My Great-Aunt Arizona – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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auntTitle: My Great-Aunt Arizona

Written by Gloria Houston

Illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb

Published by Harper Collins, 1992

Ages: 5-8

Themes: teaching, Appalachian region, biography, generations

Opening Lines:

My great-aunt Arizona                                                                                                         was born in a log cabin                                                                                                        her papa built                                                                                                                          in the meadow                                                                                                                       on Henson Creek                                                                                                                                    in the Blue Ridge Mountains.                                                                                           When she was born,                                                                                                            the mailman rode                                                                                                            across the bridge                                                                                                                     on his big bay horse                                                                                                               with a letter.


Gloria Houston has written an enchanting picture book tribute to her great-aunt and teacher, Arizona. She grows up linked in every way to her Blue Ridge community, enjoying the creek, making maple syrup,  square dances, but most of all she is a reader. When she outgrows the books of the one room school house (think Laura Ingalls Wilder) she takes her father’s mule through the snow to the slightly larger school in the next village. She dreams of faraway places transported through her books. She goes away to college but returns to Henson Creek to become a 4th grade teacher, where she passes these dreams and curiosity onto her students. There are many themes woven into this story, including Arizona’s love of flowers/plants. The entire school yard became filled with living Christmas trees planted each year by Arizona’s students. For fifty seven years she hugged her students whether their work was good or bad! She taught them, “words, and numbers, and about faraway places they would visit some day.” Gloria concludes the book with the death of Arizona on her 93rd birthday and her ongoing influence in the minds of her many students.

Why I like this book:

This biography is narrated with rhythm, repetition, joy and respect for her great-aunt, whom one ascertains has been a great life model to her, and many others, as a woman and teacher. Both Gloria and her aunt grew up in The Appalachian mountains of N Carolina and the rural mountain setting has a beautiful voice in this story. Gloria Houston has said that she had tried to write the story about her great-aunt as a biography and as a novel but was not pleased with the effect. When she read Miss Rumphius she realized that Arizona’s story would be better as a picture book and rewrote it in this format, which works superbly. There is a beautiful simplicity and tenacity of rural life in the rhythm of the text and the themes of learning, mentoring, location are woven beautifully into the story.

Lamb’s watercolor artwork,  filled with light and color, is the perfect backdrop for the aging and yet ageless depiction of Arizona, reflecting the enduring impact of a good teacher. The continuity of her life seems to flow through the images, and her connection to the future is beautifully expressed in the painting of the road curving out of sight into the misty forest.  This is a story brimming optimism and determination.


  • Use this book in a classroom as part of a family tree lesson plan.
  • A few different generations of children are mentioned so it would be relevant to talk about families and how each generation came from the one before them and what they did.
  • What makes a good teacher discussion.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with teaching resources and activities, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.


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19 Responses to My Great-Aunt Arizona – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Sounds marvelous, and I’m grateful for the introduction! Put it on hold before commenting!

  2. what a cool book! It reminds me of the Firefox project stories. Definitely gotta find a copy.

  3. This looks like a wonderful story… and reminds me a little of the stories in the FoxFire project books. I’m definitely gonna look for it in our library system. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. rhythm says:

    I sure like the feel of this one! Stories of inspiring women always seem to grab me. Especially if they have Rhythmic narration! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Joanna says:

    She is a strong but gentle woman, who clearly touched many lives, Rhythm.

  6. Joanne Sher says:

    This one sounds gorgeous inside and out, in every way. Will have to see if I can get my hands on it :). Thanks so much for the introduction!

  7. I love true stories about people living in the Appalachian Mountains. What a beautiful tribute to Gloria’s great-aunt and a kind of living memorial to her life work. There is a layed-back feeling and rhythm in her writing. Makes me remember all of the “Christy” novels by Catherin Marshall I read about a teacher in the Appalachian mountains. Nice choice. Will check this out.

  8. Joanna says:

    Pat, you are absolutely right, it has just the same feel as the Christy books, which I loved! I may have been drawn to this also as my latest YA begins in the Appalachians!

  9. Joanna…you did ‘good’ by putting this one up…looks like most of us have not seen it before. Wonderful review of a lovely book! I will try to find a copy. 😉

    • Joanna says:

      I discovered while doing some research for an independent study I did on mentor texts for my MFA, Vivian.

  10. Sounds outstanding. It must be a real keeper because our library consortium has 6 copies. I put one on hold 🙂

  11. Time I checked out a few books from the library and this one is right up my alley! Thank you for a lovely review, Joanna.

  12. This book sounds lovely! Thank you for sharing it with us!

  13. This sounds like a great book, Miss Marple! 😀

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