supported by a Facebook site at the link below, and that is a great way to share literary tourism with others. Browse the links below to learn more about Maggie Valley—and those delicious pancakes at Joey’s.


For a beautiful introduction to Maggie Valley complete with videos and music, visit the official Maggie Valley Visitor’s Bureau and Chamber of Commerce

Joey’s Pancake House

Learn about all of Kerry Madden’s books,
including the Maggie Valley Series

Stay at Jonathan Creek Inn
(across from Joey's--includes video)

Maggie Valley Opry House

A Great Bed & Breakfast: The Inn at Irish Meadows
(seen in porch photos with mountain views)

Take your kids on a beautiful hike to the top of Watterrock Knob, just like Livy Two did with her brothers and sisters in the novel!

Official North Carolina Travel and Tourism Site: Learn about so many opportunities!

Join SELTI on Facebook and invite your friends to participate in the literary tourism discussion.!/group.php?gid=289783765813

Join Maggie Valley on Facebook!/pages/Maggie-Valley/114922205203141

Viking Children’s Books

For another great young adult story involving a brand new classic literary character, check out Watt Key's highly-acclaimed novel Alabama Moon at the feature "Today's Tom Sawyer: Camping Under An Alabama Moon." That novel was made into a movie starring John Goodman and is set in the Talladega National Forest of Alabama. Visit the feature here:
Alabama National Forest: Photo by U.S. Forest Service