Benton welcomed author Elizabeth O. Dulemba with open arms to the West Polk Public Library Friday morning for a special presentation of her book, “A Bird on Water Street.”
Her audience consisted of earnest fifth graders from Polk County.
Dulemba informed them her book is set in Copperhill when the mines closed in 1986. Several students informed her of relatives they knew who had worked in the mines.
A grant offered through Tennessee Overhill and the Tennessee Art Commission provided copies of “A Bird on Water Street” for the fifth graders in attendance at Friday’s readings in West and East Polk County.
A discount provided through FoxTale Bookshoppe allowed the books to be purchased at a lower rate.
A simple synopsis of the story teased the curiosity of the students, “When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner’s strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere.”
Readers are encouraged to follow Jack Hicks as he “struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.”
Dulemba explained the historical backdrop to the students, and the significance it held for their community at one time. Pictures flashed across the screen as she showed them what the mine, plant and houses once looked like in Copperhill.
“This is where the miners lived,” she said as a picture of houses slanting up a hill took over the large screen. “So when somebody got promoted, they moved up a house. So they were constantly moving up, flipping houses like pancakes.”
She attempted to give the students a variety of pictures, both physical and mental, to consider so they will have a better understanding of the book.
“Jack is living a normal life like you guys. In fact, he is your age. He is just a normal guy, growing up like that. Kind of bizarre, right,” she asked. “So you’ve got all this normal stuff going on in your life, but your world is not normal.”
Fifth-grade student Daniel Cox said he had heard about some of the places, but did not know the exact details.
“I knew about the plant, because my grandfather worked there for a long time,” Daniel said. “I knew about some of the lakes and streets she talked about.”
He agreed the story might give him a better understanding of what his grandfather experienced, before adding he was interested in what it was like for his mother as well.
Dulemba read two excerpts from her book before offering a reminder to her young audience.
She said the community portrayed in her book is very similar to Polk County.
“You are in a town that is not very big and it is very tight and you are kind of closed off from bigger towns around you because you are kind of out there, right,” she asked. “One of the things that is so wonderful about that is you have each other’s backs.”
At her words, two fifth-grade boys looked at each other, nodded and fist bumped.
“You support each other. If something like this were to happen to you or to your neighbor or to your friends, you would all come together to help them, right,” she asked again. “That is something big cities do not have.”
More information on the book can be found at dulemba.com.
Library Board member Jenny Rogers thanked Tennessee Overhill and the Tennessee Art Commission for the opportunity.
“The Library Board felt very luck to have Ms. Dulemba as our first guest speaker for our children’s group since we moved into the library,” Rogers said. “We felt it was a real treat for the kids to be able to meet and interact with a nationally recognized author who wrote a book based on the history of their own county.”