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Great Reads from Great Places

North Carolina Humanities annually selects one book for young readers and one book for adults that is either written by a North Carolina author or that prominently portrays stories of the state to be featured at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

National Book Festival Poster, 2018. Artist: Gaby D'Alessandro

The books and authors are featured on the national Great Reads from Great Places reading list and also highlighted at the National Book Festival. The list is composed of books and authors from each state and territory affiliate Center for the Book to showcase the rich culture and heritage of our country. North Carolina Humanities also offers North Carolina-based programming and resources as a means for North Carolinians to further engage with the book selections. 

To further celebrate this year’s selections, NC Humanities is offering the following opportunities here in our home state of North Carolina:

Bountiful Red Acres – NC Humanities is providing 40 free book boxes for teachers and school librarians in North Carolina! Book boxes can be used for curriculum or afterschool/youth programs and include 20 copies of Bountiful Red Acres, bookmarks, and other surprise goodies! A Reading Response Journal, where students can record their thoughts on the book, and NC Humanities-original interactive reading comprehension materials will also be included! Please use this form to request a book box by July 19, 2024.

Those We Thought We Knew – NC Humanities will host a free, online book discussion program with author David Joy this August! He and a special guest will discuss his book, and the questions of race, gender, crime, and community the book asks. Program details will be announced later this summer at

Young Readers 2024

Bountiful Red Acres

Suggested age range: 8-11 (Grades 3-5)

By: Eileen Heyes and illustrated by Dare Coulter

Young readers can get a taste of farm life in the North Carolina Piedmont through Bountiful Red Acres. The story chronicles a year in the lives of two neighboring families—one Black and one White—moving from season to season through the year 1900. Despite the racial inequalities built into American life by both law and custom, the Sawyers and Hauser families share an abiding friendship as they rear children, tend crops, and build community.

Author Eileen Heyes and artist Dare Coulter bring these real Surry County families to life for readers, offering a vibrant look at neighbors caring for each other as they force a living out of the red clay soil that is known today as Horne Creek Farm State Historic Site. This book was published in association with the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission.

Adult Readers 2024

Those We Thought We Knew

Suggested age range: 18+

By: David Joy

Toya Gardner, a young Black artist from Atlanta, has returned to her ancestral home in the North Carolina mountains to trace her family history and complete her graduate thesis. But when she encounters a still-standing Confederate monument in the heart of town, she sets her sights on something bigger. Meanwhile, local deputies find a man sleeping in the back of a station wagon and believe him to be nothing more than some slack-jawed drifter. Yet a search of the man’s vehicle reveals that he is a high-ranking member of the Klan, and the uncovering of a notebook filled with local names threatens to turn the mountain on end. After two horrific crimes split the county apart, every soul must wrestle with deep and unspoken secrets that stretch back for generations. Those We Thought We Knew is an urgent unraveling of the dark underbelly of a community. Richly drawn and bracingly honest, it asks what happens when the people you’ve always known turn out to be monsters, what do you do when everything you ever believed crumbles away?

Getting Involved and FAQs

  • Adult Selection Programming: North Carolina Humanities hosts a virtual book discussion where topic experts, and when possible, the book’s author, talk about the book and themes from it. The discussion is designed to help audiences engage with and think about the book in new and exciting ways. Discussions are free with registration and will be recorded and available to re-watch on NC Humanities’ YouTube channel.
  • Youth Selection Resources: North Carolina Humanities takes requests from teachers and organizations serving youth for a limited supply of free books (dates announced in spring/summer). Educators, youth librarians, and groups serving youth may request a book box with free book copies for use in classrooms and for public programming. Books are sent in “book boxes” which include humanities thinking questions, bookmarks, and more. As a way to advance childhood literacy, groups get to keep their books. 
  • What are the themes and topics for Great Reads from Great Places?
    • Great Reads from Great Places features one youth book and one adult book that prominently portray stories of the state and/or are written by an author residing in or from North Carolina.
  • Who selects the Great Reads from Great Places featured books?
    • Using its expertise and resources as the North Carolina Center for the Book, North Carolina Humanities selects books with input and feedback from our book selection group and the public. Annually, North Carolina Humanities convenes a group of rotating, volunteer members to help provide feedback that will be used to select that year’s featured adult and youth books. Members may include past participating Great Reads from Great Places group coordinators, authors, content experts, moderators, and the State Library of North Carolina to inform selection. North Carolina Humanities conducts an annual public survey (available in the spring) to see what books most interest you!

