Libby Ryan lives 14-1/2 miles from Nowhere–Nowhere, IN. Her family owns Ryansmeade, a cattle farm. Libby is getting ready for her FFA (Future Farmers of America) project–raising a calf to show in the next Practical County Fair. Libby takes this task very seriously and names her cattle despite her father’s warnings against that. The reality of raising livestock hits home to Libby when her favorite calf, Piggy (so named because he eats like one), gets hurt. Libby has other problems: her mother wants her to join the Beef Princess competition–which means she now has to deal with hair, a dress, and the Darling sisters. Precious, Lil, and Ohma Darling will do anything to win, including using their Darling charm. Libby’s biggest problem is realizing that after the cattle competition comes the cattle auction — where Mule (so named because he is as stubborn as one) will be sold to the highest bidder. In an effort to deal with her emotions, Libby decides to become a vegetarian to the shock of her whole family. In the end Libby learns a lot about cattle farming, friendship, and herself.
What a delightful book. It was funny. The characters — from Libby to Piggy to Ohma Darling and Libby’s little sister and her imaginary grandchildren — were great. The tension — raising cattle not for a pet but for food — isn’t something most suburban kids face. But many kids struggle with meat and where it comes from and Houts handles the issue head-on.
226 pages, Grades 4 – 7.