From School Library Journal
Gr 4-6–This is a sweet book about the relationships among three generations of farmers–Eli Stegner, his father, and his grandfather. It is also about Eli's connection to the first calf he gets to call his own. Little Joe is destined to be a winner at the county fair cattle show, but that blue ribbon will pretty much insure that he goes to the highest bidder and then to the butcher. Such is the reality of farm life. However, Eli and Joe are in for a happy ending, as are the boy and his father, whose relationship evolves from one of prickly distance to mutual understanding, thanks to the gentle influence of Eli's grandfather. A helpful diagram shows the parts of a beef animal. This thoughtful, tender book will appeal to those readers who are familiar with the Stegners' world, and many more will be able to identify with the highs and lows of familial love.Alyson Low, Fayetteville Public Library, AR
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Nine-year-old Eli, excited to be raising his first Angus calf, dubs the young bull Little Joe. Dad cautions against getting attached (“No use naming something that’s gonna get eaten”), while Eli worries about living up to Dad’s standards at the fair. Luckily, Grandpa is more understanding, teaching Eli the finer points of showing cattle, reassuring him when Dad is too punitive, and purchasing the prize steer to keep it out of the food chain. Wallace sets her story in rural Pennsylvania, where spring peepers and spotted salamanders still cross country roads and swimming holes are a welcome summer respite. Characters are well drawn, especially Eli, Dad, Grandpa, and Keller, a ne’er-do-well friend who raises pigs. Animal lovers will be fascinated by the details of raising beef cattle as well as the economic realities of modern farm life. Elliott’s pencil sketches decorate each chapter heading and highlight key scenes. Grades 3-5. --Kay Weisman
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