Though the flood of 1916 may seem an unlikely backdrop for a children’s book, one author with family roots to Madison County found inspiration in the tragedy. Don Harris, an avid fisherman now living in Henderson County, saw all the attention the flood received around its 100th anniversary and thought he’d write an uplifting story around the ordeal.
“I’ve always had an interest in that flood,” Harris told The News-Record & Sentinel in a phone interview.
“Mama’s Quilt” tells the story of a young boy named Buck whose Papa saves, and ultimately adopts, a baby otter. “With the media attention on the 100th anniversary of the flood, and seeing that river otters are making a comeback into Western North Carolina rivers, all the elements fit together for a story of the flood,” Harris said.
After frequent visits to Madison to fish and to visit family in the Rector Corner area, Harris figured Marshall would provide the ideal setting for the story. “The French Broad River has always been a big part of life,” he said. “I’ve fished all up and down the river for smallmouth bass, from the headwaters to way below past Redmon Dam, beyond Hot Springs to the Tennessee line.”
The self-published book features the story told through the eyes of the 10-year old narrator, Buck. “I made the name up,” said Harris. “Later I found up that my family called me Buck as a young boy. I didn’t remember that at all. A cousin told me that.”
Harris’ own daughter, Whitney Wallace, provides the illustration for the story. “It was a great way to connect and get her art out there,” Harris said. “She did extensive research on quilt patterns. We had a lot of people read the story, and then go back to find illustrations as part of baby quilt patterns in the book. It’s part of the story.”
The book aims to engage young readers around the same age as the fictional narrator. “I had elementary school teachers and reading teachers review it,” Harris said. “They said the story could be read to those young as five or six, or by readers eight, nine or 10. My grandson read it at 13 and he enjoyed it.” Harris has shared his work with local readers, making a visit to Hot Springs to share it with elementary school students.
Currently, the book, which went on sale shortly before Christmas, is available at Amazon.com and in Madison County at Artisun Gallery in Hot Springs and Penland & Sons on Main Street in Marshall.