True As True Can Be

Upstate South Carolina, 1979, late December. The decade is rapidly nearing its end as the holidays approach, and down along Painter Creek in the shadow of a mountain by the same name, nine-year-old Lucinda Mae, with the help of her best friend Jean, doesn’t have any trouble finding things to do. But Lucinda Mae is having trouble at school. Her teacher at Laurel Fork Elementary, Miss Cartmill, seems to be wasting away like she’s ill. Lucinda Mae and Jean have fear and respect for Miss Cartmill, and they’re worried about her. But Miss Cartmill keeps calling Lucinda Mae “saucy.” The girl’s a good student and works hard, but she doesn’t know what saucy means. Is saucy a good thing or a bad thing to be? Is Miss Cartmill in trouble? If so, can they help her?

As the events of this story unfold, Lucinda Mae grows closer to what saucy means, closer indeed to her friend Jean, her family, her community, the people, places, history, and critters, as well as to Miss Cartmill and herself. It all starts on the last day of school before winter break when Lucinda Mae shares with her class at school a photograph that her grandmother, Mimi, took years before of a one-eyed lady in a red dress standing on top of Painter Mountain. The one-eyed lady is covered with sweat, and her reindeer are grazing nearby, but instead, she hitches a wild turkey, a red fox, an osprey, a whitetail deer, a brook trout, and a panther to pull her carriage. What? The next day, by chance, Lucinda Mae and Jean go poking around Old Man Speed’s rundown place up the creek, where they make a discovery about the man and their teacher, Miss Cartmill, which sets into motion an adventure by turns suspenseful, magical, meditative, and redemptive.

Advance Praise

“I think the twelve-year-old girl inside me held her breath all the way through Thorpe Moeckel’s new novel True As True Can Be. As the story follows young Lucinda Mae’s journey from childish innocence to awareness of her place in the world, lush, evocative descriptions of the Appalachian landscape add a stunning color and authenticity. This is a book I’ll be passing along to the middle-grade readers in my life for years to come.”
Mary Stewart Atwell, author of Wild Girls

“Half tall tale, half affectionate examination of an extended mountain family, and dusted liberally with mountain magic, Thorpe Moeckel’s story of Lucinda Mae and her Christmas Eve adventure is as true as true can be.”
Amanda Cockrell, author of What We Keep Is Not Always What Will Stay and former director of Hollins University’s Graduate Program in Children’s Literature

“What a story! I absolutely loved it for its novelty and little wisdoms. Something about the practical magic in it and the timelessness of the story reminded me of A Wrinkle in Time and left me feeling a sense of awe. As an educator, I especially loved how much the story respected the voice of a child and the truths she illuminated while still being playful and young. The way that magic occurred within the realm of natural realities was also delightful and a valuable lesson to impart to young readers. I also love any story that centers on female friendship and I was drawn to those stories as a young girl. I could see this becoming a yearly read for many folks—young and old—in celebration of Christmastime and in practice of an appreciation for daily wonders.” —Brenna Lewis-Slammon, Harvard Graduate School of Education

About the Author

Thorpe Moeckel, bedtime reader, and storyteller to his three children has taught at Hollins University since 2005. He is the author of six books and three chapbooks. His work has appeared in many publications and has been a recipient of NEA, Javits, Hoyns, Sustainable Arts, and Kenan Fellowships. This is his first book for young readers. 



About the Cover Artist—Donald Saaf

For the past 20 years, I have been exploring the place where fine art and folk art intersect. My subject matter draws from the local experience of community, family, and immediate surroundings as well as an internal dream place. Although some of the imagery is very personal, I am always striving for the universal. The figures in the pictures are simultaneously ‘me’ and a sort of ‘Everyman’.

I usually begin with a compositional idea, and once that is established, I let things grow organically. At times I approach a composition like a quilt or even a stained glass window; breaking down the composition into luminous forms and shapes. I try to see the pictures simultaneously both for their ‘story’ and as pure abstraction. Often there are different layers in the paintings. Some of the figures will have several heads; one that seems more solid and others that look more transparent and ghostly, hinting perhaps at the passage of time or suggesting that reality is more pliable than we usually think. They might be a representation of the soul or perhaps just a symbol for the many levels of personal consciousness.

I’m interested in memory; the memory of place and experience. The memory of walking down a street imagining the view from a birds’-eye view, while simultaneously seeing a house in the distance, noticing small objects on the ground, and briefly experiencing other people’s lives as they pass by. It’s the moment that happens when the external world overlaps with the internal world.

True As True Can Be
Grades 7–8; 12 years and up
300 pages; 5.5 x 8.25 / Softcover
ISBN: 978-1-9505840-4-8
Publication Date: March 21, 2023
Distributor: IPG / Chicago
Rights sold: All rights available.
Rights contact: Dede Cummings

Distributor: IPG; also available through Baker & Taylor, Ingram, and other wholesalers.
Individuals can pre-order directly from,, online, or contact your local, independent bookstore.
Booksellers, libraries, colleges/universities, gift shops, etc., can order through IPG:
Independent Publishers Group
814 N. Franklin Street
Chicago, IL 60610
Order Placement: (800) 888-4741

For an advance reader copy—digital or print—email