I wanna be The Beef Princess of Practical County

July 19, 2010 at 7:24 pm Leave a comment

The Beef Princess of Practical County by Michelle Houts; published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2009; 226 pages.

What a bucolic life for 12 year old Libby Ryan.  Her family’s cattle farm, Ryansmeade, is 14 and a half miles from Nowhere.  Nowhere, Indiana, that is, in Practical County.  Big brother Ronnie has gone off to Purdue leaving Libby as the heir to the family tradition of steer competition at the county fair.  Her first mistake is naming the calves.  Her second mistake is letting her mom talk her into competing in the Beef Princess of Practical County pageant.  Her third mistake is making it all a competition against the Darling girls.  Her triumph, however, is coming of age in this world of apple pie and Fourth of July.

But Libby isn’t the only one to grow.  I was thrilled to see character development in Libby’s parents; even the awkwardly-monikered Ohma Darling was fully fleshed as the story closed.  For me, the realistic character development and the gentle flow of the story reminded me of my childhood.  Getting up to finish chores before 8 a.m. swimming lessons so I could read in the treehouse the rest of the day–that’s where this story took me.  This was my kind of book back then.  In this age of glampires and video games, I hope a whole lot of tweens pick up this book and get enamored with a simpler life.

Enough nostalgia.  Houts’ storytelling is spot on.  She has captured the heart and soul of a twelve year old girl.  She’s even created a crowd of friends that could attend any middle school in any state.  She took a four year old’s imaginary friend and made them into imaginary grandchildren. Best of all, she’s got a gift for names.  Obviously, Nowhere in Practical County is an obvious snicker-getter. But wait, it gets better.  My favorite names are for the trio of Darling girls: Precious, Lil, and Ohma.  Go ahead; say them out loud.  I’ll wait. 😆  Get it? Wonderful!  Houts even tells us that the clerk almost refused to write “Lil” for the middle girl’s name on her birth certificate.

This book is really for the whole family to read (independent readers in grades 3 through 7 would enjoy it on their own).  Read it together.  Point out the typeface: looks kinda country-ish, doesn’t it?  Does it put you in the mood for a farm story?  Maybe do a little research about 4-H projects, or plan to attend the county fair, if there is one near you.

Librarians, be sure to display this book.  Vote for it in the Buckeye Children’s Book Award competition (voting runs from September 1, 2010 through November 10, 2010; check it out here: http://www.bcbookaward.info/).  Let’s take a look at another way of life, a reflection of a simpler time.

NOTE: I discovered this “Companion Guide” from Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom on April 12, 2011: http://www.agintheclassroom.org/060605/New/beef_princess_final.pdf

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Entry filed under: Ohio Buckeye Book Award Winner or Nominee, Realistic Fiction. Tags: , , , , , , .

Ooh, Ooh, YouTube Channels for Book Trailers! Mercy! Mercy Watson’s website has something for everyone…including stacks of buttered toast

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