Friday, December 30, 2011
Little Joe by Sandra Neil Wallace
Little Joe by Sandra Neil Wallace (Yearling, 2010)
Summary by publisher:
Knowing the newest calf at Windswept Farms is his makes Eli Stegner's heart beat faster than a butterfly's wings. He dreams about winning the blue ribbon at the County Fair, just like Pa and Grandpa did. First thing he's got to do, though, is befriend Little Joe. the calf's so skittish only Spider the barn cat can get near him. But Little Joe likes it when Eli hums polka tunes and with Grandpa training them for the fair, Eli and Little Joe become the perfect team and the best of friends. But as summer turns into fall, Eli isn't so sure he wants Little Joe to fatten up. All cattle get sold after the competition. And Pa's boss at the sawmill pays top dollar for the meatiest calf.
As I started reading Little Joe, I immediately began making comparisons to Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. Both books explore a deep connection between a child and an animal, but where White injected an element of fantasy with the talking animals, Wallace keeps her story wholly realistic. White also adds layers to her story by contrasting Eli's relationship with his grandfather with the more complicated relationship he has with his father.
I truly enjoyed reading this book, though I did start to get a bit worried as the date for the county fair came closer. As an adult, I know that animals shown at the county fair are auctioned off, usually for slaughter. Normally, this does not bother me. I know my beef does not magically appear at the grocery on a styrofoam tray, wrapped in plastic. This time, though, I KNEW the calf. Little Joe had a personality. I won't spoil the ending by revealing any more!
This book would appeal to both boys and girls in the middle grades who enjoy realistic fiction stories, especially those about animals. It has a quiet, gentle feel reminiscent of Charlotte's Web that would draw many younger readers.