Kentucky by Heart: Delightful seasonal book by Christensen paints vivid picture of Bluegrass state

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By Steve Flairty
KyForward columnist

Evelyn Christensen is painting the Bluegrass State red for children with her delightful seasonal book offering, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Kentucky.

Chock full of colorful pictures that are illustrated masterfully by Kent Culotta, along with including a vast assortment of revealing facts about the Commonwealth, the 32-page book serves as a travel guide, a history resource, and an encourager of pride for the nation’s 15th state.

I taught full-time in the public schools of Clark and Fayette counties for 28 years. It was my great pleasure to spend 22 of those years teaching fourth graders, for whom the subject matter of Kentucky is most stressed. Evelyn’s book is a wonderful representation of the state’s features and one I’d recommend to any intermediate-level teacher, especially one who teaches the fourth grade.

Kentucky twelve days

Here is a summary of the book: Marybeth’s cousin Martin is making a Yuletide visit to her family in Kentucky, and he gets really excited at the things he experiences there with the help of Marybeth-—so much that he writes letters home to tell his loved ones the news about such a special place.

He writes daily as the twelve days leading to Christmas are marked down off the list. Each letter written shares different features that makes the state such a neat place.

Here are a few of the items Martin mentions.

On the first day, there is his flight that lands in Louisville, and he talks, among other things, about the Louisville Zoo (a just right-sized zoo for me) and the Louisville Slugger Museum and factory.

The next day, Martin imagines himself, he says, “sailing down the Ohio River in a flatboat.” Translated, the young boy has visited the Thomas D. Clark Center for History, Frankfort, and he reveled in the spirit of adventure the place engendered. Martin liked that Floral Clock outside Kentucky’s capitol, too, and was amazed that it includes 10,000 flowers in the summer!

Evelyn Christensen (Photos Provided)

Evelyn Christensen (Photos Provided)

Moving on to the fourth day, Martin talked about the “four miles of gigantic Christmas light displays at the Kentucky Horse Park here in Lexington.” He enjoyed the opportunity to groom a horse, too. “We brushed its coat, combed its mane, and used a pick to clean its hooves,” he said, joyfully.

On other days, Martin informs his parents (and readers) of Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home,” Abe Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville, Hot Browns, the National Corvette Museum, coal mining, Muhammed Ali, Whitney Young, the state symbols, actress Jennifer Lawrence, the Kentucky Derby, and, of course, basketball and the Kentucky Wildcats.

The author refers to the Christmas gifts as “12 balls a-bouncing, 11 fiddlers fiddling, 10 lumps of black gold, 9 frisky squirrels…” It is a giddy romp through a place now 224 years old, but the book waxes true on the dynamic essence of Kentucky, and that it is a place that children can and should rightfully embrace. Young Kentuckians need this treasure on their bookshelves and back seat in the family car on day trips.

Evelyn, who lives in Lexington, is a former classroom teacher and a college “teacher of teachers.” Today, she humbly bills herself an author and puzzle creator, and has sold over 500,000 copies of books and puzzles that would fit under the category of educational materials.

She has received two significant recognitions in that area of publication: the Parents’ Choice Award and the Teachers’ Choice Award.

Steve Flairty grew up feeling good about Kentucky. He recalls childhood day trips (and sometimes overnight ones) orchestrated by his father, with the take-off points being in Campbell County. The people and places he encountered then help define his passion about the state now. After teaching 28 years, Steve spends much of his time today writing and reading about the state, and still enjoys doing those one dayers (and sometimes overnighters). “Kentucky by Heart” shares part and parcel of his joy. A little history, much contemporary life, intriguing places, personal experiences, special people, book reviews, quotes, and even a little humor will, hopefully, help readers connect with their own “inner Kentucky.”

One can see on her web site a huge list of her published materials for the classroom. One might wonder where Evelyn gets all her ideas. She explains that it is a matter of her religious faith.

“I can’t take credit for my writing accomplishments, because they’re a gift from God,” she said. “He is the source of my creative ideas themselves.”

The way Twelve Days developed and came to publication has a bit of irony involved. Evelyn contacted a publisher seven years ago that was doing this kind of book as a national series. She heard no response for five years.

“Then just before Christmas in 2014, I got an email,” she said. “The editor said they were doing Kentucky and asked me if I were still interested.”

Evelyn happily said yes to the offer, but it was a challenge because of the time factor.

“The publisher had a tight schedule for me,” she explained. “I had one month to decide on the itinerary and the gifts (mentioned in the book) and have them approved by the editor, and one more month to complete all the writing, illustration notes, and other details.”

Though the book is promoted for children age five and up, Evelyn noted that third through fifth graders levels are probably the best, with “fourth grade being the sweet spot.”

Her passion is obvious in describing her aims for Twelve Days.

“I hope the book will help kids come to appreciate more what a wonderful state Kentucky is and what a rich heritage we have,” she noted. “I also hope it will encourage families to take more trips around our state to visit, see, and experience some of the many treasures we have here.”

A free activity kit for Twelve Days is available on her web site, and the book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound. One may also contact Evelyn at evelyn.christensen@gmail.com.

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steve-flairty

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of former Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

To read more of Flairty’s Kentucky by Heart series on KyForward, click here.

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15 Comments

  1. Gayle Deaton says:

    Can’t wait to get my hands (and eyes!) on this book! Was so sorry I had to miss volunteering at the Kentucky Book Fair this year — Evelyn’s one of the authors I was looking forward to chatting with! Thanks for the great profile about her, Steve.

  2. Mirka Breen says:

    It’s a beautiful book, which should not only delight Kentuckians but bring outsiders to visit this historic state.

  3. Mary Louise Forsythe says:

    I love the book! Fun illustrations that make me want to visit places in Kentucky I have never seen, despite growing up in the Bluegrass State. Your write-up is terrific, and illustrates so many of the fun aspects of the book. Christensen makes learning exciting, whether in this book or her many puzzle books. I love the heart-warming and faith-filled love she has for children and how that shows in her work.

  4. John Brown says:

    I grew up in Kentucky and have lots of fond memories of my childhood there. Thanks for the review of this book and the bio about Evelyn. I look forward to reading a copy soon!

  5. Bob Forsythe says:

    It’s a wonderful book! Would make a great present.

  6. Marilyn Brown says:

    Steve, your review of this book was spot-on! Your love of Kentucky shines through and your appreciation of Evelyn Christensen’s writing is also very evident. Kentucky is my adopted state, and I love it, too. This book highlights so many of the special features across the state that we can take pride in. Evelyn’s creativity makes this book a true delight to read. I liked ALL the “gifts,” but (for personal reasons) took special pleasure in the eleventh day gift of 11 fiddlers fiddling in Berea. I highly recommend this wonderful, fun book. Kids are sure to love it!

  7. Anne Payne says:

    My oldest daughter was born in Kentucky, but we were transferred to another state when she was just two years old. She has LOVED learning more about the wonderful treasures of the Bluegrass State in this special book. Thank you for the great write up about the book and the author!!

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