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Tales from a Free-Range Childhood

Donald Davis

John F. Blair, Publisher
$12.95 paperback
5½ x 8½  
224 pages
March 2011

In his first new book in six years, Donald Davis, considered by many to be the father of family tales, returns to recollections of growing up in the southern Appalachians, and especially of his relationship with his sibling Joe.

Davis has remarked that he “didn’t learn stories, I just absorbed them” from a family of traditional storytellers that has lived on the same western North Carolina land since 1781. Among this collection of 18 chronologically arranged stories, Davis explains why 28 second-graders petitioned the school board to reestablish paddling as their preferred form of punishment, instead of the new policy of “suspension.” He also spins family tales about how his mother was finally convinced to give his brother Joe’s naturally curly, “wasted-on-a-boy” hair its first cut; how he and his cousin Andy got fired from their job of “watching the baby”; how his brother convinced their mother to adopt her first cats; and how he got a chemistry set designated for children over 10 when he was only eight.

Through his tender, often humorous stories about his life experiences, Davis captures the hearts and minds of readers while simultaneously evoking their own childhood memories. One reviewer described Davis’s storytelling style this way: “He invites each listener to come along, to pull deep inside for one’s own stories, to personally share and co-create the common experiences that celebrate the creative spirit.” Even if you can’t enjoy Davis’s storytelling live, his written voice is so strong that you will actually hear these tales as you read them.


  • Anne Izzard Storyteller's Choice Award (twice)
  • Foreword Reviews Gold Book of the Year, Juvenile Fiction
  • Storytelling World Awards (numerous)
  • South Carolina Middle-School Young Reader's Award
  • Young Adult Library Services Association Award
  • Parents' Choice Awards (Gold title - twice)
  • National Parenting Publications Gold Award (numerous)
  • Publishers Weekly Listen Up Award
  • AudioFile Earphones Award
  • Audio Publishers' Association Audie Finalist


"I could have listened all morning to Donald Davis . . . his stories often left listeners limp with laughter at the same time they struggled with a lump in the throat."
—Wilma Dykeman, The New York Times
"To hear Donald Davis tell these stories is a delight. To read these stories is an adventure. You are transported not only to his childhood but to yours as well. Each story sparks memories. Donald is a master of finding the story and humor in everyday life and taking you along for a joyful ride." —David Holt, four-time Grammy Award-winning storyteller and musician
"Every time Donald Davis shares a story, he created a miracle - a miracle of laughter, pure joy, and love."
—Jimmy Neil Smith, founder and president, International Storytelling Center, Jonesborough, Tennessee
"'Is Donald Davis coming?' is the question I'm asked most frequently about the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. This collection of stories will show you why."
—Janet Low, founding committee member, Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, Orem, Utah
"As I read Donald's stories, his family, neighbors, and hometown felt authentic and genuine. I found myself reliving my own memories through the ups and downs, the laughter, the tears, and the childhood drama of everyday life. This is a must-read if you want to take a journey through childhood." —Ellen H. Munds, executive director, Storytelling Arts of Indiana
"Former Methodist minister Davis became a full-time storyteller in 1989. Now a fixture at national storytelling conferences, he grew up in southern Appalachia, where storytelling is more than a tradition - it's a way of life. In this collection of 20 stories, he recalls growing up there with his younger brother, Joe. These nostalgic tales are filled with the stuff of fondly remembered boyhood, from braces to broken bones, from enforced babysitting to trips to the grandparents' farm. There's a little drama here but lots that is sweetly good-natured and often quite funny. Davis operates in the tradition of the late Jean Shepard (A Christmas Story), though without Shepard's occasional saltiness. Indeed, a bit more of the acerbic would have been welcome, but it also would be inconsistent with the warm-hearted tone that works well for this homespun raconteur." —Michael Cart, Booklist