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What's the story?
Libby lives on a successful farm that includes cattle raising. Now that her older brother is off to college, it falls to her to raise two calves for the annual competition at the county fair. But she ignores her father's advice and names them, then finds herself growing attached to them. Since the purpose of the cattle competition is to sell them for a good price to someone who will eventually slaughter them for meat, Libby begins to rethink her life, becoming vegetarian and reconsidering whether showing cattle is something she wants to do.
Is it any good?
This is an unusual story in several ways that avoids the usual staples of modern farm stories. First, it takes place on a family farm that the family is not in danger of losing. They are not rich, but they are making a reasonable success of it. Second, there are no devastating droughts or evil bankers or greedy neighbors trying to grab their land. Instead they have traditions going back generations, and extended family, and good relations with the farming community in which they live.
And third, this story of old-fashioned, heartland values is not written by someone who disapproves of them. The author lives on a farm herself, which nicely grounds the setting in reality, and does not need either dramatic histrionics, or a heroine who is eager to break free of her family and its traditions, to make a compelling, moving, and utterly engrossing story. Libby's difficulty letting go of her beloved calves is not portrayed as an aberration in an unfeeling family and community -- it is the norm, and part of the deep emotional backdrop of farming. An unusual and lovely story.
From the Book:
The Practical County Fair. It was nothing short of the best week of the year in Practical County. Everyone in the community pretty much stopped whatever they were doing to come to the fair. It was where for one week you could do what you couldn't the whole rest of the year. Like eat elephant ears. Or sit inside the Grange tent sipping milk shakes and catching up with the neighbors. For some folks, the fair was a chance to show off their finest whatever. To pick that perfect rose and display it in a vase to see if it could earn the blue ribbon. Or wow the judges with a deep-dish apple crumb pie from Great-grandma's secret recipe. For a handful of others, it wasn't about competing but about coming to see it all. The exhibits, the animal shows, the annual Beef Princess pageant, and the neighbor folks who were usually too busy working to visit.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Libby's dilemmas over her animals. Does loving animals mean we shouldn't eat meat? Should cattle be raised for slaughter? If not, why would Libby have them at all? What would you do in Libby's situation? Do you agree or disagree with her ultimate decisions?