I recently read Rebecca Petruck’s excellent STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, the story of a boy raising a prize steer for the state fair. Not long afterward, I went to my local county fair, where I fell in love with these beauties:
It’s possible I became briefly chicken-obsessed.
All of this got me thinking about the way that farm stories are so perfect for kids—the combination of hard work, a beautiful setting, and animals (with all the comic opportunities they provide), as well as the chance to explore big issues like life and death, as in CHARLOTTE’S WEB. I decided to go looking for more middle grade farm stories. Here is what I found. (All descriptions and images are from IndieBound, which is also linked.)
MOO by Sharon Creech
Fans of Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog and Hate That Cat will love her newest tween novel, Moo. This uplifting tale reminds us that if we’re open to new experiences, life is full of surprises. Following one family’s momentous move from the city to rural Maine, an unexpected bond develops between twelve-year-old Reena and one very ornery cow.
When Reena, her little brother, Luke, and their parents first move to Maine, Reena doesn t know what to expect. She’s ready for beaches, blueberries, and all the lobster she can eat. Instead, her parents volunteer Reena and Luke to work for an eccentric neighbor named Mrs. Falala, who has a pig named Paulie, a cat named China, a snake named Edna and that stubborn cow, Zora.
This heartwarming story, told in a blend of poetry and prose, reveals the bonds that emerge when we let others into our lives.
UNUSUAL CHICKENS FOR THE EXCEPTIONAL POULTRY FARMER by Kelly Jones
Fans of Polly Horvath or Roald Dahl will love this quirky story of a determined girl, and some extraordinary chickens.
Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown feels like a fish out of water when she and her parents move from Los Angeles to the farm they ve inherited from a great-uncle. But farm life gets more interesting when a cranky chicken appears and Sophie discovers the hen can move objects with the power of her little chicken brain: jam jars, the latch to her henhouse, the “entire” henhouse….
And then more of her great-uncle’s unusual chickens come home to roost. Determined, resourceful Sophie learns to care for her flock, earning money for chicken feed, collecting eggs. But when a respected local farmer tries to steal them, Sophie must find a way to keep them (and their superpowers) safe.
Told in letters to Sophie’s “abuela, ” quizzes, a chicken-care correspondence course, to-do lists, and more, “Unusual Chickens” is a quirky, clucky classic in the making.
ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY by Mildred D. Taylor
Winner of the Newbery Medal, this remarkably moving novel has impressed the hearts and minds of millions of readers.
Set in Mississippi at the height of the Depression, this is the story of one family’s struggle to maintain their integrity, pride, and independence in the face of racism and social injustice. And it is also Cassie’s story – Cassie Logan, an independent girl who discovers over the course of an important year why having land of their own is so crucial to the Logan family, even as she learns to draw strength from her own sense of dignity and self-respect.
WOLF HOLLOW by Lauren Wolk
Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.
Brilliantly crafted, Wolf Hollow is a haunting tale of America at a crossroads and a time when one girl’s resilience and strength help to illuminate the darkest corners of our history.
HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson
This Newbery Honor winning, “New York Times” bestseller celebrates the true spirit of independence on the American frontier.
For most of her life, sixteen-year-old Hattie Brooks has been shuttled from one distant relative to another. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she summons the courage to leave Iowa and move all by herself to Vida, Montana, to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim.
Under the big sky, Hattie braves hard weather, hard times, a cantankerous cow, and her own hopeless hand at the cookstove. Her quest to make a home is championed by new neighbors Perilee Mueller, her German husband, and their children. For the first time in her life, Hattie feels part of a family, finding the strength to stand up against Traft Martin’s schemes to buy her out and against increasing pressure to be a loyal American at a time when anything or anyone German is suspect. Despite daily trials, Hattie continues to work her uncle’s claim until an unforeseen tragedy causes her to search her soul for the real meaning of home.
This young pioneer’s story is lovingly stitched together from Kirby Larson’s own family history and the sights, sounds, and scents of homesteading life.
A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE by Robert Newton Peck
Originally published in hardcover in 1972, “A Day No Pigs Would Die “was one of the first young adult books, along with titles like “The Outsiders “and “The Chocolate War.” In it, author Robert Newton Peck weaves a story of
a Vermont boyhood that is part fiction, part memoir. The result is a moving coming-of-age story that still resonates with teens today.
ORBITING JUPITER by Gary D. Schmidt
The two-time Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt delivers the shattering story of Joseph, a father at thirteen, who has never seen his daughter, Jupiter. After spending time in a juvenile facility, he’s placed with a foster family on a farm in rural Maine. Here Joseph, damaged and withdrawn, meets twelve-year-old Jack, who narrates the account of the troubled, passionate teen who wants to find his baby at any cost. In this riveting novel, two boys discover the true meaning of family and the sacrifices it requires.
STEERING TOWARD NORMAL by Rebecca Petruck
Eighth grade is set to be a good year for Diggy Lawson: He’s chosen a great calf to compete at the Minnesota State Fair, he’ll see a lot of July, the girl he secretly likes at 4-H, and he and his dad Pop have big plans for April Fool’s Day. But everything changes when classmate Wayne Graf’s mother dies, which brings to light the secret that Pop is Wayne’s father, too. Suddenly, Diggy has a half brother, who moves in and messes up his life. Wayne threatens Diggy’s chances at the State Fair, horns in on his girl, and rattles his easy relationship with Pop.
What started out great quickly turns into the worst year ever, filled with jealousy, fighting, and several incidents involving cow poop. But as the boys care for their steers, pull pranks, and watch too many B movies, they learn what it means to be brothers and change their concept of family as they slowly steer toward a new kind of normal.
CHICKEN BOY by Frances O. Dowell
Meet Tobin McCauley. He’s got a near-certifiable grandmother, a pack of juvenile-delinquent siblings, and a dad who’s not going to win father of the year any time soon. To top it off, Tobin’s only friend truly believes that the study of chickens will reveal…the meaning of life? Getting through seventh grade isn’t easy for anyone, but when the first day of school starts out with your granny’s arrest, you know you’ve got real problems. Throw on a five-day suspension, a chicken that lays green eggs, and a family feud that’s tearing everyone to pieces, and you’re in for one heck of a ride.
Katharine Manning hasn’t eaten lamb since she saw one born at her parents’ farm in West Virginia. She blogs here and at The Winged Pen, and is thrilled to be a 2016 CYBILS judge for poetry. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and at www.katharinemanning.com.