Great Reads from Great Places books may be fiction or non-fiction, and should meet the following criteria:

  • Prominently portrays a story of the state, takes place in the state, and/or celebrates the state’s culture and heritage.
  • Written by an author residing in or from North Carolina. 
  • Is contemporary and published within 12-months of the current program year. 
  • In print, and if possible, also available in audio, electronic and/or other accessible formats.
  • Written by a living author is a consideration for selection, but not a requirement.
  • Written by an author not previously featured in a North Carolina Center for the Book program is a consideration for selection, but not a requirement.
  • If you have a book that you would like to share with us that meets the selection criteria, please complete this short form
  •  We are currently accepting requests for potential Great Reads from Great Places 2025 titles now through March 1, 2025.

Please note submission of a title does not guarantee selection.

Past Selections

For Young Readers: 

When Sea Becomes Sky by Gillian McDunn

Bex and Davey’s summer in the saltmarsh is different this year, thanks to the record-breaking drought. Even the fish seem listless—and each day the water level lowers farther. When they discover a mysterious underwater statue, they’re thrilled at the chance to solve the puzzle of its origin. But when they learn of a development plan that will destroy their beloved marsh, they need to act quickly. Unfortunately, sometimes progress happens whether you’re ready or not. What will it mean if Bex and Davey lose their corner of the marsh where otters frolic and dragonflies buzz—their favorite place to be siblings together?

  • In 2023, NC Humanities distributed 600 books and box boxes with reading resources to 30 libraries, schools, and community groups across the state. 
For Adult Readers: 

The Kudzu Queen by Mimi Herman

Fifteen-year-old Mattie Lee Watson dreams of men, not boys. So when James T. Cullowee, the Kudzu King, arrives in Cooper County, North Carolina in 1941 to spread the gospel of kudzu—claiming that it will improve the soil, feed cattle at almost no cost, even cure headaches—Mattie is ready. Mr. Cullowee is determined to sell the entire county on the future of kudzu, and organizes a kudzu festival, complete with a beauty pageant. Mattie is determined to be crowned Kudzu Queen and capture the attentions of the Kudzu King. As she learns more about Cullowee, however, she discovers that he, like the kudzu he promotes, has a dark and predatory side. When Mattie finds she is not the only one threatened, she devises a plan to bring him down. Based on historical facts, The Kudzu Queen unravels a tangle of sexuality, power, race, and kudzu through the voice of an irresistibly delightful (and mostly honest) narrator.
For Young Readers:

How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor 

Georgina Hayes is desperate. Ever since her father left and they were evicted from their apartment, her family has been living in their car. With her mama juggling two jobs and trying to make enough money to find a place to live, Georgina is stuck looking after her younger brother, Toby. And she has her heart set on improving their situation. When Georgina spots a missing-dog poster with a reward of five hundred dollars, the solution to all her problems suddenly seems within reach. All she must do is “borrow” the right dog and its owners are sure to offer a reward. What happens next is the last thing she expected. With unmistakable sympathy, Barbara O’Connor tells the story of a young girl struggling to see what’s right when everything else seems wrong.

For Adult Readers:

The Tobacco Wives by Adele Myer

North Carolina, 1946. One woman. A discovery that could rewrite history. Shedding light on the hidden history of women’s activism during the post-war period, at its heart, The Tobacco Wives is a deeply human, emotionally satisfying, and dramatic novel about the power of female connection and the importance of seeking truth. 

The Edge of Anything by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

The Edge of Anything is a young adult novel set in the mountains of North Carolina. Len, a loner teen photographer, and Sage, a star athlete with a recent medical disqualification, both need college scholarships. After a chance encounter, the two girls form an unlikely friendship. Both Len and Sage are keeping secrets, that if kept hidden, could cost them everything.

My N.C. from A to Z written by Michelle Lanier and illustrated by Dare Coulter 

My N.C. from A to Z celebrates pride of place, creates connections to North Carolina’s rich African American heritage, and teaches children about human equality. Each letter of the alphabet introduces an African American person or place who has shaped North Carolina’s arts, culture, and social-justice legacy.

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