Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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Title: Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail

Written & Illustrated by: Jennifer Thermes

Publisher: Abrans Books for Young Readers, 2018

Ages: 5-11

Themes: hiking, mighty women, Appalachian Trail

Genre: biography



Between eleven children, the clothes to wash, the cow to milk, the garden to tend, the occasional tramp passing through to feed, and one husband, Emma Gatewood rarely got a break. But, sometimes, she found a way to escape.

A long ramble through the hills behind the farm was all Emma needed to set her heart right again.


Emma Gatewood’s life was far from easy. In rural Ohio, she managed a household of 11 kids alongside a less-than-supportive husband. One day, at age 67, she decided to go for a nice long walk . . . and ended up completing the Appalachian Trail.
With just the clothes on her back and a pair of thin canvas sneakers on her feet, Grandma Gatewood hiked up ridges and down ravines. She braved angry storms and witnessed breathtaking sunrises. When things got particularly tough, she relied on the kindness of strangers or sheer luck to get her through the night. When the newspapers got wind of her amazing adventure, the whole country cheered her on to the end of her trek, which came just a few months after she set out. A story of true grit and girl power at any age, Grandma Gatewood proves that no peak is insurmountable. (publisher)

Why I like this book:

If you have ever led an elementary or high school field trip, you will know that some students start to whine about walking as soon as they get off the bus. There are exceptions – cousins of good friends of mine hiked the entire AT with their two young children, but let’s face it, while some youngsters enjoy hiking with their families, many these days no longer even walk a few blocks each day. I think it is great to have a PB biography of the first female through-hiker – a 67-year-old woman walking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail (2,160 miles) in 1955, alone, in tennis shoes, carrying a burlap sack not an ergonomic North Face backpack and hiking boots. I did a couple of miles along the AT (an hour north of New York City) on Sunday and with my tiny day-pack and waterproof boots, I had many admiring thoughts about Grandma Gatewood. Hopefully some kids will be inspired to drag their parents out on some local hikes after reading this.

Thermes has a lively narrative style for this lengthier-than-normal PB text, and brings to life this amazing woman who raised eleven children in the early part of the twentieth century. I love that it was a National Geographic magazine article that inspired Emma Gatewood about the Appalachian Trail. The book recounts the many challenges of the journey and how Grandma Gatewood persevered beyond bears and injuries etc..  She also found friends among some of the mountain farmers along the way, and accomplished something that many didn’t think could be done.

The illustrations are created using water color and colored pencil and immerse the reader in the stunning changing landscape of the Appalachian mountains. Being a cartophile,  I personally valued the choice to intersperse the text with maps, which also enhance the text for use in the classroom, especially with the added factual snippets on these pages. 

I am wondering if putting my desire to hike the entire AT on my dating profile is a bad idea?!

View of the Hudson River from a section of the AT I hiked last Sunday at Bear Mountain, an hour north of New York City


Extensive notes and a timeline at the back of the book, plus all the intricate maps make this a very complete resource in itself. 

Check out the interview I did with Jen a couple of years ago.

A Mighty Girl website had a list of 30 other picture books starring girls who love the great outdoors.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.


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2 Responses to Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. What a great find. I love true stories about resilient women in the past — but that past doesn’t seem so long ago for me. Love the cover.

  2. Patricia Nozell says:

    What an inspiration! This really makes me want to get out there and hike!

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