Literature Unit Study: When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant

This post is part of the 31 MORE Days of Literature Unit Studies series. You can find all of the links to the thirty-one studies in this post. If you'd like to use these ideas to create your own unit study, this post has step-by-step instructions as well as a free unit study planner. (Want to know more about what, exactly, a unit study is? This post will help.)

While you're reading and working on your unit study, you can dowload this free printables pack of graphic organizers for reading. It has a plot chart, venn diagram, KWL chart, two mini book report organizers, a character analysis chart, a plot outline chart, and a reading response sheet where students can record facts while reading.

Literature unit study for When I Was Young in the Mountains
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When I Was Young in the Mountains is a simple book. But the writing and illustrations are beautiful. Even young kids will enjoy the author's account of growing up in her grandparent's mountain home.

Book Information

Title- When I Was Young in the Mountains

Author- Cynthia Rylant

Recommended ages- K- 3rd grade

Synopsis- The author shares with readers her life, growing up in the Appalachian mountains with her grandparents. Life was much simpler without some of our modern conveniences. The story is told in a simple way with beautiful illustrations.

Language Arts

Creative writing- This beautiful story is all about the author's memories of growing up. Have kids think of several things that are favorites they would like to always remember about growing up. Older kids can write these in a mini book and illustrate them. Younger kids can dictate to you and then illustrate.

Compare and contrast- Use a Venn Diagram (included in the free packet mentioned above) to have kids compare things they like and how they live with those mentioned in the author's story. Does their life have similarities? Differences?

Creative writing- The author talks about supper with her family. Have kids write and illustrate a menu of their favorite supper.


Coal mining- The author's grandfather is a coal miner. Watch this video from the Science Channel to learn more about modern day coal mining.

Coal mining- This is another good video that shows what coal mining looks like in modern times.

Coal- Learn more about the uses of coal from Science Kids.

Coal- Try this science experiment to make colorful crystals from coal.

Snakes-The author's grandmother chases a snake out of the chicken yard. Learn more about snakes from LiveScience.

Snakes- Read more about black snakes and what they eat here.

History/Social Studies

General stores- The author and her brother went to a general store that sold a variety of good. Kids may not be familiar with the idea of a general store because there aren't many around today. Wonderopolis has a good explanation of what a general store is. This site also has some pictures of general stores- modern and historical.

History of indoor plumbing- The author talks about having to use the Johnny House in the middle of the night and about pumping water from a hand pump outside. This article has a timeline that leads up to indoor plumbing as we know it today. It might be too much information for younger kids, but there are some good pictures. And it's pretty interesting to know how plumbing has come to be as we know it.

Geography- Learn more about the Appalachian mountains where the author grew up here.

Geography- Draw the Appalachian mountains on a blank US map that you can print here. This article has information about the Appalachians and a map that shows where they are.

Crafts and Fun

Learn how to draw mountains with this tutorial.

Make pinto beans, cornbread, and fried okra to have a supper like the author in the story.

This site has some mountain landscape coloring pages.

Create a diorama of the Appalachian Mountains. You can get inspired by the photos here. And this article has information about how to create a diorama.

When I Was Young in the Mountains literature unit study


Other books by the author

Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella (Appalachian mountains)

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story (Appalachian mountains)

The Jack Tales (stories from the Appalachian mountains)

In Coal Country (coal mining)

America at Work: Mining (coal mining)

Life in a Mining Community (coal mining)

Shovelful of Sunshine (coal mining; Appalachian life)

Snakes of the World (snakes)

National Geographic Readers: Snakes! (snakes)

Everything You Need to Know About Snakes (snakes)

Other Resources

This video is a nice reading of the book.

Kids can learn more about Cynthia Rylant and other books she's written here.

Homeschool Share has some free printable activities that go along with the book.

Don’t miss the other literature units in this series!

Literature unit studies for kids

The Homeschool Post

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